Most consumers may figure they have to pay a premium to get German engineering, European road handling and a roomy interior in a family-size sedan. But Volkswagen's 2015 Passat is proving them wrong.
Starting retail price, including destination charge, for the pleasantly styled, five-passenger Passat is just $23,040 with automatic transmission. It's only $21,940 with a five-speed manual.
Both prices undercut the starting retail price, including destination charge, of $24,460 for a 2015 Toyota Camry, according to pricing from 's consumer website.
Plus, the Passat is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is rated at well above average with the base, turbo gasoline four cylinder and average with the fuel-sipping turbo diesel engine.
Further, the 2015 Passat earned top, five out of five stars in federal government crash testing.
And while the Camry has been the top-selling mid-size sedan in America for years, the Passat actually offers more front- and back-seat legroom. The 2015 Passat has 42.4 inches in the front seat and a full 39.1 inches of legroom in back. The Camry's reported rear-seat legroom is 38.9 inches, while front-seat legroom tops out at 41.6 inches.
The 2015 Passat has more trunk space, too — 15.9 cubic feet vs. Camry's 15.4 cubic feet.
One place where the Passat comes up short, though, is the lack of a backup camera on its lowest-priced models. Toyota includes a backup camera on every 2015 Camry.
So does the other top-selling family sedan in the United States, the Honda Accord, which has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $23,725 for a 2015 base model with continuously variable transmission that a driver operates like an automatic. The Accord also is offered with a manual at a starting retail price of $22,925.
But Passat buyers must move up to the SE trim level, and a starting retail price of $26,840, to get a backup camera.
Standard equipment on all 2015 Passats includes air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a six-speaker audio system and split rear seatbacks that fold down to expand the cargo space.
In addition to the backup camera, the Passat's SE trim adds convincing, leather-like seat material, upsized, 17-inch alloy wheels, eight-way, power driver's seat, rear air vents, heated front seats, premium audio with touchscreen, leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift knob as well as exterior chrome-look trim and interior aluminum dashboard trim.
The Passat differentiates from its major competitors in offering a 3.6-liter, gasoline V-6 and a 2-liter, turbodiesel four cylinder as well as the base, 1.8-liter, gasoline, turbo four. The Camry, Accord and most other family-size sedans don't offer diesels.
While record-low gasoline prices today might not encourage interest in the fuel-thrifty diesel Passat, it's worth mentioning the 2015 Passat TDI, as it's called, is a bargain.
For a starting retail price of $27,645, this Passat TDI with a new-for-2015 turbodiesel four cylinder produces 150 horses and an impressive 236 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 1,750 rpm.
The 2015 Passat ranks as the lowest-priced diesel-powered sedan on the market. Other diesel sedans, such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, are priced much higher.
The number of miles that a driver of the Passat TDI can go without filling the tank often takes people by surprise.
The federal government rated the test Passat TDI with automatic at 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 42 mpg on the highway. Even with aggressive driving, the tester wound up with a travel range of more than 640 miles in combined city and highway driving on a single, 18.5-gallon tank.
Anyone who hasn't looked at VW cars in a while will find the new Passat big. It stretches nearly 16 feet long from bumper to bumper and is competitive with others in the segment.
Inside, Passat passengers didn't feel constrained at all, and in typical VW fashion, all buttons, knobs and gauges were well-placed and had good feel. Seats in the test Passat had a firm feel, firmer than the Camry and Accord seats, and provided great support for non-fatiguing rides.
Brakes took a bit of getting used to, as they could engage strongly. But they surely stopped the Passat securely on wet and dry pavement.
The 2015 Passat moved purposely around other cars in traffic, with electro-mechanical steering that was responsive without being too quick.
The ride differentiated the Passat from the more mainstream mid-size sedans. There was a firmness to the ride, a precision to the body control of the car that's not found in non-European vehicles.
Yes, this Passat is built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but its roots and engineering still tie in with Europe where sloppy handling is unacceptable. Indeed, the test Passat TDI had little body lean in all but the most aggressive driving and conveyed a subtle poise and sharpness that's definitely not mainstream.
The backup camera was appreciated in the tester, as sizable pillars at the sides of the back window could block views as a driver backed out of parking spaces.
In October, a few 2015 Passats were among 393 VWs that were the subject of a U.S. safety recall. VW reported a seatback recliner bracket might not engage properly, potentially causing movement of the seatback. Such movement might distract a driver and lead to a crash.