Now in its 62nd year, the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award goes to the American-made Passat, which edged out contenders from Europe, Japan and America to take this year’s award from a record field of 35 all-new, or thoroughly redesigned, 2012 model-year vehicles.
Car of the Year candidates were subjected to an exhaustive evaluation process that included the full complement of Motor Trend performance tests, track-based ride and handling evaluations, and real-world driving on city streets, freeways and two-lane roads.
“The well-equipped Passat is a breakthrough car for Volkswagen, as it has been designed to suit the North American market and is being built in a brand-new, state-of-the-art assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN,” said Motor Trend Editor-in-Chief, Angus MacKenzie. “It has one of the roomiest interiors in its class, a wide choice of powertrains and a well-tuned chassis. A compelling new entry in the toughest, most competitive vehicle segment in the US, it’s a terrific all-around family sedan.”
For more than six decades, the editorial staff at Motor Trend has met to determine the best new car for the following model year. The Car of the Year process is not a comparison test; the winning vehicle is the one that, in the judges’ opinion, best fulfills six key criteria: Advancement in Design, Engineering Excellence, Efficiency, Safety, Value and Performance of Intended Function.
Advancement in Design
The Passat’s styling is clean and simple, but executed with a precision normally seen on expensive luxury cars. Car of the Year judge Tom Gale, Chrysler’s former design chief, noted, “…like the Audi [A6], what is remarkable is the restraint shown with the handling of the design. Clean, beautiful surfaces have been refined for an engaging result.”
Like the exterior, the Passat’s remarkably roomy interior is clean and simple, with clear instrumentation and easy to use controls.
With options that include a 2.5-liter five-cylinder gas engine, a powerful V6 or a highly efficient turbo-diesel – each with the option of marriage to a standard transmission or the seamlessly smooth dual-clutch auto-manual unit – Motor Trend found the powertrains of the Passat to be perfectly matched to the car.
Motor Trend editors particularly praised the diesel engine mated to dual-clutch auto-manual gear box. Engineering guru Chris Theodore noted of the combination, “…without the compromises that mainstream green vehicles impose – a true technological achievement.”
The new 2012 Passat makes great strides in its efficiency thanks to the versatile powertrain. The standard 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine returned 26.5mpg in testing, while the optional turbo-diesel returned an average of 34.3mpg. The Passat had the best fuel economy stats of this year’s finalists over the course of 11 mixed-driving loops.
Between government mandates and consumer expectations, pretty much every car in this segment gets a standard complement of passive safety gadgets that include six airbags, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, ABS and brake-assist, among numerous other electronic aids.
The Passat, which seemed just as at home on an American interstate as it would the German autobahn, scored highly for its ability to help drivers avoid a crash in the first place. “What’s more fun to talk about under the safety rubric is how well the Passat’s chassis is tuned to keep it out of trouble, because well-driven, agile cars are less likely to plow into things than poorly controlled, flabby, clumsy ones,” said Motor Trend Technical Editor, Frank Markus.
By investing in a new facility in Chattanooga to build the Passat, VW has reduced the potential for currency fluctuations to negatively impact the price, as happened with the previous imported model.
With initial costs lower and overall ownership costs suppressed – thanks to improved build quality and VW’s Carefree Maintenance Program – the 2012 Volkswagen Passat stands as a great value in a market segment driven by price-conscious consumers.
Performance of Intended Function
The 2012 Passat was intended to be an affordable, roomy, efficient mid-size sedan for the American family, and the car delivers perfectly on its mission statement. Car of the Year judge Chris Theodore summed it up best, “I was expecting a large, cost-reduced VW that had lost its Fahrvergnügen, but it’s still there, just cloaked in Brooks Brothers.”
Today’s announcement marks only the second time Volkswagen has won Motor Trend’s highest honor, the first being in 1985 for the then American-built GTI.