2012 Volkswagen Passat Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jun 8, 2011

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2012 Volkswagen Passat Buying Advice

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is the best car for you if you want an all-new midsize sedan that’s German in name but middle-American in size, price, and performance.   

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat turns away from its predecessor’s European precision and the high price that went with it. The redesign finally gives VW a car with the passenger space and mid-$20,000 sticker to compete with the segment-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Like those cars, the 2012 Passat is assembled in America and targets American tastes. It may disappoint fans of earlier Passats, which were sporty, luxurious, and aspirational. But it should appeal to midsize-car shoppers seeking maximum roominess, proficient road manners, and no-risk styling.

Should you buy a 2012 Volkswagen Passat or wait for the 2013 Volkswagen Passat? Buy the 2012 Passat. The 2013 model won’t change in any significant way, though it will likely suffer annual new-model price escalation.

2012 Volkswagen Passat Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Volkswagen Passat’s styling is in the service of its mission: to be accepted by as many buyers as possible. In shape and proportion, the body is generic-four-door-sedan. For personality, the 2012 Passat relies on sharp-bladed grillework, restrained sheet metal contours, and big VW badges.

The cabin is similarly straightforward. A study in understatement, it’s rigidly symmetrical and rationally laid out. Padding is confined to the steering wheel rim, center console armrest, and inner door skins, with other surfaces grained and finished to please the eye if not the fingers. Overall, the 2012 Passat is handsome but unadventurous, just as VW believes it must be if it’s to help the company achieve its goal of tripling corporate sales to 800,000 annually in the U.S. by 2018.

VW did not sell a 2011 Passat in the U.S. In designing the 2012 model, it concluded that the European-sized 2008-2010-generation Passat was too small to compete as a true American midsize car. So it enlarges the all-new 2012 model by more than three inches in wheelbase and overall length, creating class-leading dimensions in most every measurement. Cabin comfort is excellent. Especially noteworthy are rear-seat accommodations that shame many larger and more expensive cars. Previous Passats offered sedan and wagon body styles, but the 2012 model comes only as a sedan. 

Mechanical: The 2012 Passat follows midsize-segment convention with front-wheel drive and an all-independent suspension. Gone, however, are the sporty reflexes and premium-class composure that proved its predecessors were German to the bone. These larger American-rooted 2012 Passatss deliver confident but unexciting handling and a compliant, controlled ride.

Under the hood, the 2012 Passat bucks the midsize-class trend toward an all-four-cylinder engine lineup by offering a powerful V-6, a high-mileage diesel, and a five-cylinder; the latter two are the only engines of their type in the class.

The five-cylinder is expected to power 75 percent of the lineup and is used in the 2012 Passat 2.5L models. It has 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force behind acceleration, horsepower the energy that sustains momentum). This is the same engine used in VW’s compact-class Jetta sedan and Passat 2.5L models perform on par with base four-cylinder versions of most rival midsize cars.

The 2012 Passat TDI models have a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder rated at 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Turbodiesels are renowned for torque and fuel economy and no other midsize car sold in the U.S. offers one. In the 2012 Passat, this engine runs a bit rougher than the 2.5 five-cylinder but responds with slightly more muscle, especially in highway-speed passing or merging situations.

The 2012 Passat 3.6L models use a 3.6-liter six-cylinder of VW’s narrow-angle VR6 design. With 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, they’re among the most powerful cars in the midsize class and storm ahead in a smooth rush of power. Torque steer – pulling to the side during low-speed throttle application -- is endemic to front-wheel-drive cars with this much power but the 2012 Passat 3.6L keeps it to an unobtrusive minimum. 

For transmissions, the 2012 Passat allows the choice of a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic for the 2.5L models. Standard on the TDI is a six-speed manual. Optional on TDIs and standard on 3.6L versions is VW’s six-speed DSG direct-shift gearbox. This performs the duties of an automatic but employs lighter weight self-shifting manual-transmission internals. Both the conventional automatic transmission and the DSG afford manual-type gear control via their floor shift levers, though the 3.6L models add steering-wheel paddle shifters.  

