It can’t sell you on its “clean” diesel engines anymore, but Volkswagen is confident that despite the loss of its beloved-turned-reviled powertrain, the German brand can sell you on something else: Safety.
Volkswagen’s safety is actually a matter of personal interest for me. In 2001, my great-grandfather died at the ripe old age of 100, and my mom set out — in her 2000 Passat wagon — to be with my grandmother. While she was away, my brother suffered an acute medical emergency in the middle of the night (he was about 9 years old). My mom left almost immediately after hearing from my Dad at the ER to head back north, and at about 4 hours and 45 minutes into the 5-hour trip, she fell asleep at the wheel and flew off the interstate at roughly 70 miles per hour, rolling the car multiple times before it eventually settled on its roof. She walked away without a scratch.
She did what most sane people would then do in that situation: She went out and bought another Passat, this time a 2002. Fortunately, we never had to test the airbags in that car, but that incident solidified my opinion of Volkswagen vehicles from an early age.
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is a very different car than that 2000 model, but in the latest barrage of safety tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), it showed that it can do its predecessors proud. It scored well enough to be designated a Top Safety Pick+, thanks to a commendable award of “Good” in the small frontal overlap test — regarded to be one of the most difficult to pass.
The small frontal overlap test involves crashing the car so that a portion of the hood makes contact with the object, and bisects the front of the car. Because many cars rely on the full frontal structure for rigidity, anything other than a full-frontal collision can have — and has had — extraordinarily bad ramifications for the front seat occupants. Since the IIHS began testing for the small frontal overlap in the last couple of years, automakers have been working hard to ensure that the front end is reinforced enough to handle a partial overlap collision.
The efforts appear to have paid off well for Volkswagen. Though the exterior damage looks severe, you’ll notice that the passenger cell of the car is virtually untouched despite the impact. Volkswagen says that its suite of passive and active safety tech — pedestrian warning, automatic braking, lane departure, etc. — helped mitigate the potential for further damage.
The small frontal overlap test is often the most common in real-word driving — obstacles like trees, corners of buildings, barriers, and other vehicles are rarely hit directly head-on. Therefore, the most common accidents were, for a long time, the least protected against. “The Passat’s IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award demonstrates Volkswagen’s longstanding commitment to vehicle safety and the development of innovative technologies,” said Mark McNabb, the chief operating officer for Volkswagen of America, in a statement. “Features such as Active Blind Spot Monitor and perpendicular Park Assist are unique to the segment and not typically seen outside of the luxury market.”
For me, Volkswagen proved its effectiveness at safety 15 years ago. Proving it to the rest of the world is much harder, but it seems VW has its work cut out for it.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.