By Keith Buglewicz
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat is the only European alternative to the plethora of American, Japanese and Korean cars in the ever-popular midsize-sedan market. It's also one of the most enjoyable to drive, with confidence-inspiring driving dynamics at any speed that makes for a satisfying and relaxing driving experience. But despite its Germanic heritage, this particular Passat is built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was designed for North American tastes and preferences. So it's roomy, practical and priced competitively against its more mainstream competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Last year, the Passat got a thorough refresh; this year, the 2017 Passat gets more minor updates designed to keep it competitive with the best in class, without losing its unique character.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat offers classically subdued German styling and driving manners to match, a huge back seat, and a host of safety and technology upgrades. It also offers a price that's easily competitive with the rest of the class.
Compared to last year, changes for the 2017 Volkswagen Passat are minor. The Passat R-Line and SE with the Technology package get more equipment, and Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking are now standard across the board.
When it comes to the drivetrain and suspension, Volkswagen wisely left well enough alone when it refreshed the Passat last year. Why? Because it was already one of...
... the best-driving midsize sedans you could buy. Its sophisticated highway ride is simultaneously comfortable and connected, no small trick. Yet the Passat is also playful, and when the situation calls for it this Volkswagen shows an athletic side that's uncommon for this class. The standard 1.8-liter 4-cylinder offers excellent power, providing lively acceleration from a dead stop or when you're at speed. The downside is that in stop-and-go city driving, power delivery from the 1.8T isn't particularly smooth. The available V6 is definitely better in that regard, but the added expense and weight -- not to mention the sometimes-balky dual-clutch automatic transmission it's paired with -- aren't really worth the gains.
APPLE CARPLAY AND ANDROID AUTO
Volkswagen for years has lagged behind its competitors when it comes to infotainment options. Thankfully, those days appear to be over with the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in 2017 Passat models with VW Car-Net App-Connect, making it easy to integrate your smartphone into your car's infotainment system.
ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL
Cruise control is great, until someone slow pulls in front of you and you have to hit the brakes. Radar-based "smart" cruise control systems like the one available in the 2017 Passat take the hassle out, automatically slowing down in slower traffic, and speeding up again when it's clear.
If you carpool with a large group, be prepared to pull a double shift in the 2017 Passat. The big rear seat is comfortable not just for regular-size adults, but even if your commute occasionally includes an NBA player. The interior also benefits from last year's upgrades, including a redesigned gauge cluster, enhanced details, improved materials and a much-needed tech upgrade. Volkswagen finally offers a standard USB port for the Passat, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. If your Passat includes the Car-Net system, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as a variety of advanced services.
Nothing about the 2017 VW Passat could be considered "bold," but changes made last year certainly move the needle a bit in that direction. The slimmer headlights, sculpted hood, and more aggressive grille all stand out. Opt for the Passat R-Line and you get unique front- and rear-end treatments, dark-colored 19-inch alloy wheels and more. We particularly like the available smart trunk; if you have the key on you and wave your foot under the bumper, the trunk pops open. Okay, it's not a feature unique to Volkswagen, but it's still nice to have.
New on the standard-equipment list for the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S -- the least expensive model -- is Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking, both important safety features that are still optional even on many luxury cars. It joins a long list of standard equipment that also includes a 170-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights, infotainment system with 5-inch display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, rearview camera, 60/40-split-folding rear seat, cloth seats and Automatic Post-Collision Braking System.
Buy a higher trim, get more stuff: that's the way the 2017 VW Passat options list generally works. Available when you move to the SE is V-Tex faux-leather, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and an available V6 engine. The R-Line adds a sporty appearance package. The SEL is the full-boat model, with a moonroof, leather seats, premium audio and other traditional upgrades. There are also luxuries such as the radar-based smart cruise control and semi-automatic parallel parking, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on any Passat equipped with the VW Car-Net system.
Diesels are gone for now (maybe forever), but the two remaining powerplants are solid. There's the popular 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, mated here to a 6-speed automatic transmission. With underbody aerodynamic improvements and a couple mechanical tweaks, this combination delivers 34 mpg on the highway, a solid showing in this class. If you need more power, there are 280 horses under the hood with the 3.6-liter V6 engine. It's mated to a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, both of which combine to deliver even more European feel. All Passats are front-wheel drive. Some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy numbers this year, due to changes in EPA testing.
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4
170 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
184 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm
EPA city/highway 23/34 mpg
3.6-liter V6 engine
280 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway 20/28 mpg
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The bare-bones 2017 Volkswagen Passat has a reasonable Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $23,300 including the $820 destination charge. However, we suggest starting at least at the mid-level R-Line model, which gets you more standard equipment for a bit less than $25,000. SE models start around $26,300, and a leather-clad SEL starts at $31,800. The V6-powered Passat SE and SEL are about $30,100 and just under $35,000, respectively; add options to the top-line model and you're well past the $37,000 mark by the time you're done. On a features-per-dollar scale, the Passat costs more than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Passat's weak reliability record contributes to lower resale values and higher long-term ownership costs, an unfortunate trade-off to one of the most affordable new European sedans money can buy. Make sure to check the Passat's current Fair Purchase Price on KBB.com before heading off to make your deal.