March 20, 2013
2013 Volkswagen Passat Highline 2.5L. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Gerry Frechette
For a number of years now, Volkswagen’s Passat has had an identity crisis of sorts. There was no question about where it fit into the VW lineup (except perhaps during the Phaeton era), but the bigger picture was muddier.
In its segment, it competed with other mid-sized mainstream sedans but cost quite a bit more to build and sell, and had less room in general. In its price range, it competed with premium-branded cars of similar size, and larger mainstream-branded sedans. And this was a car that was expected to lead the VW lineup in North America, especially in the USA, where mid-size sedans have a bigger market profile than here in Canada.
So, something had to give in order to reposition the Passat. A new plant was built from the ground up, for $1 Billion, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to help address the cost aspects of building it, and a new car was designed for North American tastes, to compete head-on with the big players in the mid-sized market. This is the result – the newest VW Passat, and it is about as American as a German car can get.
Much has been said of the availability and desirability of the TDI diesel in the Passat, but the basic model is equipped, like its smaller siblings the Golf and Jetta, with an unusual 2.5L five-cylinder engine that is a better combination of lower weight, cost and fuel consumption than a V6 or turbo four, and has more torque and driveability than a naturally-aspirated 2.0L four.
The five is a capable performer, being refined and easy to drive in all normal situations, but it is far from “sporty” in the sense of delivering higher rpms and top-end power. In fact, when it is pushed, one is reminded about its intended usage and preferred style of driving. It delivers an “understressed” 170 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, much beyond which you wouldn’t want to go, and 177 lb-ft of torque at a relatively lofty 4,250 rpm, so this engine has to be worked for quick launches or highway overtaking.
The Passat 2.5L is available with a five-speed manual transmission, which will appeal to the hard-core European VW traditionalist who believes no sedan is too big for a manual, but our tester had the six-speed automatic transmission with automatic sport mode and Tiptronic manual control, the only full torque-converter automatic in the Passat lineup that is otherwise equipped with the more sporty and economical six-speed DSG manumatic that enthusiasts have come to enjoy. This automatic transmission functions smoothly with the additional torque of the five, while keeping the driving experience a smooth and refined one.
Speaking of which, we are happy to say that VW has not scrimped on the other mechanical bits, especially at the back of the car. As befits its positioning at the top of the VW pecking order, the suspension is a four-link independent setup, and the brakes are discs. Our Highline tester had the optional Sport package, but 18-inch wheels with no-season tires and paddle shifters are about the extent of the sporty upgrades available with the 2.5. The latter are not likely to be used by most drivers, one must think, but for those who want to manually shift, they are nice to have. This is just not a car intended for the enthusiast. It could be made to be one, but clearly, VW has other priorities for the Passat.
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