Our latest tester had zero options. What we found was very interesting.
When our most recent 2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S arrived, we were at first surprised by what we found. You see, most automakers don’t provide bare-bones, stock, basic, down-market trims to the press. The reason is comparison tests. Put a basic trim up against the “Alabaster Palm Springs Special Edition Turbo SEX-L” trim of the competition, and it won’t win. The truth is options matter a lot when the car is test-driven, and automakers don’t like to lose. Who does?
Expecting to miss the stuff we now take for granted as car testers, such as the automatic dog polisher and chromium spritzer valves, the biggest surprise was that we really liked this Passat. Yes, there were some adjustments necessary, but at $23,260, it’s a terrific value. So let’s run down what the car had, that we were surprised to find standard, what the car lacked, and how we worked around it.
Happy Surprises – Standard Stuff That Was Once Optional
Jumping right into the stuff we found surprising on a base car, let’s all clap for dual-zone, automatic climate control with easy to over-ride manual operation. Am I the only one that prefers manual HVAC? In the Passat, automatic climate control comes standard, but one can ignore it.
In the base Passat, all of the windows have one-touch, auto-down operation. We won’t name names, but we have been in models from premium brands that don’t offer this in their base trims.
How about a Sport Mode for the transmission? What’s not to like about being able to hold the revs a bit higher and adjust the throttle to be a bit sharper?
There was a “CD player” in the Passat. We researched this. A CD was a form of read-only optical media using a circular plastic substrate. It was used in ancient times to play Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax by our ancestors. More on audio below.
Automatic headlights were also handy. A trip computer displaying fuel economy and other important info was a great plus. An outside temperature reading and an analog clock were also both nice to see. Last, but not least, the Passat S had a back-up camera. As recently as this past month, we had a pricier car than this Passat without a rear-view camera.
Stuff We Missed
The Passat S does not have a satellite radio receiver. One can cludge together an aftermarket setup, but that’s a hassle. The Passat S also lacks navigation, and there was no Android Auto.
Our workaround was simple: we used a Pandora subscription to stream music using the Passat’s Bluetooth connectivity (hey, that’s another standard feature we left out!). Pandora is great, but without a screen interface in the car, it can be distracting. Changing channels, hitting thumbs up and down, and doing the other basic things people do with this app are dangerous when using the phone’s screen, which goes to sleep during your drive. VW says Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are coming to the Passat, so yours may have it if you buy a 2017.
Navigation can also be from one’s Android phone, which works for us, as we really like Google Maps. With built-in traffic updates, route suggestions, and even the ability to guess where one is going and the estimated travel time, Google Maps is simply way ahead of what one finds in most cars. But again, without a screen and interface, one resorts to the phone itself to tap instructions and see information. Bad news.
Most of all we missed heated seats with power adjustment. There was an adjustable lumbar support, though.
We also missed push-button start. Making up for the lack of convenience, the Passat has a switchblade style key. So there’s that.
Stuff We Did Not Miss
During our time with the Passat we never once missed a $1500 sunroof that extends from the front of the headliner to the rear bumper as most of our vehicles now have. Those have their merits, but winter is coming and it was dark most of the time we drove the car anyway.
We also didn’t miss leather seating surfaces, as the standard cloth felt good and presented well.
One thing we loved not having was a system that beeped constantly when we backed into the garage. We also made due without an automatic trunk shut button, and head-up display.
The one thing missing that made us the happiest was the need to put premium fuel in the car. VW has switched its turbos to regular fuel and, surprise surprise, they work just as well, or better than they did with premium.
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