These days $30,000 doesn’t get you a top-shelf midsize sedan. No, today’s enthusiastic family-car buyer must budget closer to the national average new-car transaction price of $35,444 to get the coolest engine and the latest driver-assistance toys to secure block-party bragging rights. Or must they? This month the Peoples’ Car folks are introducing a 280-horse, 258-lb-ft V-6-powered bargain Q-ship: the 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT, and they’re only asking $29,995 for it.
To save you the Googling, that’s fully $5,505 off the former opening bid for a V-6 Passat in the range-topping 3.6 SEL trim. It’s $4,520 less than a Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, $4,725 cheaper than the Ford Fusion Sport, $5,300 less spendy than a Camry XLE V-6, and it represents a $5,850 discount off the similarly sporty Camry XSE V-6. It’s even $1,205 less than the Honda Accord Sport 2.0 and $1,900 cheaper than the Chevrolet Malibu Premier 2.0.
The new Passat GT even comes with its very own Yankee Doodle Dandy of an origin story: Engineers and product planners in VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee office dreamed up this package on their own, pitched it to the suits in Wolfsburg, and got the green-light. #MakeAmerican-madeSedansGreatAgain! I can attest to this, having had a sheet surreptitiously lifted from this top-secret project during an August 2016 plant visit to drive an Atlas SUV prototype.
The car they described then was purely an appearance package that primarily consisted of replacing nearly everything chrome with shiny black trim (grille, fascia openings, side window trim, mirror caps, lower door trim), then painting the roof panel black, adding a rear lip spoiler, and fitting cool 19-inch “Tornado” wheels that frame red brake calipers. The grille also gets GTI-inspired red accents. There’s a choice of four colors—Pure White, Reflex Silver, Deep Black, and Platinum Gray—but no options, save the usual dealer stuff (wheel locks, luggage net, etc.).
Fortunately the Tennesseans managed to sell management on providing a bit more steak with the above sizzle. The suspension is uniquely tuned for the GT, with slightly stiffer springs and dampers, and a ride height that’s 0.6 inch lower. The six-speed dual-clutch transmission gets steering-wheel shift paddles and very sporty S-mode tuning and the exhaust rumbles a bit throatier and louder. They even managed to throw in standard LED headlights, running lights, and taillights (an $1,195 option on the R-Line trim that serves as the basis for the GT).
Alterations to the interior include replacing the light headliner and pillar trim with black, fitting the black V-Tex leatherette seats with Moonstone Gray inserts and contrast stitching, and adding aluminum GT-logo sill plates. The GT’s cross-car dash trim includes a textured aluminum-look strip above a glossy, quasi-photorealistic attempt at carbon fiber. It works reasonably well, and the cockpit makes an upscale first impression. You get heated front seats, a sunroof, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. Naturally, shaving $5,505 off the SEL V-6’s bottom line costs the GT buyer some niceties—like leather upholstery, a power front passenger seat and heated rear seats, Fender audio with navigation and telematics, parking sensors and assistance, lane assist, remote start, and rain-sensing wipers. Frankly, we think any serious enthusiast can get along fine without that stuff.
How’s it all work? Pretty darned well. As luck would have it, my press car for the week was a Camry XSE V-6 (301 hp, 267 lb-ft). Subjectively, the Passat seemed closely matched in acceleration performance, engine note, and linearity of power, and if anything VW’s six-speed dual-clutch transmission’s sport tuning in the S shifter position was more eager to downshift and hold lower gears than was the Toyota’s eight-speed automatic. Indeed our test figures place a Passat SEL V-6 right on top of the 120-plus-pounds heavier Camry XSE, with both hitting 60 mph in 5.8 seconds en route to a 14.3-second quarter-mile (at which point the Camry’s going a tad faster—99.6 mph versus 98.8). Among V-6-powered mid-size family sedans, only the fire-breathing twin-turbo AWD Fusion Sport is substantially quicker, hitting 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and clearing the quarter in 13.9 at 97.7 mph. Of course, those who can tolerate the coarser grain of a 2.0-liter turbo will find both the Honda Accord Sport 2.0T and Chevrolet Malibu Premier 2.0 slightly quicker than the Passat GT, at 5.7 seconds to 60 and 14.3 seconds in the quarter at 99-plus mph.
On what passes for twisty roads in southeast Michigan, the Passat GT seemed to corner eagerly on a reasonably even keel. Test figures from our slightly heavier, more lux-tuned SEL V6 (on less aggressive 18-inch ContiProContact TX tires, versus the GT’s 19-inch ContiProContact GTs) trail only the vastly torquier Fusion Sport and the lighter Malibu 2.0 on the figure-eight—and then only by a half-second and a few hundredths of a g. Of course, one way VW can get away with this car’s value pricing is that its tooling is WAY paid for. Remember, this Passat earned our Car of the Year calipers way back in 2012 when it was new. It had a freshening in 2015, but it’s overdue for replacement. This shows up in a structure that reverberates a bit after suspension inputs, and in a bit more structure-borne road and tire noise. Suspension inputs are also heard at least as intensely as they’re felt.
The narrow-angle VR6 has been accounting for just about five percent of Passat sales. That pencils out to about 3,000 cars last year. This strong value play stands to improve those numbers substantially, without any threat of becoming “common.” It’ll also remain American—our super-sized Passat gets distributed to Latin America, the Middle East, and South Korea, but only the U.S. and Canada are getting in on the GT bargain.
|2018 Volkswagen Passat GT|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.6L/280-hp)/258-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,600 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||191.9 x 72.2 x 58.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.8 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/28/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.87 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|