The Honda Accord outsells the Passat by almost 5 to 1, but is it actually better?
For years, my analytical grandfather and his stack of Consumer Reports magazines have been the go-to for car buying advice in the family. That led to every family member with a two car garage to own exactly one Honda and one Toyota. The Honda Accord took my driving virginity, but I had always wanted to experience Germany’s version of the car, the Volkswagen Passat, for comparison’s sake. With that undertaking having come and gone, I came away with three reasons I like the Passat better and three reasons I don’t.
The Good: Thanks to a previous encounter with the 2016 Honda Accord Sport, I was able to determine that the same car I knew since 1995 and was reintroduced to in 2010 has not had its recipe altered much. Doors still feel as light and insulated as much as a tin can, and the entire experience, from the shift lever and the steering to the infiltration of outside noise into the cabin and ride quality make you feel one with the outside elements. Not so in the Passat. Heated seats in the front and rear, a decent audio system, and reassuring feedback from the buttons give the German car the illusion of security from outside harms, making it a perfect car for the holidays when returning from a cookie and eggnog binge.
It could be the fact that German cars must be able to withstand German winters, but I suspect the Passat's stodginess comes from the country’s well-known habit of over engineering. As dull as it looks from the outside, the interior is a marvel of ergonomic efficiency and dead-on-target feel. While the Accord could fit into a disorganized artist's lifestyle with ease, the Passat is particularly suited to those who make their beds every morning and track each meal’s caloric heft with a smartphone app. The Accord’s trinket-like feel extends to every nook and cranny in the car, where as the Passat gets blanketed in a coat of logic that's sure to please white collar professionals with every drive.
What’s more is that, unlike in the Accord, the Passat’s interior is actually attractive. They say an interior space can make or break a person’s mood, and while ambience should take a back seat to more important factors like safety and reliability in this segment, it’s an aspect worth considering when choosing a vehicular companion for the next hundred thousand miles. Warm brown leather, plastic trim made to look like aluminum and wood, and dim inviting lighting all help the Passat launch a harpoon directly at the Accord’s bland black cloth seats that make it hard to differentiate the backseat of the Honda from that of a police car's (our in-depth reporting tactics means we have experience with both cabins).
The Bad: Not that the Passat wins the competition, though, especially not when using the lens of a driver. Anyone who can find joy between white and yellow lines painted on tarmac could easily turn a blind eye to the Accord’s offenses when considering that marshmallows aren’t fitted to each of its four corners as they are in the Passat. It’s almost as engineers decided to counteract the Passat’s seemingly low center of gravity by giving it the body roll of a sailboat in a storm. While the German is easy to point at reasonable speeds, once its relatively low limits are reached, it turns into a bumbling mess that scurries to hide under the nearest rock. At least the Accord’s rawness tries to make the corners an occasion.
The Passat’s target market is presumably made up of people who are college educated, which is both good and bad. The bright side is the no-nonsense feel of the car, but those not endowed with the gift of experience and technological know-how may have trouble figuring the Volkswagen out. Not that it’s overly technical, it’s just that people who rely on the right side of the brain more than the left may find the Volkswagen an alien and unfriendly place. It’s a bit of a contradiction really because drivers that enjoy the composure of the Volkswagen's interior would likely want a driving feel more like the Accord’s to make joy rides an actual joy.
Luckily for the artistic right-brained types, the Accord is a stunner from the outside, especially when dressed in its eye-catching sport guise. Like Porsche, Volkswagen doesn’t seem to like radical redesigns of its cars, relying instead on incremental and evolutionary steps rather than bold and revolutionary leaps. This shows in the Passat’s exterior. Despite the Fortana Red exterior, the Passat blends into the crowd like a chameleon, offering nothing that would turn heads and prompting a group of teenagers walking by during our Passat photoshoot to compliment our photog’s camera before even mentioning the car.