Canadians love SUVs and crossovers, but there’s still a lot to be said for the sedan. They can be as roomy inside as their height-enhanced cousins, while their lower centre of gravity can provide more predictable handling, especially if you have to make a quick emergency maneuver.
It does just about everything right, which is exactly what a family sedan should do.
There are several good ones on the market, but I’m particularly attracted to the 2017 Volkswagen Passat. It’s roomy and comfortable, and while it isn’t particularly stimulating as a driving machine, it has a marvellously composed attitude. It does just about everything right, which is exactly what a family sedan should do.
The diesel is gone and likely won’t ever be back, which is really a shame. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.8L four-cylinder that powers the three available trim lines – Trendline, Comfortline and Highline – making 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and starting at $25,745.
But my tester carried a 3.6L V6, available only on the top-trim Highline. It boosts output to 280 ponies, along with 258 lb-ft of torque. And while the four-cylinder uses a regular six-speed automatic, the V6 is bolted to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox (dubbed a DSG, for direct-shift), a nifty automatic unit that sets up the next gear as soon as the current one is deployed for almost blink-of-an-eye switchovers.
The downside is that, between the engine and the top trim, a V6-powered Passat starts at $37,745. And mine was further goosed by $1,350 for an optional Driver Assistance Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and parking assist, bringing it to $39,095 before freight and taxes. It’s a chunk of change, and I expect most buyers will stick with the cheaper engine choice. (For those with really deep pockets, the only other option, the R-Line Package, adds unique wheels and trim items for $2,190.)
The turbo-four is more than enough to move the Passat around, but I really like the V6 nevertheless. Even though it’s not that smooth at idle, the well-insulated cabin does a great job of keeping down the noise. Acceleration is strong and linear, and highway passing presents no issues at all. Fuel recommendation is regular-grade 87 octane.
That DSG is also a thing of beauty, at least 99.8 percent of the time. These units can sometimes give a hesitant little bump when they’re downshifting, as my tester did on a couple of occasions, but that’s more head’s-up than cause for alarm. You can manually shift sequentially using the wheel-mounted paddles or the shift lever.
Steering is sharp and responsive, but lighter than I prefer. It tightens up at highway speeds but still not enough. This is a commuter-style car built for comfort rather than performance, but Volkswagen could easily dial in the electric steering assist and still have something that’s firmer while not too punchy for everyday drivers.
Some describe the Passat’s styling as boring, but I call it timeless. This simple, elegant design is going to look good ten years from now, when its cutting-edge competitors will just look strange.
I like the simple controls, since I shouldn’t be searching for small or difficult ones when I’m driving. The sole exception is the power mirror switch, awkwardly stuck on the door panel and feeling like a hard tug could snap it off. The automatic climate control uses large dials, along with buttons for the mode and heated seats. Alas, there is no heated steering wheel, once considered a luxury but now included on many mainstream models with lower price tags. It’s my new “gotta have it” feature for frosty mornings, and I’m surprised it’s not on a trim that starts close to $38,000.
The Highline includes an audio system by Fender, the guitar-and-amp company, and it sounds incredible. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on all trim levels, while the Highline adds navigation that’s easy to use.
The seats are typically German, with firm cushions. But they’re supportive, and kept my back feeling better than many others on longer trips. The rear chairs have some sculpting as well for comfort and support, and they’re heated on the Comfortline and Highline trims. They fold down to increase the trunk space, although not completely flat. On the Highline there’s an additional pass-through for long, thin items such as skis.
Both the Comfortline and Highline trims get numerous goodies, including auto-dimming rearview mirror, an easy-open trunk that pops up when you kick your foot under the bumper, LED headlamps, sunroof, rain-sensing wipers (which, like all of them, have trouble figuring out drizzle or light snow), and blind-spot monitoring. I like that safety feature, but really, who designed it? The orange warning light is right beside the orange turn signal indicator at the mirror’s edge. At quick glance, it’s hard to figure out which of the two is lighting up.
My tester’s Assistance Package including a self-parking feature, which can handle parallel or perpendicular spots. For those who got their driver’s licenses from a vending machine, it can extricate itself from a parallel spot as well. It’s a mixed bag: when everything goes its way, it works really well. But it frequently drove by numerous empty spots, and while it backed in perfectly between two cars, it parked crooked when there was an empty spot on one side. And the system doesn’t chime a notification when it finds a spot, or when the driver needs to take action. As a result, I spent too much time watching the screen for my cue, rather than checking my surroundings. And as with all these systems, it was much quicker to just park it myself.
Overall, though, the Passat is a handsome, solid, quiet, and well-rounded performer that gets you where you’re going without any fuss, and I was very impressed with it. It also placed second in our recent mid-size sedan comparison test. You may think you want a crossover, but do yourself a favour and look at this sedan as well.
|Engine Displacement||3.6L||Model Tested||2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline V6|
|Engine Cylinders||V6||Base Price||$37,745|
|Peak Horsepower||280 hp @ 6,000 rpm||A/C Tax||$100|
|Peak Torque||258 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm||Destination Fee||$1,695|
|Fuel Economy||11.9/8.5/10.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||Price as Tested||$40,890|
|Cargo Space||450 L|
$1,350 – Driver Assistance Package $1,350