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Volkswagen - still a semi-premium brand, or was it ever?

I remember when I was a kid, whenever my father would talk to others about him driving a VW Passat, one of frequent reactions he received was “Oooohh, Volkswagens are nice!”, and I could tell that VWs were much nicer cars than other mainstream brand cars I rode on.

Fast forward, I’m in the market for a midsize sedan, and I compared Passat with Fusion and Accord, and I have to say I’m a little disappointed. The exterior is nice, at least to my taste, but the interior quality and features seem barely on par compare to Fusion and Accord.

Do you guys think VW is still a semi-premium brand it once was, or was it just my perception due to the brand being German and me being a kid at the time? Or was it ever considered a semi-premium brand to begin with?

In the 2000’s VW tried to move the brand upmarket in the U.S. with vehicles like the Tourareg and Phaeton. However it wasn’t really successful as people had a hard time ponying up $50k+ for something with a VW badge on it. So about 6 or 7 years ago, they decided to back downmarket again, this was fully realized with the sixth generation Jetta. VW de-contented it heavily vs. the outgoing model. It had drum brakes in the rear, and interior fit and finish went downhill quickly, it even had a beam axle in the rear, all cost cutting measures to make the Jetta more price-competitive. The U.S. spec Passat is different than the Euro-spec model. It’s cheaper, and doesn’t have the same level of quality, but it’s cheaper and larger.

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I think it’s all about perception, and I have never perceived VW to be a semi-premium brand.
Typically, they have very nice driving dynamics–like other German cars–but they fall short in other areas, such as reliability and durability.
As to their interiors, I can’t say with any assurance, but I do recall that I knew somebody who owned a VW Golf, and the upholstery on the driver’s seat was–literally–in shreds after ~4 years.

At this point, because of their diesel-emissions scandal, I think that they will have to be VERY competitive with their pricing in order to attract buyers, and I think that the resale value of their cars (even those with a gasoline engine) has probably taken a hit.

Put me in with those who never thought of VW as a premium brand .

I’m trying to think what made my 59 Bug premium. Nope, can’t think of a single thing. It did have carpet that needed replacing compared to the vinyl floor in our Falcon but neither one was very luxurious. I think owners tended to think VW was upscale and that is the opinion of my in-laws but not sure if that is fact or fiction.

Around 2000 the Passat had a slightly nicer interior, and somewhat sportier handling, and much poorer reliability. Not what I’d call ‘premium’. The newer model is larger, with $$ taken out to better compete with the Camry, Accord, etc. If you like it, fine, but it’s a direct competitor, not premium.

I had only owned one VW, a 71 Bus purchased new. In 1988 I was helping my daughter shop for a car and we went to a local VW dealer and sat for 15 minutes while salespeople walked by with their noses in the air. Most of the sales cubicles were empty.

WE went off to another VW dealership where a salesman refused to budge off list price. He stated “If you want economy, you have to pay for it.”

Needless to say , she did not buy a VW.

I never perceived VW as a premium brand or even semi, but clearly VW dealers did in 1988.

VW’s base trim level is not as high a level as it was, say, 10 years ago. You can still get entry level luxury trim on the highest trim level. That is true with any other car in the class. For Passat, think Camry, Accord, or Malibu among others. On the happy side, reliability is much improved. The reason VW cut the trim level on the base model was to lower the price and increase sales. They had a goal of selling the most vehicles per year of any auto manufacturer, and that was one o the things they did to get there.

FoDaddy and texases are right on the money. Back around 2000 I had the most expensive Passat there was. V6, 4Motion AWD, wagon body, leather-heated everything, top-spec trim with amazing infotainment (audio). It was a company car and I got it because my bosses all had Audis and I could not get one equal to theirs so I snuck it in. That was one hell of a car and if my memory is right cost around $35K and had to be ordered. I have never seen another one in person on the road. I think they used the one I got to take the media images. Today I am in a base Passat 1.8T S with zero options. $23K. I respect this new Passat and I love it for its value and subtle charms. However, as FoDaddy and texases correctly point out, it has been taken down-market. Setting all that aside, I think VW intentionally came downmarket to make room for Audi, and that you are spot on. VW used to be similar in ways to Lexus - premium but not over the top.

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The only things “premium” about VW are some of their ad campaigns over the years.


old_timer_11’s post reminded me of the time I almost lost my mind. I was still single and doing pretty well. I decided I was going to treat myself to a brand new BMW after having taken the frugal route most of my life (that’s how I could pay cash for the BMW). I wandered around in the showroom for awhile with salespeople buzzing around and past me even when I tried to get their attention. Also wandered the lot for a bit. I guess they didn’t think someone in jeans could afford their stuff. So I left and bought a Camry that day instead. Never regretted it a bit and haven’t ever stepped foot in a BMW dealership since…


When I sold cars for a living. I would always try to go after the guy in a t-shirt and jeans walking the lot at 11:00 AM. The guys who were dressed in business suits, and could only show up in the late afternoon or during their lunch break; they worked for the guy in the jeans and t-shirt.


Volkswagen meaning :“people’s car” never was a premium brand. However, being European, they aimed for the snob appeal of North American buyers. Germans themselves aspired to own a Mercedes or BMW, not an upscale Volkswagen,

If VWs had had premium quality they might have succeeded more.

…or perhaps an Opel Kapitan or an Opel Admiral. I seem to recall that those were very good cars.

My cousin spoke well of VW and aspired to own a Phaeton. He also likes him some MB, and his father owns a C-class. They are German, and the family has lived in their neck of the woods for at least hundreds of years.

We had a '79 Passat at some point and I liked the car. It was not premium. At the same time we had a 70’s Nova and we all liked that one better.

Then my friend had a Passat ~ 2000, all loaded wagon model as mentioned. It was nicer than a base Camry but had a few electronics glitches and would stall on my friend. The dealer was not able to figure it out, so my friend traded it in for something else. Meh.

Comparing my old VW Rabbit w/my Corolla, the VW seemed to have sturdier body hardware. The door hinges, stuff like that seemed more solid. The interior, not that big of difference. When new both were nice, but the Corolla interior has stood up to the test of time better than VW’s version.

The door hinge thing, maybe it was just perception. When you’d close the VW’s doors, they made a really solid-like thud sound. But it was also sort of hard to close them with the windows up. The air pressure inside the cabin would prevent the doors from closing sometimes, like the cabin was totally air tight. But I think Toyota purposely designs an air-space under the doors so air can get out as you close the door, so this doesn’t happen. Maybe that is all the difference is, just a perception, not reality.

The VW had a better suspension system than the Corolla. Not better in a fundamental way so much. But it had a stiffer suspension, the downside being a little bumpier ride, but the upside, the car held the corners better with less body tilt. That made driving on winding mountain roads more fun in VW.

I never personally considered VW to be a semi-premium brand. But, ,then, I grew up knowing VW as the maker of truly affordable cars that would run forever with an occasional repair. My first car was a '61 Beetle. It was that air-cooled rear-engine, bare-bones vehicle that made VW a part of history. In my Beetle, the radio was an add-on… and it wouldn’t turn off by itself when I turned the car off. It had to be turned off separately.

I don’t really keep up with cars today, so I am not certain about this premium brand business. My question is "Would the Volkswagen CC be considered a premium brand?

It didn’t look “premium” to me from the photos, but, then, who can tell from the photos??