VW: Passat GT Injects Interest in Segment, Better Than Incentives

Midsize-car sales are off this year, with deliveries of the Passat falling the most of all segment players.

March 22, 2018

4 Min Read
Passat GT on sale in US in April
Passat GT on sale in U.S. in April.

ANN ARBOR, MI – With midsize-sedan sales slumping through February, and its own sales in the sector halved from year-ago, Volkswagen says it is doing its part to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

“(We’re) trying to generate a little bit of buzz in a segment that’s struggling (by doing) something that’s maybe different than what everybody is doing,” Steven Warrick, model line manager-Passat for Volkswagen of America, tells WardsAuto here during a media preview for the ’18 Passat GT. “It’s a tough segment, (and) we have new competition (Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima) in the market.”

The GT is a limited-edition performance grade of the brand’s midsize sedan, whose sales through February dove 54.4% from like-2017, to 5,470 units.

Wards Intelligence data places the Passat in the Lower Middle Car segment, which collectively saw a 15.4% sales falloff from the first two months of last year. Ten of 11 entrants in the group were down, with the exception of Toyota’s Camry. Camry sales rose 16.1% through February, a contrast to the also-redesigned-for-’18 Honda Accord, which posted a 12.9% loss.

“You can either put your money into developing something that’s kind of unique and interesting for the customer, in a package that’s something we haven’t done before, or you can put money in incentives,” Warrick tells media at the March 21 event. He’s referring to the high levels of spiffs automakers are placing on midsize sedans as sales of new vehicles slow in the U.S. and Americans continue flocking to CUVs.

In the same period Passat sales plunged 54.4%, VW’s total sales rose 5.6% thanks to the new Tiguan and Atlas CUVs and growing sales of the aging Touareg. (A redesigned ’19 Touareg is debuting March 23 in China.)

The Passat GT, on sale next month in the U.S., is an assemblage of a variety of features from midgrade and higher-end Passats, including the SE, SE-Plus and R-Line models. It uses VW’s 3.6L direct-injected V-6, making 280 hp at 6,200 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque at 2,500 rpm and includes a unique suspension and sportier exhaust tuning.

However, Warrick is quick to dismiss talk of the GT as a “sport” grade.

“I hate to call it a sport model…because a lot of these competitors’ (sport-grade midsize sedans are) in a lower-value package,” he says. “We’re offering the V-6 engine in there with a lot of premium features as well.”

GT models available here for testing are priced at $29,145, not including an $850 destination and handling charge. That’s more than most grades of the Passat with a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl., but less than the $34,650 Passat SEL Premium grade, previously the only grade of the car with the 280-hp V-6.

In comparison, Honda offers the ’19 Accord Sport with a turbo 4-cyl. starting at $25,780.

The GT has a unique sport-tuned suspension (ride height is lowered 0.6 ins. [15 mm] from the standard Passat), a “throaty” exhaust tone, plus unique exterior and interior details, Warrick says.

On the outside, the car borrows the front bumper from the Passat R-Line, but the GT adds standard LED headlamps to the R-Line’s standard LED taillights.

There’s also red trim above and below the honeycomb grille – a nod to the VW GTI – red brake calipers, a black roof, black rear-bumper trim and unique 19-in. “Tornado” wheels.

The interior has both piano-black and carbon-fiber glossy trim, a circular-knit black headliner fabric that also covers the A-pillars, moonroof shade and visors, as well as aluminum sill plates with GT badging.

Seats are black-and-gray faux leather with contrast stitching.

Standard technology includes blindspot monitoring with rear-traffic alert, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and VW’s Car-Net smartphone integration and interface.

Warrick won’t divulge exactly how many units of the Passat GT VW plans to assemble, but says it will be built for the remainder of the ’18 model year. A next-generation Passat is expected next year in the U.S., with the car set to be revealed in January, Warrick tells WardsAuto.

Focus on the next-gen Passat is the reason the GT is not a permanent addition to the Passat lineup, but he says should the grade sell well in the current generation it could stick around, as well as expand to other model lines.

“A lot of stuff put into place on this could be easily replicated in other models and the next generations of the Passat,” Warrick says, adding the car also was an important learning experience for engineers and designers at the Passat’s Chattanooga, TN, assembly plant.

He praises how quickly they brought the car to fruition (a concept was shown just a year-and-a-half ago at the 2016 Los Angeles auto show) and “proved a lot of naysayers and conservative colleagues across the ocean wrong.”

Successful sales of the Passat GT also could lead to more work for that team, Warrick says.

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