I'll admit I wasn't too impressed when I first took the 2014 Volkswagen Passat STI out for a drive.
Sure, it was cleanly-styled and featured a lot of interior room for a midsize sedan, especially in the back seat. And the ride was comfortable. But after several miles on the freeway, it seemed unexciting, even boring.
Then I notice the average fuel consumption figure over 32 miles per gallon, which is better than some much smaller compacts. And that was from a 1.8-liter turbocharged gas engine, not a diesel or hybrid power plant. I tapped the gas pedal to make the economy didn't compromise the performance. It surged forward, demonstrating plenty of power.
Suddenly the Passat didn't seem so boring after all. With a few glances, I confirmed that the interior seemed as big as some full-size cars. The materials, a mix of sift plastic and leather, fit together seamlessly. And I noticed the ride was not just comfortable but quiet and stable, suggesting a high level of quality construction.
So why were my first impressions so lukewarm? Put simply, Volkswagen is not trying to dazzle potential buyers with the redesigned Passat. The exterior styling does not grab the eye like such competitors as the sleek Kia Optima and sporty Ford Fusion. And the interior is so simple it is nearly spartan, a marked contrast to the gizmo-laden Star Fight cockpits in many cars.
Everything about the Passat is understated, much like most Audi's, which is no surprise considering their joint ownership. It's almost like Passat is intended to be less expansive midsize Audi, which seems a strange marketing strategy. There are a lot more differences between comparable models from other manufacturers with their own premium divisions, such as Honda and Acura, Nissan and Infinti, and Toyota and Lexus.
That's a good thing for Passat buyers, who can purchase a car that's more sophisticated that it initially appears. The turbo four in the TSI model is actually the base engine this year, replacing the previous five-cylinder powerplant. Other options include an even more economical turbo-diesel (TDI) and a more powerful V6. But honestly, the TSI engine is very responsive, even more so when the six-speed automatic that came with our test car was slipped into Sport mode or used manually.
It's getting harder and harder to tell some compact from midsize from full-size cars these days, and the Passat is a good example. Although not overly long, it has a surprising amount of interior room, both front and back. The truck is also spacious, much more like a full-size car than a midsize.
All of which makes the Passat TSI an excellent choice for a family car, even if it doesn't attract immediately attention. Drawbacks were few, at least in our fully-loaded Premium model. The front buck seats were a little narrow for larger people, but at least they were heated and cooled. And the entertainment/navigation system occasionally took a few moments to wake up when the car was started, meaning the rear view camera was not always immediately available.
But other than that, there wasn't much to complain about, unless you're the type that wants to be noticed everywhere you go. If you can live without people staring, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TSI should be high on your midsize shopping list.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: 2014 Passat TSI.
Class: Midsize sedan.
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.
Style: Four door, five passenger car.
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four (170 hp, 184 ft-lbs); 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder inline diesel (140 hp, 236 ft-lbs); 3.6-liter V6 (280 hp, 258 ft-lbs).
Transmission: 5-speed manual; 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Fuel Economy: 24/35/28 (TSI - as tested); 31/43/35 (TDI); 20/28/23 (V6).
Price: Starting around $19,000 ($30,895 as tested).