Tom Crosby: 2016 Passat receives style tweaks, tech upgrade

Tom Crosby

The 2016 gasoline-powered Passat received stylistic changes inside and out this year along with a vastly improved infotainment system with upgrade options and standard safety features in some trims.

Our test drive was a new sporty trim, the R-line.

Gone is any diesel version as Volkswagen struggles with its emission scandal for diesel powered VWs and Audis. The gas-powered Passat has always been an alternative to the higher priced diesel power plant. However, Passat sales have declined annually since peaking in 2012, losing ground to major competitors like Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

This year VW amps up all Passat interiors with VW’s modular infotainment system (MIB II) accessed via a 5-inch touchscreen in our test drive and a USB connection.

Available safety options and VW’s Car-Net App-Connect for smartphones will delight young techies with children who want a multi-functional backseat to house car seats and still be comfortable for full-size adults.

The 2016 Passat’s seven trim levels are: S, R-Line, SE, SE w/tech, SEL, SEL Premium and V6 SEL Premium, all automatic transmission with various options. Our R-line was outfitted with a $775 comfort package adding leatherette seating, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, exterior mirrors and washer nozzles. A rear-view camera is standard but doesn’t alert you about traffic preparing to zip past behind you. A post-collision feature stops the car after a crash.

Safety features like pre-collision braking; blind spot detection and lane departure warning/assist are options. We rode on 19-inch wheels with tweaked rocker panels to improve structural support and help maintain Passat’s safety ratings, historically in the top or near top in government and insurance industry crash tests.

The stiffer body assists good handling responses. The 170-horsepower engine can be manipulated with manual steering wheel paddles and has ample acceleration when the turbocharger kicks in. At steady speed, it is politely quiet.

Outside changes include slimmer headlights, a thicker four-bar grille above three air-dam chrome strips and a slightly domed hood.

Drive visibility with the level beltline remains excellent. The dashboard, center console and gauges are new. Knick-knack spaces abound, with coin trays, small bins, a spacious glove compartment and visor envelope straps. Rear seats fold above a generous sized trunk containing a spare tire. Seating space continues to be a big Passat plus with plenty of head and legroom in front and seats.

Like: Knick-knick spaces, roomy, visibility, looks, mileage, quiet.
Dislike: No cross-traffic alert for rear camera.
Bottom line: Faces tough competition in mid-size sedan segment.

Fact File
2016 VW Passat TSI R-line

Base price with destination fee: $24,795 ($25,570 as tested).
Curb weight:  3,263 pounds.
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches.
Length: 191.9 inches.
Width: 72.2 inches.
Engine specs: 1.8 liter, inline 4, DOHC, turbocharger.
Horsepower: 170 hp at 4,800 rpm.
Torque:184 pounds-feet at 1,5000 rpm.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic/manual paddles.
EPA rating: 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.
Range: 18.5-gallon tank, regular.
Performance: 0-60 in about 8 seconds.

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.