​Volkswagen debuts 2016 US-market Passat, remains committed to diesel option

Volkswagen has officially pulled the wraps off of the 2016 model year technology and styling refresh of its full-size, North American market Volkswagen Passat sedan at an event tonight in New York City. This being a midcycle refresh, the Passat hasn't changed too dramatically, but tweaks to the sedan's styling and trim lineup, as well as the addition of a new R-Line trim package, indicates that VW wants to inject some sportiness into the bland sedan.

VW states that, "in short, the only sheetmetal that remains unchanged is the roof, the doors, and the body side stamping," which, when you really think about it, is most of the Passat's sheetmetal. For 2016, the most easily removable bits -- the front and rear bumper, hood, grille, trunk lid and lights -- get tweaked, leaving most of the design intact and largely indistinguishable from the previous model from 100 paces. In its defense, the Passat was never an unattractive sedan, so keeping close to the established and handsome, if understated, style isn't a bad thing.

The new model's "more aggressive styling" consists of slimmer headlamps that can be outfitted with optional LED illumination, a slightly enlarged upper grille, resculpted front and rear bumpers, and a new bulge sculpted into the hood. Passat drivers who really want to amp up the sporty looks will have to option of a new new R-Line trim that features an even more aggressive front and rear bumpers with gloss black accents, unique rocker panels, and 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels shod with 235/40 ZR rated tires.

As subtle as the external changes are, so go the updates in the engine bay. The Passat will continue to be offered with three engine options. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine continues to make a stated 280 horsepower. The 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected gasoline engine now sips fuel at a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 38 highway mpg, up 2 highway mpg over the current model. Interestingly, the 1.8T S model with its six-speed automatic transmission seems to be the new base model, with no mention being made of the old 5-speed manual transmission base model.

The automaker will continue to offer the 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine for the 2016 model year. This would normally be merely a footnote, but the 2014-2015 VW Passat TDI was among the vehicles implicated in Volkswagen's recent emissions scandal, so the fate of the diesel going forward raises some of our biggest questions. For starters, just how VW's upcoming emissions control software fix will affect the 2016 TDI's performance and efficiency remains unknown. That the automaker so far remains committed to offering the TDI option, at the very least, speaks volumes.

The more aggressively styled R-Line trim level also features larger wheels and wider tires. Volkswagen

The dashboard may be where the 2016 Passat sees the most substantial changes, as its infotainment system has been replaced with Volkswagen's second-generation "modular infotainment platform" (MIB II), which we previewed earlier this year.

The MIB II system features a multitouch display that can be swiped and pinched like a smartphone, a proximity sensitive interface that reveals softkeys along the lower edge of the screen as the user's hand approaches the screen and the automaker's Car-Net telematics and App-Connect tech with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone connectivity.

All 2016 Passat models include a standard rearview camera and a new feature called an Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. In the event of a collision, the braking system will automatically engage the brakes to prevent secondary collisions. For example, if the Passat is rear ended, the automatic brakes can keep the sedan from rolling forward, reducing the likelihood of hitting a car ahead or of additional injury.

VW's MIB II dashboard tech will bring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to the 2016 Passat. Volkswagen

Rounding out the options list is VW's full suite of driver aid technologies, including adaptive cruise control, an auto-braking forward-collision warning system, blind-spot monitoring, and a lane-departure warning system that can assist with electric power steering to prevent the sedan from drifting out of its lane on the highway. These features, along with the automaker's semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking system, are available as optional or standard features depending on the chosen trim level.

The North American Volkswagen Passat diverged from the smaller European model of the same name in 2012 and features different engine options. America's 2016 Volkswagen Passat TDI will be manufactured at the VW Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant and will make its way to dealerships later this year. The starting price of $22,440 for the 1.8T S with six-speed automatic has been announced. Further pricing and details will follow closer to launch.

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