Cold as a Six-Pot Passat

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Volkswagen Passat

If one car made a huge impression on me in 2016 – it was the Volkswagen Passat.

It should not surprise you that I have a preference for cars with big cabins. The NMS/B7 platform Passat was adapted for North American tastes with a wider body and some simplification of the vehicle’s operation. Yet, there is a solid mix of German engineering that still helped the Passat's cause. That, plus improvements in quality coming from the

I already had the opportunity to work with two samples of the NMS/B7 Passat – a 2015 TDI SEL I wrote about in one of my other outlets and the 2016 TSI SE model with the Technology Package featured on this site. I have to admit that the TDI was the best solution to balance economy with the comfort of the Passat, but some emissions scandal put a damper on that particular engine. The saving grace for the Passat was the one I worked with earlier this year – the TSI turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine offered plenty of motivation for the big sedan, while still offering that big comfort I expected from this Volkswagen.

In fact, it was a Finalist for #VOTY16 – enough said.

In all, I really love the Chattanooga-built, Wolfsburg-bred mid-sized sedan. Why wouldn’t I? At the price offered for the TSI SE with technology, I would get a bigger cabin than a Chrysler 300 Limited, a better driving atmosphere than a Chevrolet Impala and the Toyota Avalon. It is also a better value. Plus, I can snub my hose at the hundreds of thousands of Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima owners who think they can just get any damn mid-sized sedan for the price they paid for it. Oh, and the rear seat of the Passat is more spacious than any of the popular mid-sized sedans sold here.

I guess I triggered something. It is an argument that I keep going back to. It is perhaps why someone getting a TDI Settlement letter would want to explore purchasing a gasoline-fueled TSI-powered Passat than go elsewhere.

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The point is this: Volkswagen makes a fine automobile. You can go through its history and point out some shortcomings, but I truly believe that they do have a solid lineup to choose from. From the years when the Sedan (The Beetle, that is) was the popular import in this country, Volkswagen has always given us something entertaining, fun and joyful to drive. I will include the Passat in that summation.

All of this was reinforced by an awaiting car at an off-terminal lot near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I arrived from a short run to Chicago with my colleagues at the Midwest Automotive Media Association at their annual holiday season festivities. When I was dropped off by it in the valet section, it was running and warm. That is always a great start to what was hoping to be a great week with it.

This Passat was not just any old big Volkswagen sedan. It was the VR6-powered SEL Premium trim. I have never worked with a VR6 before. I keep on hearing how much having the 3.6 liter VR6 engine makes a huge difference in the NMS/B7 Passat. In a time when other manufacturers have been waffling on offering more cylinders in their mid-sized sedans, it is refreshing to drive this VR6-powered Passat because not only do I prefer cars with big cabins – I also like big power.

2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium

There is another fact about this 2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium: it is the top of the line among VW sedans – save for the CC. The days of offering the Phaeton in this country are long gone. You can skip over to Audi to retain your Volkswagen Group loyalty, but what can you really get for the price of this big, powerful and luxurious Passat?

What you do get for the price of this 2017 Passat V6 SEL Premium tester is a high level of content. In the Fontana Red color, this Passat combines the modern touches of the B7/NMS generation with something that takes me back to my college days. In a sense, this particular Passat reminded me of a domestic luxury sedan from the 1980s. It exudes an old school form of luxury – and that is a good thing for a guy of my vintage.

I know Volkswagen did not intend on creating a 2017 version of a 1980s Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight or Lincoln Continental, but it has this spectacular richness to it. I could not help looking at it.

As classic is might evoke, the modern touches round out one of the most handsome cars in its class. The brighter chrome work, along with LED lamps front and back, elevates this Passat upmarket and worthy of its top-of-the-line status. The 18-inch wheels are a crowning touch with lower profile Continental ProContact TX tires rounding out the SEL package.

2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium

The 2016 update brought some improvements in terms of interior quality and content. It begins with supportive front seats adorned with Cornsilk Beige leather. This is offset by a very blonde wood trim, black carpeting and steering wheel. There are touches of chrome in the appropriate places. Even the instrument binnacle got an upgrade with a new TFT screen in-between the two large dials. This cabin is already a much nicer place to be than any Passat before it.

