Midsize Passat Carries Volkswagen’s Outsized Ambitions

Introduced on Monday: 2012 Volkswagen Passat

Is it real? As real as Volkswagen’s ambitions to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest automaker by 2018. The brand’s completely overhauled contender in the midsize segment is the first vehicle to leave VW’s new $1 billion production plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

What they said: Asked which sedans in this crucial segment were on the Passat developers’ dart board, Martin Winterkorn, Volkwagen AG’s chief executive, said, “There are a lot of benchmarks in the North American market, therefore we benchmarked all of them.” Jonathan Browning, VW of America’s president and chief executive, was more forthcoming. “They were the three from Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, and to a lesser extent, the Ford Fusion.”

What they didn’t say: The 2012 Passat has shed $7,000 from the previous model’s window sticker, but aside from citing numerous United States suppliers — which reduced development costs — VW did not elaborate on how the savings were achieved. Given the subpar polish on its smaller sibling, the 2011 Jetta, that gives us pause.

What makes it tick? The Passat offers enough powertrain options to bring dedicated hypermilers as well as Audi A4 aspirants under its tent. A 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower motivates the basic model, which mates to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. A 2-liter turbo diesel, good for a wan 140 horsepower but, crucially, a robust 236 pound-feet of torque, is rated at 43 highway miles per gallon. The TDI can be ordered with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-sequential gearbox transmission. Volkswagen’s familiar VR6, generating 280 horsepower, tops the range; the D.S.G. is the only transmission available with the 6-cylinder.

How much? How soon? “Accessible German engineering in the midsize segment” is how Toscan Bennett, a VW of America marketing executive, described the Passat in a telephone interview before the car’s unveiling. The 2.5-liter version will cost about $20,000. Other packages’ pricing has not yet been announced. The Passat will be available this August.

How’s it look? The 2011 Jetta compact sedan has been knocked for dulling what was once a segment-best design to achieve a sub-$16,000 price point. While the Passat’s interior dodged its smaller sibling’s fate, the $20,000 car’s exterior underwent only the lightest of evolutions, while inheriting none of the starchitect panache of its upmarket variant, the Passat CC.

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