Executive wheels: Even the base model wows


Car companies usually send reviewers their most tricked-out models, loaded with all the extras aimed at wowing us and, ultimately, the readers and potential car buyers. A funny thing happens every so often, and this month was one of those: I got the absolute base model of the Volkswagen Passat – and I was still wowed.

What impressed me most about the Passat right off the bat was how simple it was. No LED screen and complicated electronics, just old-fashioned and straight-forward buttons and dials to control the heat, A/C and radio. It was pretty basic – although basic these days includes power windows and mirrors and door locks operated with the key fob.

I kept trying to open the door without unlocking the car since almost everything  else these days has a sensor that detects the key and unlocks the door, but the Passat is kind of old school; you unlock it, albeit electronically, and then lock it when you leave. Oh, and you use a key to start it; no push button start.

This all gives you the opportunity to just enjoy the drive, as it were. So often these days I find myself distracted driving when I am trying to operate the mouse to change the “source” on the audio, or get back to climate to alter the temperature or fan speed. Here I was just driving – and I loved it.

The Passat has been in the VW line since 1973, which makes the model among the ancients in autodom, and for the few models that reach this level there is a reason for that: they are wonderful cars. My Passat had a 2.5-liter, 170 hp, in-live five cylinder engine (rated 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway) that was quite smooth, and while the car in this form is no speed demon, I never once in any condition found it lacking for get-up-and-go. 

Given the way cars have contracted and expanded over the years, the Passat used to be considered a full-sized car, but with its most recent generational change in 2011 (something like the 10th generation, although there have been some iterations called 6.5, etc.) it has been categorized and named  by VW as the Passat NMS for New Midsized Sedan. The redesign and designation earned it Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2012. It still feels larger than many other cars placed in the midsized category, and here you will find plenty of arm, shoulder and leg room up front, and rear seating for three that never feels cramped. This is a roomy, comfortable car. 

And this is also a car that is a pleasure to drive. Nothing fancy – they don’t even tout some amazing automatic transmission with 20 speeds and a ballyhooed name – with stability control, ABS brakes and 16-inch wheels. Given its size and somewhat squat shape (although it is very attractive) this Passat corners well, maneuvers easily, is a snap to park, and, really, just fun to drive.

After all the fancy cars I get, I don’t mid saying that this just might be the Car of the Year for me too; if I was buying, I would desire this one – in this base model – more than just about anything else for a family car.

To be fair, my test-drive mode was the bottom-of-the-line, the S with a base price of $20,895. Rather it was the “S w/Appearance,” that added on a rear armrest with storage, illuminated sliding sun visors (some of the best visors on the market), and chrome tipped window switches, and it carried a base price of $22,945. But the only other add-ons were $235 for a carpeted mat kit and $795 in destination charges, bringing the bottom line to $23,975 – and that includes, as standard, A/C/,  Bluetooth connectivity, and all the auxiliary inputs. Loved it.

My research indicates that this 2013 Passat I drove is exactly the same as the expected 2014 model due out soon.

You can take the Passat up to the 3.5-liter V6 SEL with 280 hp (rated 20/28) and even get a 2.0-liter diesel with 140 hp (rated 30/40), and you can trick it out with all the fancy stuff if you want . But here you can get a great car at a wonderful price and enjoy it without distractions.