DETROIT – Ending 2-plus years of suspense, Volkswagen Group of America Inc. unveiled the name of the new midsize sedan it will produce in the U.S. to replace its current imported Passat.

The new moniker? Passat.

“We wanted to build up excitement,” VWA President and CEO Jonathan Browning says here Sunday of the cloak-and-dagger effort the auto maker maintained to keep the new old name under tight security ever since announcing plans in July 2008 to build the car in a new U.S. assembly plant.

Codenamed NMS for new midsize sedan, the U.S. Passat is in pilot production at VW’s Chattanooga, TN, plant and will go on sale this fall.

The model, which will be unveiled later today at the North American International Auto Show, will be larger than the current imported Passat but have a lower entry price point in an effort to attract new buyers to the brand.

Specific pricing hasn’t been announced, but VW says the new 4-door sedan will start at about $20,000, compared with about $28,000 for the current model.

It also will have some features not available on the European Passat, Browning says, including remote start, a standard automatic climate-control system and a special Fender-branded audio system under a collaboration with a company known for its electric guitars and amps.

There will be a choice of three engines, including the base 2.5L 5-cyl. and optional 3.6L V-6 gasoline powerplants, plus a new 2.0L turbodiesel. The clean diesel will require urea system to meet emissions requirements, officials say.

The 5-cyl. engine generates 170 hp and 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) of torque and will be mated to a standard 5-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic.

The turbodiesel delivers 140-hp and 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) of torque, and VWA says it will achieve 43 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) on the highway and travel 800 miles (1,300 km) between fill-ups. Optional with the diesel is VW’s 6-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.

The 3.6L is the new Passat’s power leader, generating 280 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque, but still achieving 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) on the highway, VWA says. It gets the DSG transmission as standard.

Three trim levels will be offered: S, SE and SEL.

Among standard features are electronic stability control, antilock brakes with braking assist, six airbags, power windows and Bluetooth connectivity.

Options include 17- and 18-in. alloy wheels, power seats, leather trim, multifunction steering wheel and navigation system.

Exterior styling for the coupe-like sedan is characterized by VW’s horizontal grille that juts forward and a strong ridge line that runs from the hood along the side sill to the rear end.

Inside, the Passat borrows the instrument panel from the revamped Toureg cross/utility vehicle. Accents range from “Titan Silver Printed” decor in the SE version to “Autumn Nut Burl” in the SEL model.

The U.S. Passat measures 191.7 ins. (486.9 cm) long and sits on a 110.4-in. (280.4-cm) wheelbase, providing a “noticeable” increase in rear passenger room, the auto maker says.

VWA has an initial capacity for 150,000 cars at the Chattanooga, TN, plant, which is expected to officially launch Job One production in first-half 2011. Last year, the auto maker sold just 12,497 Passats in the U.S.

dzoia@wardsauto.com