2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL

The navigation system uses colorful, easy-to-read maps with good route guidance graphics. But it has a couple of oddities. For example, it offers three views: 2D, 3D, and traffic. The traffic view overlays incidents and traffic flow data on the map, but only shows in 2D format. The car will not show traffic when the map is in its 3D view.

Zoom levels also show a large gap between the closest and the next step out. The closest zoom is listed as 75 feet, while the next out is 700 feet. An intermediary level would be nice. The voice prompts also lack text-to-speech, so the system cannot read out street names.

But it showed a good ability to stick to the roads as we lost the GPS signal while driving through dense woods. Instead of letting the position of the car wander over the map when it lost signal, the system appeared to lock the location to the road it had been tracking, and used the speed of the car to maintain an estimate of position.

Five cylinders, six speeds
The Passat's engine specifications read a little oddly compared with other cars in this segment, but its driving character is perfectly in line. With its six-speed automatic transmission, the 2012 Passat makes it easy to jump in and go with as little fuss as possible.

It does offer slightly more driving engagement than the competition, with steering that responds just a little more sharply to wheel input. That tuning comes thanks to the Passat's European roots, as cars there tend to be made more responsive to cope with narrow, medieval streets and the occasional cathedral in the roadway.


The Passat comes with a 6-speed automatic that lets you choose gears manually.

Driven over city and mountain roads, the Passat proved easily maneuverable, even at speed. Volkswagen sticks with a hydraulic power steering system, rather than the electric systems being adopted by other automakers. As a front-wheel-drive car, it does not exactly drive sportily, but it still felt quite stable when stressed in the turns.

Making only 170 horsepower and a 177 pound-feet of torque, the 2.5-liter engine won't tear the tread off the front tires. And it is a five-cylinder, an oddity compared with all the four-cylinder engines with similar displacement and power from competitors.

To keep the Passat affordable, Volkswagen does not exploit direct injection or turbocharging, both technologies it uses in other cars. Variable valve timing is all this coach gets. And while those technologies might have given it better fuel economy or more power, its mundane engine fits in well with the segment.

Its EPA-rated fuel economy comes in at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, and we found no difficulty hitting the middle of that range through our driving course. Although these numbers are not spectacular, they're competitive in the segment.

In sum
With the 2012 Passat, Volkswagen came up with a competitive midsize sedan that doesn't, however, distinguish itself from the herd. Buyers test-driving multiple cars in this segment might feel comforted by the mundane specifications and technologies of the Passat, which might be Volkswagen's strategy.

At its higher trim levels, the Passat costs substantially more than its base, but that is the only way to get navigation and the excellent Fender audio system. But these higher trim levels don't mean better engine technology. At the almost 30 grand of our test car, it will have to compete against hybrids and cars with direct injection. Still, buyers looking beyond the comforts of the segment might consider the Passat TDI, or the VR6 version.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Volkswagen Passat
Trim SEL
Power train 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 26.5 mpg
Navigation Optional flash-memory-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list download
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth audio, USB drive, Mini-USB, auxiliary audio input, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system Fender 9-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $28,395
Price as tested $29,165

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Part Number: 101388580

MSRP: $28,395.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Body style Sedan
  • Available Engine Gas