Let’s start by stating the screamingly obvious: the new 2018 Volkswagen Passat TSI R-Line is a… Volkswagen. And that means you get all the good and maybe not so good aspects of a VW with this mid-size sedan, depending on your point of view and your tastes. The engine, the outer shell, the interior, the performance and handling – all of them bear the Volkswagen imprint. If you like what the brand does in general – as, for the most part, I do – then you’ll enjoy this roomy, passably capable car. If you don’t, well then you probably aren’t reading this because you’ve crossed VW off your shopping list anyways.
The problem facing the 2018 Passat is that the model’s share of the consumer pie has been eaten into on the one hand by the SUV segments, and on the other by aggressive competition in its own category, by the likes of the Camry and the Accord, of course, but also by German rivals and even some of the American mid-size sedans, many of which offer more raw power and sportiness. Add in the repercussions still being felt by the brand in general in the wake of the diesel-engine scandal, and you can appreciate the challenge facing this undeniably solid entry in the adult-oriented intermediate sedan segment.
This package, available only with the highest of the three available trims for the Passat, the Highline (the other two being the Trendline Plus and the Comfortline), actually makes zero difference to the actual performance of the car. Though it does make it look sharper. It’s an appearance package, similar to Audi’s S-Line, so that at the very least ensures it lists ahead of its German rival in the phone book, am I right? Aside from that advantage, what this package does is, it makes the car look quite good, in fact better than good. I loved the R-Line edition’s restrained sportiness, decked out as it is with unique front bumpers, 19-inch wheels, side skirts, rear diffuser and R-Line badging on the front and sides (also inside, on the door sills for example), none of which ever feels like it’s heavy-handed.
Sporty yet stately
The 2018 Passat is a front-wheel drive mid-size sedan running on a 2L 4-cylinder turbo engine (replacing the old 1.8L) and a 6-speed automatic transmission with 174 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque at your service. The suspension is firm without being hard on humans and their spinal columns, and it handles like you would expect a Volkswagen to handle, though to be clear we’re not at the level of fun-ness that the Golf delivers. Note to all: raw power is not the car’s strength, and for that you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Handling-wise, though, it’s right up there with any other car in its class. I thoroughly enjoyed putting the car through its paces on winding roads, and even the engine sound, something I’ve always appreciated in VWs, seduced me all over again. It’s not a bass, and it’s not a tenor, it’s more like a finely tuned baritone, right in between. This may not be for everyone, but it’s just fine by me.