"Whatever you do, don't say 'size matters' during your presentation."
Those were the words of advice a Volkswagen executive gave to Oliver Stefani, just before he introduced the 2012 Volkswagen Passat at Volkswagen's new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the car will be built.
The tired joke would have been an easy fallback for Stefani, the vehicle's lead designer, who trained at the Art Center of Design in Pasadena, California. After all, Volkswagen is counting on this Passat's increased size to help it attract more American buyers.
But after spending several hours behind the wheel on the roads between Nashville and Chattanooga, we think there's another reason Americans might like this sedan — simplicity.
That's because this Passat is like an old-school American sedan. There are no needless displays, funny shifters or hard-to-read buttons. You want lights? Turn a knob. Need to change the station? Turn a knob. More heat? Turn a knob.
Nothing is complicated and there's room to stretch out. The materials look good and every piece is solidly assembled. It's like a Crown Vic that's been to finishing school.
It Is Big, Though
Thankfully, Stefani avoided the obvious cliché, but he wouldn't have been incorrect. The average midsize sedan in the U.S. is huge compared to its European counterparts, so clearly size does matter. It was one reason why the previous Passat never competed well against the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
This new Passat is much different. While the European Passat is still the same size after its recent refresh, the Passat built in America is bigger in every direction. The wheelbase, the overall length and, of course, the backseat are all bigger than before. It's now within an inch of the Chrysler 300 in terms of rear head-, shoulder and legroom. Even the trunk is up to 15.9 cubic feet. That's bigger than the cargo bays of the Accord, Camry or Chevrolet Malibu.
There's a bigger selection of engines, too, starting with the 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder we've come to know and tolerate in the Jetta. From there you can upgrade to Volkswagen's 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder diesel or a 3.6-liter V6. All of them offer some form of six-speed automatic, while the two smaller engines are offered with manual gearboxes as well. According to Volkswagen officials, the manual options are meant to reinforce the Passat's credibility as a driver's car. Good enough reason for us.