2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL first drive review: Check out its bulge

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL

Volkswagen wants you to check out the Passat’s new bulge.

Well, they want you to notice the “power dome” on the hood of the 2016 Volkswagen Passat, something VW concedes is usually used by American carmakers to cover big engines underneath. For the 2016 Passat, it’s part of a restyle of the front end forward of the A-pillar, along with a reshaped trunk lid and taillights, a major reworking of the dash and addiition of technology, all without significant price increases.

And for the first time, the Passat gets R-Line trim which among other things gives the Passat a grille different from ordinarily trimmed Passats.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL headlight

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat has the option of an LED headlight package that includes LED running lights. (click to enlarge)

More news: The 2016 Volkswagen arrives without the 2.0-liter diesel in its lineup, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Volkswagen is still in the throes of the diesel debacle, so the only engines will be the efficient 1.8-liter turbo gasoline motor, plus the similarly fueled 3.6-liter VR6.

It’s a big spread between the two engines, by the way. As we noted in our earlier review of the Volkswagen Jetta, the 1.8T is a satisfying engine, much more satisfying that the 2.5-liter five-cylinder previously in the Passat. Power is sufficient and fuel economy good for a midsize sedan. It’s a smooth runner, with a torque peak at the very bottom of its rev range, and making the right sounds when it should and it’s quiet when it ought to be quiet.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL interior

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL has laser etched woodgrain trim on the dash and center console. (click to enlarge)

But don’t drive the six if you’re intent on the four, however. The six is rocket sedan, and while the four doesn’t have the torque to inflict torque steer, the 3.6-liters of Wolfsburg pep demand a firm hand on the tiller. There’s enough twist in front gear that stomping the pedal will (a) spin the tires, and (b) immediately shut it down when traction control puts the killjoy kibosh on such foolishness (though there is a traction control override button, just so you know).

But back to the new look. The aforementioned bulge connects with a grille that’s more three-dimensional when viewed from overhead—it sticks out more—and the VW logo is on a “button” that protrudes noticeably from the grille. The grille itself isn’t at tall as previously and the headlights slimmer as well (LED headlights are available across the board for 2016), with sharper edges that give it a more machined look. The theme is repeated below the bumper as well, with straighter lines and corners squared off around the fog lights. It gives the car a harder, more technical appearance.

The R-Line trim for the Passat includes a “stylized” front bumper with black accents, different rocker panels and rear diffuser, and “anthracite-color”—that’s hard-coal black—aluminum-alloy 19-inch wheels.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL backseat

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL backseat can accommodate even the tall. (click to enlarge)

Inside Volkswagen went more upscale on 2016 Passat. A one-piece soft-touch dash cap includes a hood over the instrument panel. A laser-etched woodgrain accent stretches from the steering column to the right door, bracketing the multi-information display along the way. The woodgrain is also used on the center console.

Speaking of which, the parking brake is located on the console alongside the cupholders, which work well, thanks for asking. Why the lever type, rather than the increasingly popular electric e-brake? A VW rep said it’s better in an emergency which…when was the last time that happened? More likely it’s something we’ll see in the next full generation change in the Passat.

Volkswagen has abandoned its homegrown controls for a more conventional layout that’s more intuitive—or at least more what we’re accustomed to by now. The touchscreen system—standard on all trim levels—was easy to figure out without even a shallow dive into the owner’s manual. Our tester had VW Car-Net as standard equipment, including an easy-to-use navigation system. We didn’t use the voice system, but it’s a natural-speaking command system. We’ll try it when we get more time in the Passat. However, when we missed a turn on our drive, we were able to use the manual system without difficulty to get to our next stop. We could think of another German carmaker where that might not be so easy.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL

The screen, by the way, uses capacitive touch sensor (similar to smartphone and tablet technology) that enables gesture controls like swiping and pinch-zooming, rather than the traditional resistive touchscreens which are “soft buttons.” A rear view camera is standard.

The Volkswagen system will lead to happier marriages. At least there won’t be conflict over whose phone is paired to the car’s system at any particular time. The VW system can take incoming or outgoing calls on two phones—though not at the same time, of course—but you don’t have to choose who’s phone will be connected because, dearest, we’re both logged on. Of course, if her boyfriend calls while your girlfriend ringing you up, we doubt Volkswagen will want to be involved.

The back seat fits the normal adult human. It says a lot that VW used the Passat to ferry us when we weren’t driving without fear of us discovering the back seat isn’t roomy, because it is. We’d still limit the rear seat occupancy to two except in a pinch.