The 2013 Volkswagen Passat is the latest edition of a long-time staple of the VW range. Since the 2012 model year, the American-built Passat has grown in size and been reduced in complexity, bringing it closer to the established best-sellers on space and price.
While that means losing some of the Audi-style quality touches from the previous car, the new model hits the sweet spot in the mid-size sedan market and has proven very successful. You can thank clean, Germanic styling, a comfortable cabin, and the option of Volkswagen's ultra-efficient turbodiesel engines for that.
The four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel is actually the pick of the range, and the second most efficient car VW sells in the U.S.--after the new 2013 Jetta Hybrid. The Passat manages 31 mpg in the city and an impressive 43 mpg on the highway, for a combined EPA rating of 35 mpg.
Performance is nothing to sniff at either. Volkswagen's ubiquitous 2.0-liter TDI four develops 140 horsepower, and produces 236 pounds-feet of torque. If you still think that diesels are smelly, noisy, and slow, dump your Nineties stereotypes and think again.
A six-speed manual transmission lets you make the most of all that punch, and helps maximize economy too. A six-speed, dual-clutch automatic is also available for more relaxed progress. It drops 1 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway to the manual, but still manages a combined rating of 34 mpg.
So good is the diesel that there's little reason to pick any of the other engine options. The base five-cylinder isn't that impressive. It's free of flair, and delivers its 170 understated horsepower in an unenthusiastic way through either a manual or automatic transmission to the front wheels. There's a V-6 option with 280 horsepower and a more muscular attitude, but it seems opulent and indulgent in such a bare, restrained car.
Road manners are as close to the outgoing Passat as they possibly can be, given the stretch in wheelbase, with minor differences in steering feel in the TDI's partly electrified system, and due to tire sizes. Still, the Passat is a large car, so it's not nimble in the strictest sense of the word--it just carries its size well.
Visually, the Passat is pure Volkswagen. There's little aesthetic adornment or flamboyance, but it remains attractive and refined in a way that some of the more bawdy four-doors are not. It's big but not bulky, especially at the front end where a delicately rendered grille might be its best detail.
The story continues inside, with a cabin that eschews glitz and glamor for chunky solidity and an uncluttered layout. It's a bluntly appealing place to work, even if it's only the equal of the cabin in a Fusion or an Altima or a Legacy--and a bit of a step down from the tightly grained, rich-feeling environment inside the smaller, less successful previous Passat.
The 2013 VW Passat has upped its family-sedan credibility in one big way. The rear seat is tremendous, bigger than the bench in an Azera or an Avalon, with the kind of ease of entry and exit we're used to getting in a minivan. The trunk's also pretty vast. It's also earned excellent safety scores, and adds a rearview camera on some models this year, which helps address a dearth of other useful safety gadgetry.
It remains shy of some infotainment and luxury features, either altogether or specifically on some models and combinations. Want a base Passat TDI with cloth seats, satellite radio, and a USB port? It doesn't exist. The Passat S doesn't have rear-seat air vents. Only the V-6 SEL has an option for real leather seats, though the synthetic stuff on most other models does a tough, convincing job.
Prices for the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI start at $26,225 in SE trim. For that, you'll get a sedan with up to 795 miles of driving in each tank of fuel, limousine-like rear-seat room, with a dash of the handling brio you'd expect from a Volkswagen. If those attributes top your shopping list for a new family sedan, the Passat rules--even if there may be better values, better lookers, and better straight-line performers out there.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Volkswagen Passat on our sister site, TheCarConnection.