What you see here is european car's new long-term, 2016 VW Passat. Some of you may remember when I took the reigns of this magazine a little more than two years ago; I inherited a similar long-term Passat nearing the end of its one-year loan. I found the car hobbled with an air-suspension kit that had not only ruined the ride quality, but at the same time managed to ruin the handling. On top of that, it took up a decent amount of trunk space and leaked; there were no positive aspects to it. Normally, I envy multitaskers, but I had zero love for this setup's ability to take most of the positive attributes of the Passat and ruin them simultaneously.
With the couple of short months I had left with that Passat, I managed to save some face by installing coilovers, a performance tire and wheel package, along with some really easy power mods for the 1.8t, which was brand new at the time. It only took a few well-chosen modifications and we were turning faster laps around our figure-8 test than the last BMW 5-series we had tested. The Passat has been refreshed for 2016; the base engine is still the 1.8t but this time our long-termer is powered by the 280hp, 3.6L VR6 and comes in the top-of-the-line SEL Premium trim. While the base 1.8t might be an easier way to show gains, the VR starts out faster than our modded four-cylinder had become, but more on that later.
Let's start by talking tech; this Passat is loaded with just about everything you would expect in a luxury car with a much higher sticker price. To start, it has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink, any of which will essentially turn the VW Car-Net AppConnect infotainment system into a terminal for your smartphone. As an iPhone user, I've so far found it flawless in operation, although I am mostly using it to read and send text messages through voice control, listen to podcasts (AM talk radio for Gen Xers), and also control a number of Internet radio apps. I am still kind of old school and use the car's navigation rather the phone's Google Maps, but either way works. The Fender audio system sounds as good as anything that isn't an $8,000 option in a $100,000 car.
For safety and convenience, the SEL Premium is equipped with active cruise control, lane assist, blind-spot assist, rear cross traffic warning, autonomous braking, hands-free trunk opening, power folding mirrors, back-up camera, 360-degree parking sensors, and probably five other things I'm forgetting. One of the surprising offerings is the park assist, which will essentially parallel park your car or back it into a spot. Yes, I know, we all had to become parallel parking masters to get our licenses, but even as someone who considers himself fairly adept at it, it's nice to be able to hit a button, operate the brake pedal, and let the car do the rest to squeeze the 16-foot-long car into an 18-foot-long space.
So far, all we've done is test the car and shoot the photos you see here. In testing, we were surprised at the fleetness of the big sedan. VW rates this car at 280 hp, so it isn't surprising that it's quick in 0-60 mph, but what is surprising is that it turned in a better time than our stock, limited-slip differential-equipped, MK7 GTI. With the stock GTI, we never managed to sneak below 6.0 seconds to 60. The Passat, on the other hand, with an open differential and all-season tires, managed to get to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Also for reference, our Unitronic Stage 1 flashed GTI with sticky tires has only managed a 5.7-second 0-60. The Passat also did a 14.3-second at 98.8-mph quarter-mile; again for reference, the stock GTI did a 14.6 at 98.0 mph. Moral of the story: If you have a stock, Performance Pack GTI or even a Power Module-equipped GTI, you probably don't want to be messing with Passat V-6s.
It was the figure-8, however, that really impressed me and Motor Trend's testing director, Kim Reynolds. Kim drives just about every car the industry builds on the figure-8. While he drives everything, he's only impressed by a few of those things. He came back from his laps with the Passat, smiling. "It has feedback and communication you don't get in a lot of modern cars, certainly not in cars in this class. There is just no comparison between this and something like a Camry or Accord; maybe even some other German cars." Kim also went on to talk about some of the nuances, "There is a little bump going into the west end of the figure-8. All cars lose a little bit of grip there, but very few will tell you about it—this does. It has a playfulness in the chassis; it rotates when you turn in and will rotate with a little throttle lift. It's a genuinely enjoyable car to drive."
I've found these same characteristics in just about the entire VW lineup. Drivers who really appreciate a driver's car—and not just arguing about them on the Internet—like driving VWs. There is a connection with the car that some European cars have abandoned. I don't think everyone gets it; it's a subtle thing that you just have to feel, and if you don't get to really drive the car and I mean drive it in a way you can't do on city streets or on a test drive with a salesman, then you will never get it. With that said, our Passat only managed a 26.7-second lap around the figure-8. A bit leisurely compared to our stock GTI's 25.5-second lap. Most of this comes down to the all-season touring tires, which do provide a soft and quiet ride.
Over the next year, we intend to squeeze a bit more performance out of the Passat, while always keeping in mind, this is still about touring, not racing. We won't strive for all-out performance, but we will shoot for something along the lines of an M-performance BMW or S-Line Audi. We want to keep the luxury while adding a bit more punch to the already quick family car. Then, maybe we can inspire VW to give us a real Passat R at some point.