After a fairly extensive refresh last year, the Passat returns in 2017 mostly unchanged. The biggest difference for this year is a minor reshuffling of various trim packages, with buyers generally getting more convenience options at lower trim levels than were available last year.
The 2017 Passat features the choice of three engines. 1.8T-powered Passats come with a 170-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or optional 6-speed automatic. Top-of-the-range 3.6L V6-equipped Passats come with a 280-horsepower "VR6" engine. The VR6 engine comes only with a 6-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission that can pull off remarkably quick shifts.
The 1.8L model is intended to save fuel while maintaining the level of performance buyers are used to. It manages 28 mpg combined, two better than the old 2.5L 5-cylinder engine that came in pre-2014 vehicles. The VR6 is the performance pick of the lineup; it's especially strong, smooth and responsive.
The Passat's large cabin is spacious and feels airy, enhanced by an instrument panel that is designed to yield much of the space to the driver and front seat passenger. The backseat is very generously sized -- with enough headroom and legroom for most adults -- and getting in and out is easy. Across the model line, the Passat comes with a 60/40-split folding rear seatback.
The S model comes better-equipped than many of the competition's base models. A Bluetooth hands-free interface, rearview camera, air conditioning, remote locking, power accessories, a trip computer, steering-wheel controls and a 6-speaker CD sound system are all standard. The SE model adds leatherette upholstery, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, power heated side mirrors, an upgraded sound system with touchscreen and 17-inch alloy wheels. The new R-Line trim features special exterior appearance items, plus 19-inch alloy wheels and a leather steering wheel and shift lever.
SEL models bring a much more upscale look and feel, with footwell lighting, added chrome trim, sport seats, a backseat ski pass-through and a navigation system. The SEL Premium model gets fog lamps, seat memory settings, push-button start and full leather upholstery. Top 3.6 SE and SEL models also get a sunroof and chrome-tipped dual exhaust system in addition to the SEL Premium equipment.
All Passat models include six standard airbags, including side-curtain airbags that cover front and rear occupants, plus standard electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and hydraulic brake assist. Available advanced safety technologies include a lane departure warning, frontal collision warning with emergency braking and a blind-spot monitor.