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VW’s Passat viable competitor in family sedan segment for 2014

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2014 VW Passat

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Volkswagen’s Passat occupies a unique place among cars that fall into the large and growing family sedan segment.

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It’s the only German sedan you can get without venturing into the luxury class with the likes of entry-level models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

Since it was launched under the name “Dasher” in the U.S. over four decades ago to give the company a much-needed boost when sales of its iconic Beetle began to ebb, the Passat has emerged as more than competent challenger to domestic and Asian sedans on the market today.

It is particularly appealing for those seeking something outside the traditional sales leaders in the segment, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, and you don’t have to feel guilty about not buying American. Since the redesign for the 2012 model, the Passat has been built at the VW’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Aside from a bit of tinkering that included the introduction of a rearview camera as an option, the Passat was little changed for 2013, but the company gave it some significant updates for 2014.

Among them was the introduction of a new 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is gradually replacing the 2.5-liter five-cylinder featured the last couple of years.

It offers slightly better fuel economy than the five-cylinder (24 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway when mated with a six-speed automatic transmission or 24/35 with a six-speed automatic) while matching the five-cylinder in horsepower (170).

The turbo four-banger offers slightly better torque (184 pound-feet to 177), which gives it quicker response when passing on two-lane roads, but pickup from standing starts is not all that impressive. But then, you’re driving a family vehicle, remember, not one that you’re going to take out on the drag strip.

For torque lovers, the Passat also is offered in diesel form with less horsepower (140) but much more torque (236 lb.-ft.). Finally, the Passat also comes with a 3.6-liter V6 that pumps out 280 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque to its front wheels.

The advantage the new four-cylinder turbo holds over the others is that it runs on regular fuel, cheaper than both the diesel the Passat TDI requires and the premium stuff the V6 drinks.

And its performance is going to be more than adequate for most. The Passat responds well when cornering, and the ride both in town and on the highway is quiet and comfortable.

Unless they are the size of NBA power forwards, backseat passengers are going to love the space. Legroom in the rear is slightly over 39 inches and headroom just under 38. There is over 42 inches of legroom in the front. The trunk is spacious as well with capacity listed at just under 16 cubic feet.

The cabin’s ambiance is first class, especially in the SEL Premium model that features leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless entry and remote start, and a slew of airbags as standard features. There’s enough to technology to satisfy all but the geekiest of tech geeks with navigation, Bluetooth, and Fender Premium Audio also standard on the SEL Premium.

As noted, VW added a rearview camera for 2013 models and made it standard on SE and higher trims for 2014. But it needs some tinkering. There often is a delay for it to click on when the car is put in reverse, which can get annoying.

Also, earlier Passat models had an electronic parking brake which was set by pushing a button on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.

It’s a nice feature that was introduced on some luxury cars a few years ago, but a Google search under “electronic parking brake problems Passat” reveals a litany of problems, however. The new Passat features the old mechanical parking brake set by pulling up on the handle on the console.

Neither could be considered deal-breaker complaints.

The Passat S and SE models run from around $21,665 to just under $27,815 including the $820 destination charge.

The SEL Premium with the new turbo engine has a base price of $31,715 including the destination fee, and diesel versions have starting prices running from $27,115 to $33,815.

The two V6 models, SE w/Sunroof and SEL Premium, carry MSRPs of $30,115 and $34,715, respectively.

For more details and a look at the Passat, check out the accompanying slide show.

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