Readers often ask: How come the cars you drive always are loaded with expensive options? True, it's rare we get a base model. But carmakers want reviewers to experience all their features, which is why we often get top-of-the-line models. So the Passat S, which is one of the base models in the Volkswagen sedan's expansive lineup, was welcome.
Appearance: The made-in-America Passat, which got a redesign last year, is unchanged for 2013. The European design is handsome without dramatic touches, save for the three-blade silver-tone grille. The hood's creases extend to the grille, which blends with slender, swept-back headlights to give the car a lean look. Our tester came in beautiful Night Blue Metallic set off by 16-inch alloy wheels.
Performance: The 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower five-cylinder is stout enough to handle interstate merging. You can bypass the speed limit easily without noticing it. The five-cylinder seems just about right for most drivers' needs. The Passat line also includes a fuel-sipping four-cylinder turbo diesel and a more performance-oriented 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6. The Passat's ride is smooth and comfortable; VW has found the sweet spot that Americans like in their family sedans. Lyra was thankful for the Electronic Stability Control when she had to serve suddenly to avoid a car at interstate speeds without losing control. Our tester had the appearance package that includes a 6-speed automatic transmission. (The base model comes with a 5-speed manual.)
Interior: The Passat is designed with Americans in mind. So the interior is roomy with plenty of elbow-, leg- and headroom. Even in our base tester, the seats (nice fabric design: Moonrock Cloth) were comfortable. The driver's seat even includes lumbar support. Our one quibble with the manually adjusted (eight ways) seats: We both found the seatback recline lever difficult to reach. The gauges and controls in the Passat, maybe even more pronounced in the base models, are simple and easy to read. Peter found the controls at a comfortable reach, and the layout intuitive. Sometimes, simple is best. The base Passat does come with a Bluetooth connection that includes audio streaming, but we couldn't find an interface to change the tracks and had to do that on our mobile devices. The trunk is roomy and Lyra was able to get a lot packed in it for a weekend trip to her son's soccer tournament. The trunk lid also helpfully pops open wide when using the key-fob remote. We both loved the deep-grooved rubber floor mats — what they lack in appearance they make up for in practicality. Lyra found them perfect for grassy soccer cleats and Peter was happy to have them when he spilled coffee.
Our 3 favorites
Ride: Balanced and comfortable.
Controls: Nicely laid out.
Options: The Passat has three engine choices and several trim lines.
Dash: Clean three-tone design with faux-metallic trim. Simple and elegant.
Handling: Quick response, stable ride.
Cabin: Lots of interior space, plenty for five adults.
The bottom line: Many of us want a family sedan that will get us from Point A to Point B safely and comfortably without having to spend a fortune. The Passat fits the bill nicely.