Once upon a time, foreign midsize cars -- compacts by modern standards -- came with four-cylinder engines only. Then they got V-6s, with Honda
reluctantly complying last among the major competitors with its Accord in 1995. The tide turned last year, first with the Hyundai Sonata
, then its platform sibling the Kia Optima
, which each launched only with four-cylinder naturally aspirated and turbo engines. Chevrolet's 2013 Malibu will come with four-cylinder engines only, when it goes on sale early next year. It wouldn't be surprising to see the next Ford Fusion
follow suit with naturally aspirated and EcoBoost four engine options. The 2.0-liter TSI four far outsells the V-6 version of the premium Audi A4
, which grew to a midsize car in its latest iteration.
As such, it's impossible to avoid the term "out of date" when considering the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat
VR6, even though its narrow-angle, 280-horsepower, 258 pound-foot 3.6-liter engine is the one that will make enthusiasts' hearts palpitate most -- even more so than the 140-horsepower, 236 pound-foot 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel. VW is chasing Honda
with its new midsize car, and the Accord, after being a V-6 holdout in the '90s, is now the biggest overall-length car in this segment, offered in four-cylinder and V-6 iterations.
In case you haven't kept up, the '12 Passat, exclusive to the North American market, though likely to be a model for China, is a couple of inches longer than a Toyota Camry
, 2.5 inches shorter than the Accord, but with a wheelbase 0.2 inches longer than Accord's. It shows in the commodious rear seat's sumptuous legroom and headroom.
VW promises extensive use of high-strength steel, emphasized by the manufacturer's estimated weight. These estimates typically fall short of ours, in which we fill the fuel tanks, but the VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT
VR6 comes in at 3,446 pounds, just 49 pounds heavier than a similarly equipped TDI model and 225 heavier than a five-cylinder model with automatic transmission.