If you haven’t been following the controversy surrounding the recent redesign of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat, I’ll sum it up for you: In its quest to dominate worldwide automotive sales, VW decided the Euro-spec sedan wouldn’t do for the U.S. market. Designers penned a new, Americanized Passat that’s bigger, blander and cheaper, a Euro-parody of the demands of the typical American consumer. It’s only German understatement that left out the high-fructose corn syrup dispenser, gun rack and lethal injection kit.
Even before the first cars came off the line at Volkswagen’s all-new Passat plant in Chattanooga, TN, some Vee-Dubistas cried foul, alleging the new car had lost its soul. Others welcomed a German interloper that would siphon off buyers from Japanese, Korean and American midsizers. Not since OJ’s white Bronco crept down the 405 has such a nondescript car captivated the attention of so many.
Not since OJ’s white Bronco crept down the 405 has such a nondescript car captivated the attention of so many.
That’s because the Passat has flown under the radar for years, a cult car preferred by grown-up hipsters and mid-to-upper-income folks with a disdain for extravagance. It’s the only well-equipped European sedan you can buy that doesn’t carry the baggage of a high-end brand, and for that it’s gained legions of fans among no-nonsense CEOs, public school principals and senior managers at non-profits. Tampering with such a formula could make the Passat dull or, worse, give it mass appeal.
That sure seems to be Volkswagen’s strategy. With base prices ranging from $20,000 for a bare-bones 5-cylinder, 5-speed base model to $32,950 for a SEL Premium with a V6 mated to a direct-shift gearbox (DSG), there’s a wide range of Passats out there, including a diesel version that’s the only diesel sedan in its class.
Just this week at the Los Angeles Auto show, the 2012 Passat cemented its status as Volkswagen’s golden child by winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. The diesel version was one of the five finalists for 2012 Green Car of the Year.
It’s a marketer’s dream: After national ad campaigns and award placings hype the hell out of the V6 and the diesel, local dealers can rope ‘em in with a newspaper ad touting a single car with a base price of $20k (plus the destination fee, of course).
I suspect the majority of cars on dealer lots will be similar to the car I drove, which mated a 5-cylinder engine to an automatic transmission. With neither the fuel economy of a diesel or the acceleration of the V6, the SEL-trim Reflex Silver specimen ($28,395) that arrived in my driveway was also the most anonymous three-box sedan I’d seen since the 2010 Kia Optima. Ask a toddler to draw the outline of a car, and this is what you’d get: nose down, symmetrical, tall greenhouse. An episode of Happy Days could offend more people.