SAGUARO LAKE, Ariz. -- Wheels squeal in protest as we carve keen lines around tight curves on Arizona route 88 in the Superstition Mountains while sampling the snappy enthusiasm of the Passat 1.8T, Volkswagen's mid-size 4-door family sedan.
Passat was developed expressly for the American market and it comes together at Volkswagen's USA assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. For model-year 2016 Passat presents two gasoline-sipping engine options, each linked to several trim levels. And all 2016 editions show fresh styling inside and out plus new connectivity and driver assistance features.
Passat's body stretches to 191.9 inches long and the width runs to 72.2 inches, measurements which translates to ample room for riders in the 5-seat passenger compartment.
The exterior reveals an aggressive shape with striking new front and rear styling. On the curvaceous prow there's a new 4-bar grille sandwiched between edgy corner headlights to forge a single horizontal unit stacked above a smooth wrap of body-colored fascia. Below the fascia is a broad air intake with honeycomb surface and optional corner-illuminating foglights pinned at ends.
Also new is the domed and notched hood, while chiseled flanks show subtle sheared fenders that ring the wheels. In profile the lines sweep over an arching roof with side pillars dark to blend with tinted windows and create the impression of a sleek coupe.
A blunt notchback rump has twin-lamp taillight assemblies wrapping around corners and a body-colored bumper punctuated by chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.
Passat's 5-seat passenger compartment measures to a generous scale and is filled with fine materials. The layout shows twin bucket seats with a console in front and a broad rear bench with three positions. Seat upholstery ranges from high-quality cloth fabric and perforated V-Tex leatherette to soft Vienna leather, with trimwork cast in refined woodgrain, metallic or piano black treatments.
Volkswagen's 2016 Passat skews to S, SE, and SEL trim, plus a sporty-styled R-Line pegged above Passat S.
The Passat 1.8T carries VW's gasoline-powered 4-in-line turbo-charged and inter-cooled engine, which displaces 1.8 liters with dual overhead cams and direct-injection. Power numbers tally to 170 hp at 6200 rpm with torque rising to 184 lb-ft at only 1500 rpm. An electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission connects to the 1.8T plant and EPA-estimated fuel economy figures climb to 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.
The Passat V6 SEL Premium luxury edition comes with a gasoline-fired 6-cylinder VR6 engine which displaces 3.6 liters and stocks dual overhead cams. The V6 romps with 280 hp at 6200 rpm plus torque peaking to 258 lb-ft at 2500 rpm. Shifter is a 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automated manual with paddle shifters, as fuel scores tally to 20/28 mpg city/highway.
Passat's rigid unit-body structure and independent suspension system create the taut yet comfortable ride quality. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with lower control arms, coil springs and telescopic dampers plus an anti-roll bar. In the rear, a multilink arrangement uses telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar.
The power-assisted brakes have vented 12.3-inch discs in front and solid 10.7-inch discs in back. Active safety equipment includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic braking assist (EBA), plus Volkswagen's electronic stability control (ESC) device.
Passat 1.8T S (MSRP: $22,440) comes with 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, the 6-speed automatic transmission, Climatronic dual-zone climate system, power tabs for windows and door locks and mirrors, plus VW's new MIB II infotainment platform with 5-inch color touchscreen display, CD player, Bluetooth/USB connectivity and a rearview camera.
The new Passat R-Line version (MSRP: $23,975) adds rocker panels, stylized front bumper and rear diffuser plus 19-inch aluminum wheels. Further, the R-Line Comfort Package ($775) applies V-Tex leatherette seat surfaces, power controls for the driver seat, plus heat elements for front seats, exterior mirrors and washer nozzles.
Flagship model Passat V6 SEL Premium (MSRP: $36,835) totes the 3.6-liter VR6 engine and 6-speed DSG automatic transmission with paddle shifters and Hill Hold Control, dual trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips, LED headlights and taillights, a remote starter and driver assistance features like Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Monitor, front and rear Park Distance Control and Park Assist