Can the Spruced Up Passat Help Volkswagen Boost Sales in the States?


It’s no secret that Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) has struggled in the U.S. market of late. For all its success in other markets, its possession of profit-generating machines like Porsche under its corporate umbrella, VW just hasn’t been able to produce vehicles that connect with American consumers in the same way that Toyota, Honda, or other international firms have.

German vehicles have largely been characterized by their understated styling that many would consider bland versus more intense and more aggressively styled vehicles like the Ford Fusion. Cars like the Jetta sell well enough, but others, like the elegant CC or the more versatile Tiguan, haven’t been moving nearly as much as the company would like. The Passat, VW’s largest sedan offering in the States, has been a particular sore spot on Volkswagen’s roster, and especially painful for the company — since the midsize sedan, next to the pickup truck, is America’s favorite segment.

VW’s boardroom has been puzzling over what do do about the Passat, which on paper should be VW’s prized jewel in its American portfolio. It’s clear that something about it needed to change, but what exactly is unclear; at $20,995, it’s among the most affordable midsizers on the market; its TDI version gets 43 miles per gallon on the highway (and 31 in the city), it offers a ton of cabin space, and its styling — though arguably bland — certainly isn’t ugly.

Volkswagen has decided that the remedy to the Passat’s less than stellar sales is to bring the model more upmarket — at least in Europe, where the company introduced the 2015 model. Right off the bat, it’s evident that Volkswagen took some cues from the CC, and even some from the now-defunct (in the U.S., anyways) Phaeton. If upmarket is where VW is looking, it achieved that quite well.

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It’s lighter (by some 188 pounds), sleeker, and is based on Volkswagen’s modular MQB architecture, meaning it’s a whole new car — not one based on the outgoing model. Although the wheelbase is longer in the new model, the overall length of the car is a few hairs shorter than the outgoing model. It’s also lower and wider, giving it an athletic and aggressive poise that the current generation just doesn’t have. In short, throw a set of rings on the grille and the new Passat could be taken as a new Audi. That’s a good thing, as very few would argue that Audis are unattractive — but more importantly, they’ve been selling quite well.

Autoblog reports that there will be a well-endowed slate of engine choices for the European model, including two versions of the 1.4-liter TSI turbocharged inline-four, with either 123 or 148 horsepower respectively, a 1.8-liter TSI four rated at 177 horsepower, a 2.0-liter turbo with 217 horsepower, and a menu of diesel powertrains choices ranging from a 118 horsepower 1.6-liter TDI, to the 148-, 187-, or 236-horsepower 2.0-liter TDI options.

It’s still unclear as to what parts of the new car will come to North America. Autoblog adds that the Euro-spec Passat will include LED headlamps and tail lamps, a head-up display, and a slew of new safety technologies and features. The Passat will be revealed in full and in person at the Paris Motor Show in October.

Volkswagen needs a new Passat for North America, but whether a more premium version is the key is yet to be seen. Currently, it competes with the likes of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry; moving it up will help set it apart from its competition, but it could also price out potential buyers who were intrigued by the Passat’s low-$20′s price tag. For now, we’ll wait and see what actually ends up coming to North America first.