Because of the more supportive seats, I had to readjust myself to get really comfortable. It was absolutely no problem, as I found a sportier seat arrangement for better driving control. Still, the Passat is designed for a more relaxing drive. That part has already been covered with tremendous rear passenger space and a comfortable back seat. In all, this is a great place to be for 4-5 people to enjoy the drive – as exactly as expected in a Passat.

The big leap last year the introduction of the MIB II infotainment system driven by Volkswagen Car-Net App-Connect. This system allows users to connect to this system by using Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink to use the apps on these devices for phone operation, music playback and so forth. You also get SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, a SD card slot, Bluetooth connectivity, AUX and USB ports. The larger touch screen facilitates simpler use with better screens to manage all functions.

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The icing on this cake is the Fender Premium Audio System and its eight speakers of guitar amplifier-inspired sound. It is one of the better audio systems around. However, Passat customers have to choose the SEL Premium model to get it. Believe me, it is worth it.

Should we talk about trunk space? How about 15.9 cubic feet of space? Not to mention a great trunk lid to make loading up said space easier. You can also fold the rear seat backs down for longer loads. In all, this is one of the more useful cars in its class.

It is good that Volkswagen has kept the VR6 as an option for the Passat. It bucked the trend of eliminating the six-cylinder mid-sized family sedan, where more manufacturers are finding more favor in turning better fuel economy than providing a more powerful option against going to a much larger and more expensive sedan. There is now a reverse trend welcoming the return of the V6 to the mid-sized sedan – thank you, Ford!

2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium

What will surprise you about the VR6 is its smoother operation. With 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the narrow V engine – at 10.6 degrees – just feels balanced and relaxed. The VR6 is attached to six-speed DSG transmission. It is a good gearbox, but it can be sometimes overachieving at times. This is true when it had to make a quick getaway, causing the traction control to come into play. If you’re more careful on the throttle, the entire traction system will work well to keep you and the Passat in line and on the road. The Continental ProContact TX tires are decent, even in snow. Of course, any Minnesotan would tell you to get a second set of winter tires as better assurance for greater traction and stability.

Not so fast! Here is something to think about: This Passat performed much better than any vehicle driven so far in the cold season. It had no problems starting up in deep cold – temperatures well below 0 Fahrenheit. The combination of Traction Control and stability systems righted the Passat when grip was non-existent. Sure, I could call for winter tires and perhaps a 4Motion option, but the Passat will not do you wrong in the deepest of winters – just make sure things are at least plowed one time over.

As a rule, larger wheel diameters usually mean a loss in ride quality. The 2016 SE with Technology Package had 17-inch tires with large sidewalls. It offered a very smooth, even soft, ride. With the SEL Premium's 18-inch wheels, the ride is equally smooth, absorbent and relaxing – yes, that word will pop up here from time-to-time. Even cornering is improved with the larger wheels. I found the Passat to be near-flat on the cloverleaf interchanges and other curves. The Passat is no slouch when it comes to having good handling characteristics.

While the steering was a bit light on-center, it turns extremely well. There is great wheel feedback and a sharper action for tighter turns. The brakes are very good, proving superb stops in normal, panic and winter situations. Active safety is also a part of this SEL Premium package, which includes Lane Departure Warning, Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Rearview Camera System, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

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As far as fuel economy is concerned, I heard and read that the VR6 is quite thirsty. That was my concern, too. It did not help that the car was exposed to the coldest temperatures seen in December in a long time here in the Twin Cities. In the end, I averaged 23.0 MPG.

As for the price, my V6 SEL Premium tester came with a sticker price of $34,815. That is at the upper end of this class and par for mid-sized family sedans with top-of-the-line trim levels.

I know that I heaped a lot of praise on the Passat. I would even consider one for purchase. After driving two different models of the Passat, I began to ponder about which model would be best to purchase or lease, if it were my money. The SE with Technology package is a great all-around model, but it does not offer some of the features I like on the SEL Premium model. If I could get Fender Premium audio and the supportive seats on the SE with Technology version, that would be a great value.

The overarching thought is not about price and content. It is about the car. With the main rivals in its class about to introduce new generation models in the next year or so, one has to consider the Volkswagen Passat as a contender in this important segment. Tell me which car can still offer a choice in performance, better engineering, the best infotainment system around and the most spacious interior space of any vehicle in its class? This has been my argument for the Volkswagen Passat above any mid-sized family sedan out there.

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What's your excuse in not buying one?

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle Provided by Volkswagen of America

All photos by Randy Stern

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