2016 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Review: The Good German

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IIHS Top Safety Pick+
IIHS Top Safety Pick+ | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Would you just look at everyone tossing the baby out with the bath water? It seems like everyone has forgotten that Volkswagen still makes amazing cars like the Golf GTI. Instead, all you hear is people saying things like, “Oh I would never buy a VW, because those guys are a bunch of cheaters.” Well, so is GM, Toyota, Honda, and every company mixed up in the whole Takata airbag mess.

So instead of trying to wrap your head around the size and scope of Dieselgate yet again, let’s take a break and focus on what Volkswagen is doing right, which contrary to common belief is a lot. Like the Passat — it may not be offered with a diesel motor anymore, but it’s been stuffed with all kinds of tech and interior upgrades in order to bring it up to speed. There are so many winning components in this car that help make it shine, and in Dieselgate’s darkest hour, Volkswagen sure could use a beacon to rally around.

LED taillights
LED taillights| Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Being a hardcore sedan guy, I can totally see where the appeal for this car comes from, and I came away convinced that many Americans are missing out. This is a refined, German take on what a leather-filled sedan should be, and while it leaves something to the imagination in the looks department, there’s very little that’s off-base. Buyers may need to reconsider writing Volkswagen off just yet, because the Passat is a damn fine sedan and deserves its time in the limelight.

Passat grille
Passat grille | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


OK, so even with its mild facelift, the 2016 Passat isn’t the most eye-catching car on the road today, but it isn’t a haggard goat either. Although this platinum gray color makes it look even more unassuming, that’s not a bad thing if blending in is your cup of tea. The rear decklid, cupped taillights, slick LED lighting, and large alloy wheels on the SEL version can really make it pop, so opting for a more vibrant color really makes a difference in how one views this car.

LED lights
LED lights | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ 18-inch alloy wheels are sharp and sophisticated looking, as is the rear third of the car.

+ Redesigned grille looks great, and isn’t too busy or chrome-laden.

+ Power folding heated mirrors, inviting LED welcome lights, clever daytime running lights (DRLs), and rain sensing wipers all work wonderfully.

– About 80% vanilla in the aesthetics department, and that’s being generous.

VW V6 engine
VW V6 engine | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


This is one of those V6 engines you really have to drive in Sport Mode if you want any notable throttle flair. Make no mistake, there’s certainly a liquid-like experience in regular driving mode, and the 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter motor does its job quietly. But while the German-born, dual-clutch automatic gearbox in the sedan hits the spot in a very predictable, snappy fashion, and Sport mode offers noticeably more direct response times, the Passat continues to be a bit boring.

Start/stop button
Start/stop button | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ Sport Mode kicks driver enjoyability to the front of the line, and manual shifts via steering paddles are quite precise.

+ Runs on regular or premium.

+ Moves quietly, even with 280 ponies on call, a balance that isn’t always available in a V6.

– Gas mileage isn’t as good as some of its V6 and turbo four-cylinder competitors.

– In order to enjoy peak power premium fuel is required.

Steering wheel
Steering wheel | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Perhaps the best thing about the redesigned Passat is how stately its interior is. There’s so much to like here, and the feel and look is borderline Audi. Leather for days, serene cabin, a well-proportioned D-cut steering wheel, padded seat belt clips, the list goes on…

2016 VW Passat interior
2016 VW Passat interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Roomy and well refined, with comfort and quiet trumping all other interior needs.

+ Well crafted leather-wrapped steering wheel, with a nice D-cut design.

+ Generously sized trunk and heated front and rear seats.

– That light faux wood may not look bad, but at almost $40,000 you would expect other options.

– Much like the outside of the car, the cabin is a little bit bland looking.

Local gas prices
Local gas prices | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

This is where the recent refresh really begins to take hold, because as nondescript as the Passat can be in all other departments, its tech and safety features are second to none, earning it an IIHS Safety Pick+ rating. Mapping, crisp back-up camera systems, clever collision warnings, and gobs of infotainment make opting for the SEL version a sound choice, especially since Volkswagen’s all-inclusive bottom line on the model means none of this costs you a penny more.

Weather radar map
Weather radar map | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Safety is a top priority in the Passat, so expect to find everything from concise collision warnings and surround cameras, to autonomous braking and amazing crash safety ratings.

+ The redesigned infotainment system is lightning fast, and offers everything from local gas price info and real-time weather maps, to sports info and live traffic updates.

+ The Fender audio components in this car really kick, and look pretty damn sharp to boot.

– Touchscreen is a bit small at 6.3 inches and not being ensconced picks up glare if the sunroof is open.

Driver's seat
Driver’s seat | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

Driving a Passat SEL is like shopping at Aldi for your household goods and food choices. It’s a very orderly, clean, and inviting experience, and you can get almost all the German amenities you want for a good price. There are plenty of options available to you here if comfort, quiet, and clever tech are your cup of tea too, because although it may appear slightly sterile on the outside, the connectivity and calm found within its cabin is absolutely sublime.

Performance-wise, braking is pretty straightforward-feeling with enough pedal feel to encourage confidence, and basic acceleration needs are dealt with in a very orderly fashion. Steering is direct enough for average daily driver needs, but it has the tendency to over-assist at times and becomes strangely disjointed when the softer suspension setup realizes body roll is the only option. Although it is a very comfortable car to drive, there’s a faint hint of driver dis-connectivity here that makes one wonder if the Passat doesn’t want you to have too much fun in it, at least until you put it in Sport Mode.

Changing gears via the paddle shifters in performance mode is like coming around the corner at Aldi and suddenly realizing you’re in the German chocolate aisle. This is where all the fun is, and as the 280 horses come to life and the steering and transmission flex, you realize that you should’ve just been driving in Sport Mode all along! It may not be the most riveting driving experience on the road, but it isn’t bland either, and with sticky performance pedals at the ready, I found myself enjoying the drive a lot more than I expected.

2016 VW Passat
2016 VW Passat | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

Volkswagen’s refreshed-for-2016 V6 SEL Premium Passat is a really refined machine, and it stands as a shining token of what German engineering can offer the average sedan shopper. It’s fun enough in performance mode to make it enjoyable to drive, cabin space is outstanding, its tech and interior amenities are damn good if not great, and at $37,655 it offers an all-inclusive package that eliminates haggling over options at the dealership.

But it also only gives you access to those 280 ponies on Premium, average 23 mile-per-gallon gains aren’t outstanding, power steering assistance tends to be a bit overkill, and its exterior has the allure of a well-crafted German pencil sharpener. Not that we wouldn’t love to own a German pencil sharpener, but even with its new grille, 20-inch alloy wheels, and lavish lighting, it isn’t going to turn many heads.

Nevertheless, some buyers (especially midsize sedan buyers) don’t feel the need to stand out, and if cabin quality and well thought-out German craftsmanship are your cup of tea, definitely pit the Passat against its better-selling competitors. Just remember that the all-new Kia Optima SXL is a tough act to beat, as is the Accord Touring edition, and the surprisingly affordable all-new Jaguar XE. So be sure to compare your options via a series of well-timed test drives (and don’t forget the turbocharged Passat R-Line), because midsize sedan sales may be fading, but there are still plenty of amazing cars in the segment.