US-only Volkswagen Passat is big on value, space and quality – it's just a shame we can't have it in the UK
VW looks like it's on to a winner with the new US version of the VW Passat, which firmly buries the idea that all American cars are big, flabby gas guzzlers with terrible interiors. But as appealing as the car is, success in this demanding market is far from guaranteed. Far Eastern rivals such as Hyundai and Honda are steaming ahead with their own US-only models.
We all know the Americans are our best friends, but when it comes to living the high life, it’s more about quantity than quality, as a succession of failed attempts to import their luxury saloons proves.
Rock-hard cabin plastics, soggy suspension, ancient dot matrix trip computers and nasty switchgear are all OK Stateside, as long as you can see coast to coast from the driver’s seat of your titanic pick-up truck, it doesn’t matter. Right?
Well perhaps not quite. But there is a firm focus on value for money and model availability, which is why – despite the appeal of mid-price European cars like Fiat, SEAT, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen – not one of them can claim to be a US success.
But can Volkswagen change all of that with its new US specification version of the Passat?
Early signs are good. Priced from just £12,600, it’s certainly big on value. It’s built at a new factory in Chattanooga in Tennessee, and is based on a longer and wider version of the chassis that underpins the VW CC.
Every body panel is new, and at 4,868mm long, it’s 99mm longer than a European-spec Passat and approximately the same size inside as a Skoda Superb. Volkswagen says that the extreme cost savings come from its use of local suppliers, who can deliver car parts more cheaply than companies in far away Europe.
But despite the savings, the results are still impressive. The US Passat majors on rear seat comfort and space, and offers a large 529-litre boot. Standard specification is generous, and all cars offer a six-speed manual gearbox, electronic stability control and six airbags. a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox is also available, which was fitted to our test car. Satellite navigation is standard fit on top of the range SEL cars, which cost around £25,000.
Currently, three engines are available, including a 2.0-litre diesel, a 2.5-litre five cylinder petrol (which is the entry level car) and a 3.6-litre V6. We tested the 2.0-litre diesel and 3.6-litre V6 .
Sure, the styling is not quite in step with VW’s very latest offerings – like the up! and new Passat-based CC, But with its sharp flanks and muscular road presence, it couldn’t have been built by anyone other than Volkswagen.
Inside, build quality far exceeded our expectations. There’s a stereo system that’s branded by US guitar maker Fender, plus a keyless start system. The only slight disappointment is the naff clock in the centre of the dashboard. The seats are comfortable, and there’s acres of legroom in the rear. The bigger cabin really is a lot more comfortable, particularly on longer journeys.
Performance from both engines is strong, and the 140bhp diesel feels a match for the 280bhp of the 3.6-litre V6 for acceleration, thanks to its impressive 320Nm torque output.
Of course, the steering isn’t accurate or responsive enough for UK tastes, and there’s quite a lot of wind and road noise. But in a land of six-lane highways and 55mph speed limits, does this really matter?
We would say no, and given the interest shown in the car on our journey, the Passat looks set to succeed across the Atlantic. And just think, this is Volkswagen quality and image at American prices. I never thought I’d say it, but it’s a shame you can’t buy it in the UK.
* Price: £16,495
* Engine: 2.0-litre diesel, 140bhp
* Economy: 51.6mpg
* Standard equipment: Six-speed manual gearbox, electric windows,
keyless start, 17-inch alloy wheels, multifunction steering wheel
* N.B: no performance figures are available