Features: The 2012 Volkswagen Passat roster of features sticks to the basics, offering a checklist of expected amenities while giving short shrift to a few that have become staples in cars like this. For example, the 2012 Passat offers a choice of bargain-priced and higher-spec navigation systems (both voice-activated) and makes Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity standard on every model. However, it reserves a USB iPod interface to models costing upwards of $27,500 and doesn’t offer a rear backup camera at all.

Features ascend from the entry-level S trim exclusive to the 2.5L model through midline SE and top-line SEL tiers available on all models. All 2012 Passats come with automatic dual-zone climate control and steering wheel audio, Bluetooth, and cruise-control buttons.

The 2.5L S models have cloth upholstery and 16-inch wheels. SE versions of all models include such upgrades as 17-inch alloy wheels, VW’s faux-leather V-Tex upholstery, heated front seats, a driver’s seat with power instead of manual adjustments, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an audio touchscreen. SE styling upgrades include brushed-aluminum-look cabin trim and chrome exterior accents around the windows.

SEL versions have the high-spec navigation system with a 6.5-inch screen versus a 5-inch display. They replace the aluminum-look cabin trim with out-of-fashion imitation woodgrain, and add additional chrome accents inside and out. SEL models also sport a premium sound system tailored for the 2012 Passat by sound engineers at the Fender guitar company.

2012 Volkswagen Passat Prices back to top

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat base-price range is $20,765-$33,720. True to VW’s populist goals, that represents a starting price some $7,000 below that of the least-expensive 2010 Passat sedan and puts the 2012 version squarely in the heart of the midsize-class sticker span. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee: VW’s fee for the 2012 Passat is $770.)

The $20,765 starting price is for the 2012 Passat 2.5L S model with the five-speed manual transmission and steel wheels with plastic wheel covers. The 2012 Passat 2.5L Appearance trim model is priced at $23,460 and adds the six-speed automatic transmission and alloy wheels.

The 2012 Passat 2.5L SE models are priced at $24,495 with manual transmission. Automatic-transmission versions start at $25,595 and are expected to be the single most popular version of the 2012 Passat. Adding a power sunroof raises the 2.5L SE’s price to $26,395; ordering the sunroof and base navigation system in combination increases it to $27,565.

The 2012 Passat 2.5L SEL models include the equipment outlined in the Features section above and start at $29,165. The 2.5L SEL Premium versions list for $30,665 and add leather upholstery, keyless entry and pushbutton start, fog lights, driver’s seat memory, and power front passenger seat.

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE is priced at $26,765 with manual transmission. They list for $28,665 with the DSG automatic transmission and sunroof, and $30,265 with DSG, sunroof, and the basic navigation system. The only TDI SEL version is the SEL Premium; it replicates the 2.5L SEL Premium equipment and is priced at $32,965.

Volkswagen begins the 2012 Passat 3.6L series with a specially tailored $29,765 SE version that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, dual chrome exhaust tips, fog lamps, and the Fender music system. Adding the base-spec navigation system kicks the price to $31,729. The top-of-the-line 2012 VW Passat is the 3.6L SEL Premium. It’s priced at $33,720 and includes the features standard on the 3.6L SE, plus leather upholstery and the upgrades to the navigation system and other features that come with the SEL Premium trim.    

2012 Volkswagen Passat Fuel Economy back to top

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat fuel economy ratings are spot-on with those of direct competitors and its TDI diesel model is a good mileage match for the few gas/electric hybrids in the class.

The 2012 Passat 2.5L models are rated 21/32 mpg city/highway with the five-speed manual transmission and 22/31 with the six-speed automatic. The 2012 VW Passat 3.6L models rate 20/28 mpg and come only with the six-speed DSG automatic.

The 2012 Passat TDI models rate 31/43 mpg with both the six-speed manual and the DSG automatic. By comparison, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid has 191 horsepower and rates 41/36 mpg while the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid has 187 horsepower and rates 31/35 mpg.

