At the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat was announced as the winner of the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award, which is the most prestigious honor bestowed upon an automotive manufacturer by Motor Trend.

This year’s group was a record at 35, all-new or thoroughly redesigned, 2012 model year vehicles. The all-new for 2012, made in America, Volkswagen Passat edged out its European, Japanese and American contenders in an exhaustive evaluation process that included the full complement of Motor Trend performance tests, track-based ride and handling evaluations, and real-world driving on city streets, freeways, and two-lane roads.

“The well-equipped Passat is a breakthrough car for Volkswagen, as it has been designed to suit the North American market and is being built in a brand-new, state-of-the-art assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.,” said Motor Trend editor-in-chief, Angus MacKenzie. “It has one of the roomiest interiors of its class, a wide choice of powertrains and a well-tuned chassis. A compelling new entry in the toughest, most competitive vehicle segment in the U.S. today; it’s a terrific all-around family sedan.”

For the past 62 years, the editorial staff of Motor Trend has met to determine the best new car for the following model year. The Car of the Year process is not a comparison test; the winning vehicle is the one that, in the judges’ opinions, best fulfills six key criteria: advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value, and performance of intended function.

The Passat’s styling is clean and simple, but executed with precision normally seen on expensive luxury cars. Car of the Year judge Tom Gale, Chrysler’s former design chief, noted, “…like the Audi [A6], what is remarkable is the restraint shown with the handling of the design. Clean, beautiful surfaces have been refined for an engaging result.”

With options that include a 2.5-liter five-cylinder gas engine, a powerful V6 or a highly efficient turbo diesel–each with the option of being mated to a standard transmission or the seamlessly smooth dual-clutch auto-manual unit–Motor Trend found the powertrains of the Passat to be perfectly matched to the car. Editors particularly praised the diesel engine mated to the dual-clutch auto-manual gearbox. Engineering guru, Chris Theodore noted of the combination, “…without the compromise that mainstream green vehicles impose–a true technological achievement.”

The standard 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine returned 26.5 mpg in testing while the optional turbo-diesel returned an average of 34.3 mpg. The Passat has the best fuel economy stats among this year’s finalists over the course of 11 mixed-driving loops.

Between government mandates and consumer expectations, pretty much all vehicles in this segment gets a standard complement of passive safety gadgets that include six airbags, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, ABS, and brake-assist, among numerous other electric aids. “What’s more fun to talk about under the safety rubric is how well the Passat’s chassis is tuned to keep it out of trouble, because well-driven, agile cars are less likely to plow into things than poorly controlled, flabby, clumsy ones,” said Motor Trend technical editor, Frank Markus.

And by investing in a facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. to build the Passat, VW has reduced the potential for currency fluctuations to negatively impact the price, as happened with the previous imported model. With initial costs lower and overall ownership costs suppressed–thanks to improved build quality and VW’s Carefree Maintenance Program–the 2012 Volkswagen Passat stands as a great value in a market segment driven by price-conscious consumers.

The 2012 Passat was inteneded to be an affordable, roomy, efficient mid-sized sedan for the American family, and the car delivers perfectly on the mission statement. Car of the Year judge, Chris Theodore summed it up best, “I was expecting a large, cost-reduced VW that had lost its Fahvergnugen, but it’s still there, just cloaked in Brooks Brothers.”

This is only the second time Volkswagen has won Motor Trend’s highest honor, the first being in 1985 for the then American-built TDI.