The upmarket 2.5 SEL trim starts at $29,165 and includes the automatic transmission, a navigation system, leather seats, keyless entry, a premium stereo system made by Fender (of guitar and amplifier fame), and wood-grain trim.


As you may have guessed, the 2.5 in these cars' monikers refers to the base engine in the Passat. It's a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder unit that's borrowed from the Jetta and produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.

Although it's a highlight of the Jetta, when it's powering the larger Passat, it tends to get overwhelmed. It's remarkably refined and quiet, but the power deficiency is tedious when entering the freeway or passing. Fortunately some of these doldrums are relieved by putting the automatic transmission into sport mode.

Otherwise the Passat's complacent road manners err on the soft side — once the curse of American cars. Perhaps it really is a sign of the apocalypse when a Volkswagen handles like a Buick.

Volkswagen doesn't yet have the EPA fuel economy figures for the Passat 2.5, but in more than 440 miles of testing a preproduction 2.5 SEL, I averaged 25.2 miles per gallon.

If you're looking for more power or efficiency, VW has you covered. A 3.6-liter V-6 will be available, and it puts out 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Figure on an additional $3,000 to $3,300 for this engine.

Also available when the Passat goes on sale this month will be a 2-liter turbo diesel, good for 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Volkswagen estimates that this engine will get 43 mpg on the highway. This engine will add about $2,300 to the 2.5 pricing.

All Passats come with a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty, which also includes no-charge maintenance for the duration. This is a nice touch, but keep in mind, automakers like Hyundai, Kia and Chevrolet offer powertrain warranties for up to 100,000 miles.

Unfortunately there's nothing in the warranty that mentions what buyers should do when they get maddeningly tired of how the Passat looks. Which should take about a week.

Boring is an understatement. Watching a C-SPAN marathon of transportation reauthorization roundtables — on mute — is more exciting than looking at this car.

The Passat is unoriginal to the point where one wonders whether designers lost the plans for the Passat, then grabbed a photo of the Jetta and said, "Magnify that by 20."

Still, the Jetta is selling like crazy, so maybe we're less automotively vain than I thought.

If so, the Passat could be poised to grab a solid slice of America's midsize-car pie. While dull to look at and a bit lazy on the road, the car is comfortable, well-made and competitively priced.

All that from a German automaker? Apocalypse indeed.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com