Volkswagen vows that the 2012 Passat will lead the German automaker back to glory in America. Step one: Cutting $7,000 from the Passat's price. Here's what happens to a near-luxury car when the bean counters get behind the wheel.
Cars have thousands of parts, and automakers on a hunt to squeeze costs examine each and every one down to the penny. One of the first targeted by any good bean counter: the hood support strut standard on today's Passats. Who needs a fancy lifter doohickey when there's nothing under there a driver can fuss with anyway? One piece of metal rod per customer, bent appropriately.
The hood also conceals another cost secret: The Passat's a new car with older engines. All-new cars from all-new factories are more prone to quality glitches to begin with; using carryover engines saves money and quality control headaches.
Gooseneck hinges also come from the bent-metal school of simple auto parts, ones that some automakers ditch to save on trunk space. The new Passat's cavernous badonk has room to spare, so those goosenecks can swing down as they please.
The average car sports nearly 300 pounds of plastic, much of it surrounding the passengers. Making those chemicals feel like something other than a Fisher-Price toy has become a specialty among some automakers, which emboss plastics with leather-like grain patterns to make them seem more expensive. The Passat uses this trick in combination with its fake wood panel — but the bottom half of its dash lacks the padding behind the plastic cover VW has offered before.
The European Passat rims its headlamp cluster with a passel of expensive LEDs, but the American version has nothing more expensive than four standard light bulbs, even in the top-of-the-line SEL versions, which were the only ones VW displayed on the show floor.
VW's claims the Passat may avoid some of the encheapening applied to the Jetta; disc brakes, for one, are standard on all Passats. But we may have to wait a few months to see all of the changes VW made to hit its most important target.