My last encounter with a Volkswagen Passat was in a midrange SE model. And while it was totally serviceable as Point-A-to-Point-B family transportation, with under-the-radar looks and only competent handling it really lacked any standout traits. But now, Volkswagen now offers a sporty Passat GT. Do its tighter handling characteristics and standard V6 power provide a memorable motoring experience?
More aggressive looks
Compared to cars like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Mazda6, the milquetoast Passat is like the manila folder of the midsize sedan segment. To liven up the normally bland sedan, the GT gets the R-Line model's more aggressive bumpers, honeycomb grille inserts, red line accents à la GTI and exclusive 19-inch Tornado-style wheels. For more contrast, a black-painted roof, rear lip spoiler and red brake calipers add a few more bits of visual flair. The changes seem to work -- my Platinum Grey Metallic test car receives many a compliment from some of my car-critical friends.
Inside, the GT alterations include black leatherette seats with gray inserts, a mixture of carbon-fiber pattern and piano-black trim, a black headliner and aluminum sill plates. Those additions join a fancy leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, heated front seats and dual-zone climate controls. There's also a deep trunk capable of swallowing 15.9 cubic feet of stuff.
Those looking for a huge helping of center-stack technology will be underwhelmed by the GT's Composition Media infotainment system that includes a 6.3-inch touchscreen, adequate six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth and satellite radio. You won't find onboard navigation, but thankfully Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink capabilities are standard. To juice up smart devices, there are only two USB ports -- one in front and one in back.
The touchscreen's response times are decent, and you can move through the system's different menus in a reasonably quick fashion. However, a compact screen means smaller icons, which in turn means more eyes-off-the-road time while doing simple tasks like changing radio stations.
On the safety tech front, the standard list isn't giant, but includes key features like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking to provide an additional safety net for the times you might get distracted by something like, say, the infotainment screen. Handy systems like blind-spot monitoring and a backup camera with rear cross-traffic alert are also included.
An entertaining driver
The final piece of the Passat GT package comes in the performance department with suspension upgrades and light revision to the V6 drivetrain. Stiffer shocks and springs lower the ride height by about half an inch, and when combined with the larger 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, the end result is a Passat with noticeably sharper handling. Cornering exercises reveal brisk turn-in response, and though there's a touch of body roll, the suspension mostly keeps the Passat hunkered down in turns.
Make no mistake, the GT isn't something you'll want to slap numbers on and take to your local track day. Like most front-wheel-drive family sedans, understeer presents itself if you get too enthusiastic, and despite the crisp turn-in response, the steering action is far too light. For a slightly more engaging drive on twisty back roads, the GT does just fine -- it's a sporty car, but not a sports car.
The good news is that handling improvements don't come at the expensive of daily ride comfort. Even with the stiffer suspension, there's still enough play in the dampers to soften pavement imperfections. There are no annoying tire noise issues with from the wider rubber, either.
Powering the Passat GT is a 3.6-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and a GT-specific performance exhaust gives this familiar powerplant a slightly deeper soundtrack. This engine pairs with a quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters don't suffer from any sloppy, low-speed operation issues. Throttle response at tip-in is instant with linear power building throughout the rev band.
The only strike against the V6 drivetrain is its subpar fuel economy. The Passat GT is estimated to achieve 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, which puts it below V6-powered competitors like the Nissan Altima (22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway) and Toyota Camry (22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway).
How I'd spec it
Before the arrival of the GT, the Passat wasn't even on my midsize sedan radar. It was simply too forgettable, but the light styling tweaks and better handling reflexes do pump a little life into VW's long-in-tooth midsize sedan. With that said, make my Passat the GT with a Platinum Grey Metallic paint job. Since the GT trim doesn't offer any additional option packages, I'll get everything you see here for a very competitive $29,995, which includes $850 for destination.
This sub-$30K price is worth noting -- previously, the only way to get a Passat with V6 power was to opt for the SEL Premium trim that starts at $35,500. With the GT, you have to forgo leather seats, a premium Fender audio system, additional safety technologies and a few other niceties that are bundled into the SEL Premium trim, but the GT's standard list of features and better handling chops are enough to keep me happy.
A crowded field
The GT is a nice addition to the Passat range, but it's not the only sporty midsize sedan out there. Ford offers the Fusion Sport with 325 horsepower and all-wheel drive, and Honda has the Accord Sport that's available with a six-speed manual transmission. Kia battles the Passat GT with the sporty-looking Optima SX and Toyota has the V6-powered Camry SE.
Does the Volkswagen Passat GT stand a chance against all of those? With a naturally aspirated V6, dual-clutch gearbox, well-sorted chassis and crisp looks, I think it has a shot at winning some people over. That's a big change for a car I never gave a second thought to before now.