Technically, it's a face-lift. The company says everything forward of the A-pillars is new. In fairness, it does look a little different around the grille and headlights. The cabin seems ever-so-slightly revised, too, especially with the new frameless rearview mirror. And the nerdiest VW-philes will notice a subtle change at the rear. But if conversation ever turns to people with the easiest jobs in the world, be sure to mention the exterior and interior designers of the '16 Passat. It's probably wrong to blame them personally. No doubt the orders that came down from on high were to be as conservative as possible. Nothing flashy or radical. But heck, even the Toyota Camry is showing a little attitude these days.
Never mind. At least we know what we're getting: a midsize sedan of generous proportions made by a German company in an American facility. This might sound like faint praise, but the Passat makes an excellent Uber car. It has tons of rear passenger space and a fairly large trunk for its class (15.9 cubic feet). It's quiet in operation and serene in suspension. Driving reasonably quick and with smooth inputs brings out the best in the car.
It's front-drive only, no all-wheel-drive option, therefore any corners approached with too much enthusiasm will only make the front tires squeal while they gradually and progressively relinquish their grip. A mild lift of the accelerator pedal will cease such unseemly behavior and bring composure back to the ride.
The main engine is the 1.8T, so named because it displaces 1.8 liters and it's turbocharged. Output is a healthy 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine can also be found in versions of the Jetta and the Golf, and it's a well-regarded unit. It runs on regular unleaded and returns 29 mpg combined.
Big spenders should like the effortless 3.6L VR6, but this is available only in the pricey SEL Premium trim. It makes 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque on premium unleaded, yet won't complain if there's regular gas in the tank. Combined mpg is 23. You've already guessed there won't be a diesel version.
The main aspect of the '16 Passat and its mid-generation revamp, though, is new technology. VW's second-generation MIB II infotainment system is standard, and the car comes with USB ports at last. The system is also compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink: all methods of replicating a smartphone's operating system in a car's infotainment setup, including swiping and pinching to zoom.
LED headlights are available for the first time on a Passat. Likewise, a hands-free trunk-opening function. And now driver assistance systems such as radar-based adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, lane departure warning, and parking assistance with self-steering can be obtained. One extra-cool thing about the parking system is that it can maneuver the car into both parallel and perpendicular spaces. Yes, you read that correctly, the Passat can park itself—well steer itself while you operate the pedals.
The range starts at $23,260 (including $820 destination and delivery charges) for the 1.8T S trim with automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, and automatic post-collision braking. The total value of equipment represents a savings of $1,315 over a '15 Passat S. Post-collision braking, incidentally, applies the anchors because VW has found that one crash often leads to another.
The 1.8T R-Line is a new trim with a sporty twist and gets some cosmetic additions, 19-inch alloys, plus a few other goodies. SE trim is when many of those extra safety features become standard. The SE with the Technology package builds on that. Once we're in SE world, it's possible to sync up two phones to the infotainment system. SE is followed by SEL and SEL Premium, the latter enjoying virtually every possible bell and whistle the Passat has to offer, including heated rear seats.
If it absolutely has to be V-6 power, then we're talking $37,655 (including destination charges). This model has a six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission with paddle shifters. Versions with the 1.8T get a regular, planetary gear-type, six-speed automatic transmission.
The '16 Passat certainly doesn't change the game, but it now has the tech to stay in the game. By the way, just as other Volkswagens are named after winds—Golf means "gulf" in German—Passat follows the same formula: It's German for "trade wind."