VW Passat Wins Motor Trend Car of the Year Award

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The lack of media applause was deafening as the 2012 Volkswagen Passat took the still-prestigious Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. In fact, some people, like Jalopnik’s Mike Spinelli, got downright nasty about it. Other venues simply put down the award as disingenuous and irrelevant.

In a way, it’s fun to read these guys, who try to establish themselves (maybe we all do) as truth-tellers in a world of false values, corporatism and special pleading for unspecial cars. The enthusiasts vs. the whorish media.

These are rhetorical games—not to sell cars but to attract readers.

So, if you read Motor Trend’s story about why and how it picked the Passat, there is a sense throughout that its selection team saw the car as a series of fair compromises—which of course all constructors of mass-market cars must make.

MT loved the TDI and even “grudgingly admitted” that the standard inline 5-cylinder engine, which has been rough and long in the tooth, had been tamed and improved. It found the car well-built, very roomy, safe and fuel-efficient.

The six criteria used were: Advancement in Design, Engineering Excellence, Efficiency, Safety, Value and Performance of Intended Function.

Like a lot of puffed-up auto writers, we slammed the Volkswagen Passat when it first appeared in early 2011. We questioned its homogenized looks and its brand strategy, and our commenters mostly agreed.

By June, when the new Jetta started to sell well, we began to understand VW’s strategy better and, like good truth-tellers, backwatered a bit. Yrs trly noted that cars like this (and the Passat) are indeed commodities for most people and that the carmaker’s business “is to understand and satisfy buyer needs and wants—which may vary widely—and how these translate into what the consumer values and will buy.”

For enthusiasts and most auto writers, cars are not commodities to be sold but objects to be appreciated, loved, dissected, analyzed, compared and defended. For most of us, it’s a lot easier to do those things than put ourselves in the buyer’s shoes, or the auto companies’, for that matter.

Other considerations: The car is being made at a new plant in Chattanooga, which should improve quality and will finally add about 11,000 new U.S. jobs.

Congrats, VW, and don’t listen to us auto writers.

Was the 2012 Passat a good choice for Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, in your opinion, or a copout by an industry-influenced magazine?


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  1. The irony here is that if Detroit produced the Passat, Motor Trend would have trashed it.

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