Passat TDIs burn diesel fuel, of course, but also require replenishment of the urea exhaust-cleansing fluid, commercially known as AdBlue, every 10,000 miles or so. VW says the service should be considered along with regular oil changes. Like TDI versions of VW’s Jetta and Touareg SUV, the Passat TDI flashes dashboard warnings as recommended AdBlue changes approach. Ignore them, and sensors prevent the car from starting. 

2012 Volkswagen Passat Release Date back to top

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat goes on sale in October 2011. The 2012 Passat is the first built in America; it’s assembled at a plant VW opened in 2011 in Tennessee and is sold in North America, Mexico, and China.

What's next for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat back to top

VW’s prepared to act quickly in a fuel price or supply crisis. It’s designed the 2012 Passat’s underpinnings in modular fashion, sharing some key components with the smaller Jetta to save money and engineering in the capability to mix and match engine cradles to suit a range of powerplants. Indeed, the company offers small-displacement high-tech four-cylinder engines in other markets that it says will fit the U.S. Passat. So it could respond to a fuel calamity with gas and even diesel engines capable of significant mileage gains.

Don’t look for styling changes until at least model-year 2014 or ‘15. They’d be minor and part of Passat’s midcycle freshening. The next full redesign would come for 2016 or ’17. Meantime, VW will be rolling ever-more-connected infotainment systems into its other models, but probably will take its time turning the Passat into a rolling smartphone and Wi-fi hot spot. Why? VW believes that, as middle-of-the-road American midsize-car buyers, the audience for this Passat isn’t rife with early adopters of cutting-edge tech.

2012 Volkswagen Passat Competition back to top

Honda Accord: The 2012 Honda Accord represents the final year of a design that bowed for model-year 2008 and may also represent the last chance to enjoy this car as a sedan that rivals the 2012 Passat for roominess. Sources say the next-generation 2013 Accord will shrink in the name of higher fuel economy and lower cost, though precisely by how much and whether it will actually have less cabin space only Honda knows. Still, the 2012 Accord is among the best values in any class. It feels more athletic on the road than the new Passat, arguably has higher-quality interior materials, and offers the alternative of a sporty coupe body style. A choice of 177- and 190-horsepower four-cylinder engines and a 271-horse V-6 is on tap. Fuel economy tops out at 23/34 mpg for the fours, 20/30 with the six. The sedan’s price range is $22,000-$30,300 with the four-cylinder, $27,800-$32,100 with the V-6.

Toyota Camry: Roomy, quiet, priced right, and on move a humble servant rather than a hot-to-trot sportster, Camry has what it takes to lead the segment in sales. Designers of the 2012 Passat certainly took notice in crafting their new mainstream sedan, but they were shooting at a moving target. Toyota is redesigning the Camry for model-year 2012 and few details about the first all-new version since 2007 were available in time for this review. Expect no change to the car’s core values or general dimensions. Look for a return of four-cylinder and V-6 engines, plus a gas/electric hybrid, all with better fuel economy than 2011’s top ratings of 22/32, 19/28, and 31/35 mpg, respectively. The redesigned 2012 Camry’s styling should be evolutionary, with hints of the swept-back look evident today in the company’s Camry-based Venza crossover wagon. Base-price range should remain about $21,000-$32,000.  

Hyundai Sonata: This sedan from the fast-growing South Korean brand went from wallflower to styling powerhouse with a model-year 2011 redesign. A Mercedes knock-off from some angles, the look is swoopy and fresh, the cabin spacious and comfortable. Sonata’s powertrains point to the future with an all-four-cylinder lineup. There’s some 200 horsepower and 24/35 mpg from the base engine, 274 and 22/34 from the turbocharged version, and 206 and 36/40 from the gas-electric hybrid. Steering feel is a little wooden and suspensions aren’t quite up to Accord or even 2012 Passat standards for ride or handling. But lots of standard features at every price point on the model ladder create terrific showroom appeal, as does a generous warranty. Estimated 2012 base-prices range is $22,000-$32,000.

2012 Volkswagen Passat Next Steps