WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: I always thought the Passat was the car you recommended for someone who needed the practicality of a sedan, but still wanted to have a little driving fun. Then a co-worker and a family member -- let’s just call them Fred and Frank -- heeded my recommendation and spent the next three years of their leases in a private Volkswagen Holle trying to get their Passat’s windows to work, among other basic functions.
Volkswagen will swear on a stack of Gutenberg Bibles that all those quality troubles are behind them and all is well. But if you look up the JD Power “Power Circle” ratings for the 2014 Passat you see that it gets a lousy two out of five stars in both Overall Quality and Predicted Reliability. It does get four out of five stars in Overall Performance and Design. This suggests that the Passat has quality issues, but maybe it’s fun to drive. My colleague, Fred, who has since left the firm, probably because of me recommending the Passat, and the other guy Frank, didn’t care if it was fun to drive if you could only drive it half the time. They both subsequently bought BMWs. So who knows?
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: What you see is pretty much what you get with this 2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium, except where the engine -- a little 1.8-liter turbo four -- is concerned. ...
Thus, while I had a perfectly fun time during my several-days’ drive of the 2015 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium in our fleet, I hesitate to highly recommend it. Though my own personal Volkswagen Eurovan has 132,000 miles on it and has never had a major problem. My old 1979 Westfalia camper van similarly had no major or even minor problems. My old ’77 van was bulletproof. We at Vaughnheim GmbH had a 1998 Passat wagon for seven years and loved it -- so practical and fun to drive with its manual transmission. So who knows?
The 2015 Passat 1.8T SEL Premium we had seemed to be an easy car to own and operate, at least in the four days I drove it. Everybody who rode in it liked it, too. The back seat passengers were awed by the knee and legroom. The front seat passengers were cosseted to their cosset’s content. I liked the shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. This would be a good family car, I kept thinking the whole time I had it. A good, solid, dependable… then I thought about Fred and Frank.
You could get a Honda Accord or Mazda 6 with even more fun-to-drive manual transmissions and maybe not worry so much about quality control. Or you get a Volkswagen and have a fine time. Probably. Who knows? I gotta go, there’s someone at the door. It might be Fred or Frank seeking revenge.
The interior of the 2015 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium was spacious from front to back.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: When a car is fundamentally good -- when it feels slick and comfortable, so unobtrusive as to get out of your way -- one’s mind easily devolves into nitpicking. The satellite radio reception is bad. The door plastic is harsh. The rear defroster doesn’t work. (Wait, that might actually be a genuine concern.) Coming to a stop, the transmission might utter a quiet, jerky protest, like a nervous gymnast whose knees are buckling upon dismount.
What’s great about it, however: the seats are perfect. Wonderfully sculpted, real leather and suede, you simply melt into them like an amoebic form, and the bolsters give you a gentle hug, from your hips to your shoulders. Pop these suckers into an Airbus product and say goodbye to Knee Defender hysterics. The ride is composed. The brakes and steering are light but with feeling, like some poor engineer -- threatened with Piech’s wrath -- really sweated the details. The 170 hp never felt sluggish or outpaced: power delivery was excellent, and more so in S mode. (Turbochargers can be addicting. This is why my father, never a sporting man, bought a gently used CC with a similar drivetrain.) The clear visibility harkens to a mid-’90s feel when cars actually had it. It’s an airy cabin overall.
It’s easy to see why the Passat is so good. When you’re popping down to the mall, or the hair salon, sometimes you just need a car that feels unobtrusive -- when you don’t want to think about driving, but still want something that feels nice. Here it is! This is the archetypical sedan, the template of four-doored serenity. Its side view forms the silhouette on the recirculated air button. Remove the VW badge from the front grille and you can enjoy a starring role in various car insurance commercials.
And the sales figures sure show it: two years ago, when this model was introduced, VW sold the most Passats in America, ever -- breaking the six-figure mark for the first time in Passat history. Last year, it did so as well.
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