Volkswagen sure could use a little good news right about now. Here’s some: The refreshed 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI is a very nice car.

Volkswagen sure could use a little good news right about now. Here’s some: The refreshed 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI is a very nice car. Tested here is the next-to-top Highline trim with an all-in price of $33,795. With the improvements and upgrades bestowed upon this already roomy and fine-mannered front-drive sedan, we could consider the Highline as back-door pricing into the world of German-engineered refinement and near-luxury.

Tolerances are tight and the detailing impeccable.

The 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI bows at $23,295 for the Trendline that rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Move up to the $25,695 Trendline+ and you get 16-inch alloys and few other goodies. Next is Comfortline ($29,295), Highline ($33,795) and finally the all-singing-and-dancing Execline ($38,295) on 19-inch alloys, with full LED headlights, full suite of drivers aids and a 280-hp 3.6L VR6 engine. The 1.8 TSI is hooked to a six-speed Tiptronic auto while the VR6 gets the twin-clutch six-speed DSG tranny. As of this writing, no diesel Passat is on offer because… well, you know.

This American-built Passat, larger than the Euro-model and designed specifically for our market, was launched in 2012 with the hope of worrying the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, et al. While it never got very close to that, the Passat earned respect for its refinement and Germanic road manners. But sales of this cautiously conservative sedan have tapered over the past couple of years.

One thing you could say about the Passat’s heroically innocuous styling: it’s a fine choice for would-be felons. “Witnesses describe the getaway vehicle as, uh... car-like.”

So, time for a refresh. For 2016, everything in front of the A-pillars is new. There’s a fresh grille, slimmer headlights and a more sculpted hood. New alloys fill the wheel wells (18s in this case), and the rear gets new taillights and a recontoured trunk lid. A little more bling here and there, and the elegance factor ramps up a couple of notches. No one is going to do a double take here, but this 2016 does come across as more upscale.

Earlier on First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Passat

Hop inside, close the door and it swings home with an unmistakable and reassuring Teutonic thunk. Ahhhh. The eight-way driver’s seat is broad yet comfortably supportive, and glancing around you see a sensible cabin built to a high standard. There’s a very nice flat-bottomed steering wheel and a new GTI-inspired instrument cluster that is a paragon of white-on-black clarity with racy red needles.

Tolerances are tight and the detailing impeccable. If you find some of the overstyled efforts coming from Japan and Korea of late a tad OTT, the Passat’s restraint could be refreshing. Or too safe. Either way, you can’t argue with the execution. It feels like an Audi in here. The Makassar Interior Décor, which integrates some faux blond wood trim, looks darn nice too.

The 2016 Passat Highline gets VW’s new Discover Media 6.5-inch touchscreen with proximity sensor. Bring your hand close to the screen and the menu icons expand for your poking pleasure. There are swipe and pinch functions, and App-Connect gives smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay, Mirror Link and Android Auto. Navigation is standard in the Highline, and the whole caboodle is easy to use. The 400-watt Fender-badged audio sound mighty fine, too.

Other premium touches in this model include heated rear seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, rain sensing wipers, seat and mirror memory, rearview camera and auto-dimming interior mirror. And praise be, VW is finally putting USB ports in its vehicles (one front, one back in this case) – adios to those derided proprietary MDI ports of the past.

Along with updated connectivity, VW offers some new driver’s aids in the 2016 Passat. The Highline gets a well-calibrated adaptive cruise control system, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. The top-level Execline adds Park Distance Control, Park Assist and Lane Keeping Assist.

The good news here is that no matter which trim you choose (with the exception of the Execline), the 170-hp, 184 lb-ft 1.8L direct-injection turbo four mates beautifully with the six-speed Tiptronic to provide smooth, linear and economical progress. Granted, you won’t win any drag races, but the insistent mid-range pull has the sedan never feeling flat footed. It’s mostly quiet too, just getting a bit gravelly when you really hoof it. Official fuel economy numbers are 9.3 L/100 km city, 6.3 L/100 km highway and 8.0 L/100 km combined.

Ride quality gets an A+. I can think of numerous “luxury” cars that could take a lesson in compliance and body control from the Passat. It quietly smooths out the roughest of surfaces, gliding with a refined disdain over roads that would have you gritting your teeth in many competitors. Sure, it won’t cut a rug like some other German sports sedans, but it’s still a fine handling car. If you know how VWs feel on the road, then you’ll know the Passat. It displays a decidedly European flow – no questions, rough edges or elements that make you ask “Jeez, why didn’t they do that better?”

The electric steering is a tad light, but surely accurate and does not suffer from any annoying on-centre numbness. (Having just come out of the 2016 Honda Civic, this was somewhat of a revelation.) On the highway, the Passat is a champ – monastically serene and surprisingly efficient. On a few longer jaunts the trip computer showed a very diesel-like 6.6 L/100 km (regular grade fuel, too). Oh, did I say diesel? Sorry.

Joking aside, the 2016 versions of VW 2.0L Clean Diesel are reportedly legitimately clean, but at this point all VW and Audi diesel vehicle sales are halted pending EPA approval. Will we ever see a Passat diesel? Hope so.

Rounding out the Passat package, we have Raptors-grade rear seat accommodations and a massive trunk – here with a remote release that has the lid rising up of its own volition.

By now you can tell I liked the 2016 Passat 1.8 TSI Highline. What it lacks in flash and pizzazz it more than makes up for in refinement, build quality, drivability and economy. And now with modern connectivity and newly available driver’s aids, the Passat makes for a mighty inviting offering for those who don’t need to run with the crowd.

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Volkswagen Passat Highline   Destination Fee $1605
Base Price $33,795   Price as Tested $35,500
A/C Tax  
Optional Equipment