NAIAS Preview: 2012 Volkswagen Passat
By Chris Haak
Talk about anti-climactic news. The night before the NAIAS in Detroit, Volkswagen revealed its long-awaited New Midsize Sedan (NMS), and surprise – the car is to be called the Passat. Like the 2011 Jetta, the Passat’s price of entry will be cut, and like the Jetta, it will be larger than the current Passat. Unlike the Jetta, however, the Passat will be built in the United States, in VW’s newly-constructed plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The 2012 Passat is the largest car ever to carry the Passat name, and this appear to be a continuation of the trend that we discussed a few days ago, when we commented on Volkswagen of America’s CEO discussing his company’s consideration of a full-size SUV for the US market. That is, offering Americans more car (size-wise, but not content-wise) for less money.
Well, I learned in Economics 101 that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and phrases from the press release like the car will perfectly match “with the tastes and lifestyles of Americans.” At least, the tastes and lifestyles of Americans as Germans perceive them to be. After all, the car is “Designed in Germany and made in America.”
One positive that the 2012 Passat shares with the 2011 Jetta is that it seems to be equipped with some nice powertrain options. No two-point-slow 2.0 liter base engine for the Passat; the base mill is a 2.5 liter five-cylinder, with a 2.0 liter TDI (diesel) and 3.6 liter V6 as optional engines. The TDI model will achieve an impressive (and hybrid-like) 43 miles per gallon on the highway, and be the only clean diesel option in its class. The car’s design, while decidedly conservative, is perhaps one of the more handsome offerings in the midsize segment, at least in the SEL-spec photo cars provided with VW’s press release.
Missing from the engine lineup, however, is Volkswagen’s excellent 2.0 liter TSI turbo direct injection gasoline engine. Having driven a previous-generation Jetta GLI and a current-generation Passat with the 2.oT engine, it’s disappointing that VW has omitted that engine from the Passat’s engine choices. Quite likely, it’s somewhat expensive to produce, which might be contrary to the car’s newfound value message.
VW plans for the Passat and Jetta together to make up a bulk of the company’s US sales in the coming years as it seeks to gain significant market share. Jetta sales year-to-date are up fairly substantially over the 2010 model’s performance, so in spite of what I and other writers have said about VW’s ambitions and the Jetta’s redesign, maybe Volkswagen does understand Americans more than we give them credit for.
Look for in-person impressions of the 2012 Passat from the Detroit show tomorrow.