By Zack Klapman.
Unless you were a hedge fund manager with a fetish for German repair shops, buying a mid-size sedan meant stripping away all wants of speed. A decade ago driving a fairly priced mid-size worked as Ambien.
But although the mission hasn’t changed (move people, cheaply), power and speed are pretty damn high: In 2001, a Mustang GT Bullitt Edition made a bit over 300HP and ran the ¼ mile in 13.9s. Well, the 2013 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 SE makes 280HP, and the 2013 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T SE makes 274. The Sonata, with it’s 4 doors, Navigation, and large trunk, is only .6 seconds behind the Mustang. “Nice car, Steve. My kid loves looking back at the headlights. BOOM!” Got to love evolution.
These aren’t grey market AMG Hammers, but they’re not far off. Hyundai got rid of the 2011 body roll but left the 135+MPH speed, and the Passat? It spins its tires trying to park. The Sonata’s turbo-charged 4-cylinder delivers torque earlier than the Passat’s V6, and goes 6 miles farther per gallon on the highway (34 to the VW’s 28).
Both cars come with 6-speed automatics and paddle shifters. The VW’s DSG is definitely sharper, but most people will never touch the paddles anyway, so the difference is negligible.
Like boxers, dimensional differences in this segment are almost nil. Example: the weight difference is 6lbs, which is a large, salty pretzel and a big soda. If you’re a stickler, grab the ruler, but space-wise, normal humans will be happy sitting in either (VW’s seats win for comfort). The only real differences between the two are appearance and price. Let’s start with the former.
The Passat was recently named “Most appealing mid-size sedan” by JD Power and Assoc. I know little of how their wizardry works, but this raised my eyebrows. I would describe the Passat’s looks as “safe”. Not bold, not boring, not bad, acceptable by all. Wide appeal is what they want, and (according to JD), got, but I prefer the stronger creases on the Hyundai.
Compare the interiors, get similar results: the Volkswagen Passat has an interior interchangeable with any VW car of this decade. That’s fine for the seats and window switches, which look and feel upscale, but the hard plastics on the doors, and the dull center cluster, are like wearing baggy pants in 2008. Time for new pants, Volkswagen.
The Sonata’s dash carries the design language from outside. It looks a little younger than the VW, the recessed NAV screen preceded by a shelf of buttons, like you’d find in an Infiniti. Though the Passat’s layout and color choice looks more expensive, I prefer the design and the materials in the Sonata, and it will look current for a few years.
As you’d expect, the Sonata gives you more for less; Bluetooth, iPod jack, heated seats, XM radio and dual-zone climate all come standard ($25,000). Add Option Group 2 ($2,900) and you get the sunroof, backup camera, and a superior (to the VW) NAV, along with a tons of safety systems and aesthetic upgrades. The same stuff in the Passat costs you $3k more ($28,000 to $32,000, respectively).
The logically blind and brand loyal may still think the VW is the better car. An idea built on past MSRPs and Audi relatives. But that is dismissing the hard work Hyundai has put in, and the cuts VW has made to bring prices down.
The Passat feels solid and fast. So does the Hyundai. The Volkswagen is comfortable to sit in. So is the Hyundai. …And it’s cheaper to buy, and drive.