2016 Volkswagen Passat is remarkably unremarkable

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Base price: $22,440-$36,835

Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Horsepower: 170

Torque: 184 pound-feet

Wheelbase: 110.4 inches

Length: 191.9 inches

Curb weight: 3,263 pounds

Cargo capacity: 15.9 cubic feet

Fuel economy (city/highway): 25/38 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: Not rated

For 2016, Volkswagen has delivered a refreshed Passat, and you would think there would be some sort of dramatic change. Instead, it seems as if Volkswagen has doubled down.

Styling updates include a newly chromed four-bar grille, power dome hood and slimmer headlights up front, while a new bumper and trunk lid round out the updates out back. Given the subtle nature of these changes, you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t tell what’s been updated. Of course, Volkswagen is still following the midsize market’s “boring is better” design mantra, one that’s been supplanted by the more expressive designs — and bigger sales — of the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion.

That said, the plain design is handsome and retains its Teutonic allure. For the new model year, VW designers have redesigned the dashboard and center console, adding two-tone trim that lends the car a more premium feel. Other touches include wood and chrome trim and a tasteful analogue clock atop the center stack.

The instrument cluster and switchgear seem similar to that used in the current Golf, are of a good quality, and are as easy to use. But perhaps the biggest improvement is Volkswagen’s infotainment system, which is accessed through a 5- or 6.3-inch capacitive touch screen. The revised system now has a proximity sensor, which detects when your hand is nearby and automatically brings up the switches you are most likely to need. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink smartphones.

Of course, the amount of gear on your ride depends on the trim level you choose. The Passat starts at the S trim level and rises through R-Line, SE, SE with Technology, SEL, SEL Premium and V-6 SEL Premium grades. All models except the SEL Premium use Volkswagen’s 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same one featured in the smaller VW Jetta. It produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The priciest Passat comes equipped with the 3.6-liter VR6 mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It’s rated at 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Given this car’s overall demeanor, the smaller engine should suffice.

Like this car’s styling, the driving dynamics feel less European than you’d expect. This is not the jarringly firm ride expected of a German sedan. Instead, you’ll find the suspension ably absorbs bumps with aplomb and a surprising amount of softness. The car’s steering lacks road feel, although it’s crisp, nicely weighted and feels adequately responsive. The standard six-speed responds smoothly and quickly, making the most of the available power. While the car is admirably poised, its persona is much like that of a Camry, and is about as entertaining to drive, which is to say it isn’t.

Safety features are impressive, however.

Like the 2015 Golf, the Passat comes standard with a rearview camera and Volkswagen’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which applies the brakes after a collision is detected by the airbag sensors. This helps reduce residual energy that can lead to additional damage. Optional driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, lane departure warning and parking assist.

The Passat’s biggest asset is its abundant wide-open spaces. It has generous headroom and legroom for five. While S models get cloth seats, other models have leatherette or leather seating surfaces. The front seats are comfortably firm and supportive, and the audio system was impressive.

And that’s the problem.

Whereas the Volkswagen Passat once found favor among buyers who wanted European handling and aesthetics at something less than BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi prices, the current Passat is a pure value play, with generous space, good fuel economy, conservative looks and compliant handling at a reasonable price.

But it still has all of the emotional involvement of a bland consumer appliance rather than the killer affordable European sports sedan it once was. Disappointingly, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat is still a car fit only for warehouse club enthusiasts, not VW driving enthusiasts. That’s a pity.