TEST DRIVE: Volkswagen Passat

VW Passat
VW Passat
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Steve Sharpe drives VW’s Passat

Volkswagen unveiled the all-new Passat last summer, ahead of the car making its public debut at the Paris Motor Show in October and its debut on the streets of the UK in January.

This is the eighth-generation of the Passat, which since it was launched in back 1973 has racked up more than 22 million sales worldwide.

VW have really gone to town on this latest version, saying its “advanced features enable the new Passat to bridge the gap between the upper medium and premium class of vehicle”.

The aim is to steal a march on traditional rivals like Ford’s Mondeo, Skoda’s Octavia and the Vauxhall Insignia, and also to attract buyers from so-called premium brands like BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

Everything in the car is new – its design, technologies and engines. And whereas a lot has been added a fair bit has been reduced – its weight has been dropped by 85 kg and fuel economy figures that have been improved by up to 14 per cent.

Despite exterior dimensions that are actually marginally smaller than those of the previous Passat, interior space is improved, with more leg- and head-room, as well as increased luggage space.

Only diesel engines are available in the UK at the moment, ranging in power from a 1.6-litre 120 PS, through two 2.0-litre units with 150 or 190 PS, to a range-topping 2.0-litre bi-turbo with 240 PS, DSG gearbox and 4MOTION four-wheel drive.

A plug-in hybrid GTE version with a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and electric motor will follow ilater this year.

A frugal BlueMotion with a 1.6-litre engine returning 78 mpg and just 95 g/km of CO2 will join the range in June, while an Alltrack version of the Estate is due in July.

It’s not surprising that VW have concentrated on the diesel versions – eight out of every 10 new Passats, which is the fourth best-selling Volkswagen in the UK, after the Golf, Polo and up! – will go to fleet customers, with a preference for diesel.

The Passat is a tiny bit shorter than the previous version, but the wheelbase is actually 8cm longer. This means more legroom inside and also affects the look of the saloon.

The overhangs at the front and the back have been shortened, the bonnet has been dropped and the windscreen angle has been lowered to make for a sportier looking saloon.

At the front, the new Passat radiator grille features four chrome bars which look classy, and blend into the narrow headlights.

There are some sharp lines running along the length of the car, and with bigger wheels, a coupe shape and a slightly wider, flatter stance, it all goes together to create a car with a sleek, premium and sporty look.

Slip inside the Passat and you’re surrounded by the quality VW are famous for.

The cabin is up there with the best, put together with pinpoint precision and understatedly stylish.

The horizontal airvents stretch the length of the dashboard, broken by the speed gauges and an analogue clock in the centre, while the good sized touchscreen media screen sits in the centre, surrounded by well-marked buttons with the simple temperature controls underneath.

The seats are upholstered in a beautifully textured cloth –leather seats are standard in the highest trims – and are comfortable and supportive. Throughout the cabin the materials are soft to the touch, springy and high quality.

There’s plenty of space in the front and a good amount in the rear despite the sloping roofline. There’s a raised central tunnel which a middle rear seat passenger will have to straddle, though.

The big boot will swallow a load of luggage and odds and ends, and there’s a bonus that, like a hatchback, the rear seats flatten at the pull of a lever to create more space if needed.

VW have shoehorned in a load of equipment in this new version – an interactive display for the gauges available later this year sounds interesting, and there’s a whole host of safety options and all sorts of fun entertainment stuff.

You’ll have to move up the trim levels for the most fun stuff but there’s a load of equipment even in the entry level models.

All versions come with air-conditioning, a digital radio, Bluetooth and alloy wheels. SE models get front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, and larger wheels.

SE Business models get sat-nav, while GT cars also come with leather and Alcantara upholstery, three-zone climate control and heated front seats. R-line models get sportier body kit and interior touches.

Out on the road, the Passat has never professed to be the most exciting car to drive but this new version, which sits on the same platform as cars like the Audi A3 and the Golf, has improved the ride considerably.

Totally composed and surefooted on the road, the low, wide saloon corners nicely with little body roll and a great amount of grip.

The steering is accurate, and you get a nice amount of feedback when cornering.

While the 1.6 diesel engine might not sound up to much, it’s tuned to get the best from the Passat.

Acceleration is decent and the automatic gearbox slips up and down nicely, quick to select which gear is called for.

As a fleet favourite most Passats will spend a large amount of time cruising A-roads and few will be unhappy with the ride.

It’s an accomplished motorway cruiser. Road noise and wind noise have been well suppressed and the engine is effectively muted, although it does gets raspy at higher speeds and higher revs.

Around town the VW is easy to handle, with a nice driving position, good visibility all around and a tight turning circle.

If you’re going to put a lot of miles on the clock then the Passat’s economy figures are impressive. The 1.6 diesel I drove has fuel figures knocking on 70mpg.

Low emissions figures will keep the car tax low helped by Stop Start, but I found it a bit too keen, stopping the engine while you’re rolling to a halt rather than stationary.

A few times it jumped the gun and cut the engine just as I was about to pull away again. I gave up a couple of times and turned it off.

This revamped Passat deserves to take Volkswagen into the premium category – and it’s already been picking up awards since its launch, most recently and notably European Car of the Year earlier this month, beating off competition from the Mercedes C-Class, Ford Mondeo (203), Nissan Qashqai, BMW 2-series Active Tourer and Renault Twingo.

It’s a car that requires the minimum of effort to cruise yet one which provides an engaging drive.

Sleek and roomy, it’s a family saloon that will appeal to many. It’s also priced competitively to compete with its saloon rivals and provide a real alternative to its premium rivals.

The main obstacle is that while VW as a brand is synonymous with quality family cars, manufacturers like Audi and BMW are easier associated with Premium models.

It’s something that VW will be working hard to rectify.

Fact file

VW Passat

Engine: 1.6 litre turbo diesel

Transmission: 7 speed DSG automatic

0-62mph: 10. 8 seconds

Top speed: 128mph

Fuel economy: 70.6 mpg avg

Price: £25,610 (£29,375 inc options)