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Volkswagen of America Inc., battered by the revelation that it rigged nearly half a million cars to defeat U.S. smog tests, sought Monday night to put a new and better face on its Chattanooga-made Passat by unveiling its redesigned version for the 2016 model year.

At the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, VW showed off what it touted as "a winning combination of design, interior and cargo space, class-leading technology, available driver assistance systems, and powerful, yet frugal, engines."

"We applied a progressive design strategy with the new Passat, giving the car a dynamic presence and a more sophisticated look," said Klaus Bischoff, Volkswagen's head of design. "We have integrated several new design elements, including a sculpted, domed hood that significantly sets the car apart from its predecessor."

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some text The back of the redesigned version of the Chattanooga-made Passat for the 2016 model year is shown.
some text The front of the redesigned version of the Chattanooga-made Passat for the 2016 model year is shown.

The revamp of the Passat is VW's biggest 2016 model update in America and the first since the Chattanooga factory started producing the U.S. version of the vehicle in 2011.

The facelift is key for VW in America as the Passat accounts for nearly 25 percent of total 2015 U.S. sales and comes as Volkswagen struggles with EPA charges that the company improperly installed software to switch engines to a cleaner mode during official emissions testing on diesel-powered Passats and other models.

Two top VW officials who were scheduled to appear at the model unveiling in New York — VW brand management board chiarman Herbert Diess and VW Board Member Heinz-Jakob Neusser — cancelled their appearance after Volkswagen apologized Sunday and suspended sales of its diesel brands.

VW officials in New York said they will offer an R-Line version of the Passat for the first time in 2016 with rocker panels, a stylized front bumper with contrasting black accents, a modified rear diffuser, and 19-inch anthracite Salvador aluminum-alloy wheels shod with 235/40 ZR rated tires.

Inside all of the 2016 Passats, motorists will see a new instrument panel, steering wheel and column stalk design, two-tone décor panels, and refined chrome and piano black trim. Heatable rear seats are a new available feature, along with Easy-Open keyless access that opens the trunk via moving a foot near the rear of the vehicle.

The 2016 Passat features Volkswagen's second-generation "modular infotainment platform," also known as MIB II. The system features touchscreens as standard equipment on all models. On most models, the display utilizes a capacitive touch sensor (similar to smartphone and tablet technology) enabling gesture controls such as swiping and pinch-zooming rather than the resistive touchscreens that require pressure and have slightly longer response times. Most MIB II units also feature a proximity sensor, which detects when a hand is nearby and automatically switches its display to allow easier selection of specific features. USB and Bluetooth connectivity also are standard on all 2016 Passat models.

The MIB II system also includes VW Car-Net, which offers App-Connect technology, featuring the three major smartphone integration platforms—Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.

The 2016 Passat will be available in the United States with three powertrains: the 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct injection TSI four cylinder; 2.0-liter TDI and the 3.6-liter VR6 engine, which makes 280 horsepower. The 2016 Passat 1.8T has an EPA estimated highway fuel economy rating of 38 miles per gallon with the automatic transmission.

Full pricing for the new 2016 Passat will be available closer to launch later this year, but the 1.8T S model starts at $22,440, which is the same price as the previous base model when equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The updated vehicle will be made in Chattanooga on VW's innovative platform called MQB. The new production technique is part of the $900 million expansion VW is undertaking at the plant to support assembly of a sport utility vehicle in 2016.

The process, which VW is rolling out at plants worldwide, enables it to design models ranging from a three-door hatchback to an SUV virtually sharing the same front axle, pedal box and engine positioning, despite varying wheelbase and external dimensions.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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