Volkswagen sure could use a little good news right about now. Here’s some: The refreshed 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI is a very nice car. Tested here is the next-to-top Highline trim with an all-in price of $33,795. With the improvements and upgrades bestowed upon this already roomy and fine-mannered front-drive sedan, we could consider the Highline as back-door pricing into the world of German-engineered refinement and near-luxury.

The 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI bows at $23,295 for the Trendline that rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Move up to the $25,695 Trendline+ and you get 16-inch alloys and few other goodies. Next is Comfortline ($29,295), Highline ($33,795) and finally the all-singing-and-dancing Execline ($38,295) on 19-inch alloys, with full LED headlights, full suite of drivers aids and a 280-hp 3.6L VR6 engine. The 1.8 TSI is hooked to a six-speed Tiptronic auto while the VR6 gets the twin-clutch six-speed DSG tranny. As of this writing, no diesel Passat is on offer because… well, you know.

This American-built Passat, larger than the Euro-model and designed specifically for our market, was launched in 2012 with the hope of worrying the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, et al. While it never got very close to that, the Passat earned respect for its refinement and Germanic road manners. But sales of this cautiously conservative sedan have tapered over the past couple of years.

One thing you could say about the Passat’s heroically innocuous styling: it’s a fine choice for would-be felons. “Witnesses describe the getaway vehicle as, uh… car-like.”

So, time for a refresh. For 2016, everything in front of the A-pillars is new. There’s a fresh grille, slimmer headlights and a more sculpted hood. New alloys fill the wheel wells (18s in this case), and the rear gets new taillights and a recontoured trunk lid. A little more bling here and there, and the elegance factor ramps up a couple of notches. No one is going to do a double take here, but this 2016 does come across as more upscale.

Earlier on First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Passat

Hop inside, close the door and it swings home with an unmistakable and reassuring Teutonic thunk. Ahhhh. The eight-way driver’s seat is broad yet comfortably supportive, and glancing around you see a sensible cabin built to a high standard. There’s a very nice flat-bottomed steering wheel and a new GTI-inspired instrument cluster that is a paragon of white-on-black clarity with racy red needles.

Tolerances are tight and the detailing impeccable. If you find some of the overstyled efforts coming from Japan and Korea of late a tad OTT, the Passat’s restraint could be refreshing. Or too safe. Either way, you can’t argue with the execution. It feels like an Audi in here. The Makassar Interior Décor, which integrates some faux blond wood trim, looks darn nice too.

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