Introducing a new streamlined body while lowering the price, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat sleekly updates previous models. The big advancement being that it's now made stateside at the German automaker's new sustainably-minded factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My recent visit to the plant included a detailed overview of the manufacturing process there, which begins with building the cockpit and continues until all 2,300 parts (excluding nuts and bolts) have been added. With 85% of the car locally-produced, the upshot is a stylish sedan designed specifically for the American market (read: more legroom) but delivering the highly-revered German driving experience.
The demanding U.S. customer also expects a higher standard content level, so depending on the model, the cars come equipped with features like iPod docks, a Fender Premium Audio System, Bluetooth connectivity, built-in navigation, keyless entry and more. At four inches longer than the European Passat, VW still kept in mind America's expansive geography with a fuel economy spanning 28-43mpg.
I had the chance to drive two models—the TDI Clean Diesel and the souped-up 280hp VR6. Making my way through the scenic Tennessee backwoods, I noticed both vehicles have an exceptional turning radius when pulling a few U-turns to look at passed-up landmarks. Paddle shifters on the VR6 added to the winding drive, lending greater control when overtaking other cars and giving the midsize car an even sportier feel. While the VR6 was clearly the more powerful ride, both handled nicely with impressive linear torque.
Starting around $20,000, the new Passat is an affordable car with a lot to offer. Drivers can feel good knowing VW now ships 85% of the American line by rail and that the company is committed to implementing the latest in technology and fuel efficiency, without overlooking the car's most important factor—a smooth ride.