On Monday September 21, 2015, Volkswagen unveiled its refreshed-for-2016 Passat in Brooklyn. Why is the date important? Because it came roughly 72 hours after the nightmare that is “Dieselgate” broke, and was the first time company personnel personally addressed any of the issues. A lowly blue TDI model even sat on the the stage during the presentation. As long as the company is wrapped up in this scandal, the diesel version isn’t likely to see the light of day. And just like that, the 2016 Passat became the first Volkswagen introduced in the post-Dieselgate era.
And it’s a shame because it’s a very good midsize sedan. It doesn’t have the performance characteristics of the Mazda6, or the edgy, surprising performance of the Honda Accord, but it offers restrained, European style in a segment full of cars that are all too willing to blend into the background. At the upper end, it even offers a near-Audi level of luxury, remnants of the brand’s plan from a few years to move its lineup upscale.
But Volkswagen also fields another mid-sizer on the same platform; another remnant of its days when it envisioned a sprawling lineup that would help establish it as the largest automaker in the world — the CC. When it was introduced in 2009, it was hailed as an important step in the right direction for the brand: a budget Mercedes-Benz CLS, a baby Audi A7. It was a four-door coupe from the days when the term “four-door coupe” still raised eyebrows, and looked (and felt) a lot more upscale than its then-$33K sticker price suggested.
Today, the CC is one of the rarest new cars on the road, with just 1,513 finding buyers through May this year. And while Volkswagen has found 26,821 buyers for Passats, compared to the 167,199 Toyota Camrys sold this year, it’s become a bit of a niche model itself. So while they toil in obscurity through no fault of their own, which Volkswagen midsize sedan is better?
Tale of the tape
Of course, this could be an unfair fight, so we’ll do our best to level the playing field. The Passat starts at a reasonable $22,400, but can climb dangerously close to $40K for the SEL premium, powered by Volkswagen’s smooth 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. The CC is offered with the 3.6 and all-wheel drive — something missing from the Passat lineup — but that model starts at a shockingly high $44K. So to keep this matchup relatively even, we’ll look at the $34,270 Passat SEL Premium and the $34,475 CC 2.0T Sport.
Under the new sheet metal, the Passat isn’t all that different from the car that arrived in 2011, and won Motor Trend’s 2012 Car of the Year award. Its turbocharged 1.8-liter TSI inline-four still puts out the same healthy 170 horsepower it did when it made Ward’s 10 Best Motors in 2014, and still returns the same respectable 25 miles per gallon in the city, and 38 on the highway.
But that refresh really makes a difference. When Volkswagen introduced this generation Passat and Jetta five years ago, critics felt that Volkswagen played it safe to better compete with American and Japanese volume sellers. You couldn’t make that claim with the new car — its upright, trapezoidal styling sets it apart from its flowing, soft-edged competitors. In SEL spec, the car looks and feels decidedly upscale, with LED daytime running lights and taillights, added brightwork, and a host of electronic safety features for extra confidence. It’s all enough to remind you that you’re driving a somewhat upscale European sedan — even if it is built in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The upscale feel continues inside, where a nice, broad Teutonic-looking dashboard is accented by an analog clock and wood trim. Power eight-way adjustable seats are standard on the SEL model, and are some of the most comfortable, well-bolstered, and best-looking in the segment.
But $205 more will get you into the CC 2.0T, and that’s a hell of a bargain. That’s because the Passat was designed to be a Camry-fighter, while the CC was designed to poach buyers away from the all-important compact luxury sedan segment — which includes its cousin, the Audi A4. The A4 just got a styling refresh too, but frankly, it looks too much like the old model to us. The CC doesn’t look like anything else in Volkswagen’s lineup; if it’s mistaken for anything, it’ll likely be for something more expensive. We can’t help but like that.
The CC hasn’t received a refresh since 2013, and while it’s beginning to show its age, it’s still one of the more handsome midsize sedans out there. If a next-generation car were to reach our shores anytime soon (and that’s a big if considering its sales numbers) it’s likely to look like Volkswagen’s 2015 C Coupe GTE concept. If that turns out to be the case, this contest wouldn’t even be close.
Even with its familiar looks, the CC benefits from a larger 2.0-liter four under hood, which gives it a 30-horsepower advantage over the Passat. It has all the amenities the SEL does, plus Discover Media touchscreen infotainment system, heated 12-way power seats, dual climate control, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net suite, which allows you access to start, lock, and get updates for your car through your smartphone.
For Volkswagen brass on September 17, 2015, the redesigned Passat must have looked like one hell of a contender. Frankly, it still is compared to much of its competition, and even has the potential to steal some buyers away from the almighty Camry if you covered up the badges, but in the post-Dieselgate world, its a shadow of its former self in terms of sales. For style, comfort, and even performance, we’d take one over most of its competition any day.
But we wouldn’t take one over the CC.
The CC is little more than a niche model in Volkswagen’s lineup, but then again, it always has been. Its high water sales mark came in 2011, when 29,502 buyers took them home — roughly analogous to how many Passats Volkswagen can unload in five months while embroiled in the worst automotive scandal of the decade. And that’s a shame, because as luxury has become more attainable, it’s become clear that the badge often means more than the product itself. You can buy a brand new Audi A3 for around $30K, but it’ll be smaller than the Passat, have the same engine, and have a longer and more expensive options list. The CC may wear a seasonally unpopular badge, but the mark of a good luxury car is to leave you wanting for nothing. The CC 2.0T does that and looks better than virtually any other car at its price point. It even leaves you with some money in the bank.