It’s no secret that Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) has struggled in the U.S. market of late. For all its success in other markets, its possession of profit-generating machines like Porsche under its corporate umbrella, VW just hasn’t been able to produce vehicles that connect with American consumers in the same way that Toyota, Honda, or other international firms have.
German vehicles have largely been characterized by their understated styling that many would consider bland versus more intense and more aggressively styled vehicles like the Ford Fusion. Cars like the Jetta sell well enough, but others, like the elegant CC or the more versatile Tiguan, haven’t been moving nearly as much as the company would like. The Passat, VW’s largest sedan offering in the States, has been a particular sore spot on Volkswagen’s roster, and especially painful for the company — since the midsize sedan, next to the pickup truck, is America’s favorite segment.
VW’s boardroom has been puzzling over what do do about the Passat, which on paper should be VW’s prized jewel in its American portfolio. It’s clear that something about it needed to change, but what exactly is unclear; at $20,995, it’s among the most affordable midsizers on the market; its TDI version gets 43 miles per gallon on the highway (and 31 in the city), it offers a ton of cabin space, and its styling — though arguably bland — certainly isn’t ugly.
Volkswagen has decided that the remedy to the Passat’s less than stellar sales is to bring the model more upmarket — at least in Europe, where the company introduced the 2015 model. Right off the bat, it’s evident that Volkswagen took some cues from the CC, and even some from the now-defunct (in the U.S., anyways) Phaeton. If upmarket is where VW is looking, it achieved that quite well.