2014 Nissan Altima + 2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T - Mid-Size Family Matters - Comparison Review

Last year crossover / sports utility vehicles outsold passenger cars in the United States.

Yet 1.8 million Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords, Nissan Altimas, Ford Fusions, Hyundai Sonatas and Chevy Malibus found homes here. Throw in Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Mazda6 and Subaru Legacy and you have 13% of the new vehicle market.

Crossovers might have the edge in spaciousness. But cohesive ride/ handling elude their higher centers of gravity. And no X-over will ever look as X-rated as a sporty sedan. In or out of a bikini.

"Drive...He Said" recently tested two mid-size family sedans. The 2014 Nissan Altima versus the 2014 Volkswagen Passat.

Not as Stodgy as Crossovers:

- The 5th generation Nissan Altima (L33) melds bigger brother, Maxima's,  more prominent snout with deeper grille, boomerang head & taillights. Fenders and quarters are muscular culminating in a "check me out" butt.  Camry  is comparatively frumpy (hence a major restyling coming in 2015) and the Accord reserved. Possibly Kia's Optima looks more enthusiastic. And only the Mazda6 more drop-dead.

The (NMS) VW Passat answers Chairman Martin Winterkorn's edict to build in America for American tastes. Rectangular light housings and modest side sculpting amount to a Jetta's reflection in a funhouse mirror. If not for our tester's smoked 18" alloy rollers, chrome strips and LED DRLs we'd muse New Mid-Stodgy Sedan.

Grade: Altima: A-   Passat B-

Four Bangers Proven:

- "Drive...He Said" has already gushed about the efficiency of the  VW Passat TDi diesel on a real road trip. But for the diesel-phobic and those of thinner billfolds, the new standard Passat gas mill is the Gen.3  EA888 turbocharged 1.8L twin-cam DI gas inline-4, making 184 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm. Off the line the new four-banger is sprightlier than the departing five. We'd  swear the 1.8T is haunted by sounds of air-cooled VW 4-cylinders.

Too bad the slick 5-speed manual transmission will be skipped by most Passat buyers. But the optional Tiptronic 6-speed automatic locks fast and is not too ambivalent. Fuel economy has improved to 28 combined miles per gallon.  On the highway, 18.5 gallons of regular unleaded should be good for 650 miles. VW has definitely delivered the Vegnugen here.

- Nissan Altima's  2.5 twin-cam gas inline-4 skips turbos and direct injection, relying on 700 extra cc for a 10 horsepressure edge. Lower torque at 180 lb-ft, doesn't pour on thick until 3500 rpm. Turning traction control "Off" and plunging the throttle won't generate a front tire chirp. Something that can be done all day long in the Passat with non-defeatable TC .

Nominally raspy at idle, Altima is quiet at near triple digit speeds. A greater Continuously Variable Transmission ratio spread (7:1)  nets a fuel economy Bulls-Eye: 40 mpg on 75 mph freeway hauls, 29 mpg combined. Despite a faster locking torque converter the CVT can't eliminate all engine sawing to reach a  desired ratio.

Grade: Altima: B-   Passat B+

Surface Relationships:

- Altima and Passat go similar chassis routes in tackling the tarmac. MacPherson struts and two lower control arms fore/ four links rear per wheel.

- In the VW, thuds to the seats of our pants over frost heaves imply slower dampers, higher spring rates and stiffer bushings. With checked roll and good steering boost abatement the Passat can be caught before understeering too much in a turn. Well sized brakes discs have some dead spots in pedal effort.

- The Nissan's Sachs shock-absorbers damp compression forces more quickly. The price for such a smooth ride: a bit of wallow at speed. The electrified hydraulic boost seems on/ off abrupt. Understeer in the Altima is always on your mind. Disc brake pads on the Altima grabbed with less gusto than the Nissan Norm.

Grade: Altima: C+   Passat B-

Fit Me Five:

- Four adults can easily find stretch-out room in either of these mid-sizers. Go ahead, throw in a fifth.

- Knee Clearance: VW Passat = 7"-inches for an average adults. Nissan Altima = 5".

- You sit lower to the ground in the Nissan Altima. Front buckets termed "Zero Gravity" incorporate NASA weightlessness research for improved spine conformity. Those with scalps 6'2"+ may do a bit of ducking  in and out of the back of the Altima.

- Only Passat offers option of a front passenger power seats. Drivers get memory settings.

- Large trunks suit a Family-of Five's suitcases for a real road-trip. Both feature 60/40 split folding seatbacks.

- The Altima's torsion rod trunk lid is fully carpeted in that indoor-outdoor stuff, and it closes with less effort than the more taughtly sprung hard-plastic lined Passat lid.

Grade: Altima: B+   Passat A-

Introspection:

- Inside Altima the dash and most reachable surfaces are pliable. Grains are fine. Carpeting is dense. Switchgear isn't Infiniti Q70 refined, but is no less useful. That is imitation carbon fiber on the center console, though.

Nissan's ELD instumentation bests the TFT clusters in Infiniti's a decade ago. All leather covered helms should be this nice to hold. The champagne satin finish of the spoke switches - Meh.

Altima's large center console armrest is elbow friendly above and accommodating below. A pleasantly wide center stack remains uncluttered with large buttons surrounding the infotainment screen head-unit.

Major music, social, news, and travel apps, like Pandora, Facebook, Google Search, and are loadable via NissanConnect. The suite is free for 3 years. Thereafter $19.99/ yr.

The Nissan Altima is your favorite easy chair at home with the handy remote.

- Our impressions of the VW Passat's confines remain unchanged from our review of the  2013 Passat TDi. Leather-trimmed seats in the SEL Premium denotes bodies will only touch inserts which look & feel more like velour than suede. Wood accents sourced from nothing that lived are asked to liven the place.  The analog center-stack clock doesn't stack up to a Swatch. A Passat placed on a diet of unlined glove boxes and lesser insulation simply can't be library quiet.

Phone and music source voice commands are available in several languages. Feeling very British one day, we tried English - UK.

VW Car-Net telematics like vehicle speed and parameter settings, range exceeding warnings are free. At this time VW North America offers no integrable mobile infotainment app suite.

The VW Passat  is more an invitation to a business meeting than a social reception.

Grade: Altima: B+   Passat C+

By All Means, Care :

2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL:  7/8ths VW Phaeton volume. A host of upgrades come with the SEL Premium's $31,000 sticker, but there remains austerity in details. VW's delivered on the promise of greater efficiency. Pity one can't audition their Pandora music through the expressive sounding Fender hi-fi. But how many other family sedans can actually attack the pavement with enthusiasm like Passat can?

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL: 7/8ths the Infiniti Q70's toned bod at less than ½ the price, with an upscale cabin. Fuel consumption is brag-worthy low. With an Altima SL tester just topping $30,000, the big value is the $1000 Tech Package featuring blind spot, lane departure & rear cross traffic warning. Altima does what family sedans have always done best. Delivering occupants in peace and comfort.

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