MORE ELEGANT ASPIRATION
Volkswagen’s sixth-generation Passat climbs ever further upmarket.
A quality of engineering you might not normally expect for mainstream money..
Volkswagen’s Passat has enjoyed a rather unusual place in the national consciousness. It’s a car for those who enjoy Teutonic build quality but don’t want to fork out serious money for a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. It’s a good deal bigger than equivalently-priced premium marques but has never aimed to offer much in the way of driving dynamics. Latter models started to become seriously well equipped, the range-topping versions crawling uncomfortably close to the mighty Phaeton luxury saloon in terms of fitments and abilities, but the Passat was always at its best in base diesel guise. The latest version still is – but has improved in all kinds of other areas.
Once upon a time, a Passat did little more than proclaim that its driver was comfortably off, sensible and could be trusted to look after the shop without blowing the takings on an all night bender. It certainly wasn’t a car you could conceivably choose over badge-conscious compact executive fare like a Volvo S60, the Jaguar X-TYPE or a Saab 9-3. Sales of the sixth generation model we look at here however, suggest that times may be changing.
At first glance it’s not easy to differentiate this current Passat from the £50,000 Phaeton luxury saloon that acts as flagship for the Volkswagen empire. It’s grown in every dimension compared to previous generation models and there are the same sculpted rear buttresses and fluted flanks as the more expensive car. The Phaeton has long been a slow seller and the Passat could well drive a final nail into its coffin, so upmarket is this latest version’s look and feel. The windscreen is raked back, giving the shape a dynamic stance, and the low roofline combines with a wedge-shaped profile that seems to store the car’s energy up in its chunky haunches. Fit it with a big set of alloy wheels and it looks very special indeed.
It’s longer (4.77m) and wider (1.82m) than you might expect and, like most Volkswagen saloons, has in four-door form a huge boot (565 litres). The bodywork itself is also impressively stiff (57% more than the previous generation model) which means for you in real terms that this car is what we call ‘torsionally quiet’, with an all-round chassis rigidity that allows the suspension to do its work more effectively. The end result is a more cossetting ride and better performance through corners.
As usual with Volkswagen, there’s a wide variety of engines on offer, with five petrols and three diesels from which to choose. The petrols comprise 120 and 160PS 1.4 and 1.8-litre turbocharged TSI units. If you’d rather plump for diesel, there’s a choice of 110, 140 and 170PS versions of the impressive 2.0-litre TDI engine (also available in even more frugal BlueMotion guise). At the top of the range, equipped with 4MOTION four wheel drive, there’s the 300PS R36 performance flagship. The Passat’s core strength from a driver’s perspective is its ride quality, making it a good car to cover big mileages in. The latest 2.0-litre diesel engines are impressively refined and the Passat’s cabin is well insulated from noise.
Volkswagen has assembled three basic trim levels and two bodystyles to tempt customers into the Passat. The trim level range comprises S, R Line, Highline and Highline Plus models. For the environmentally conscious, there’s a frugal BlueMotion 110PS version of the 2.0 TDI, with the same unit offered with ‘BlueMotion Technology’ in 2.0 TDI 140 guise. At the top of the range, the R36 range-topper provides serious performance. The saloon bodystyle is the one most Passat buyers will opt for but there’s also the estate which is available for a premium.
The Passat’s cabin might come as a surprise to those expecting the Phaeton-esque styling influences to continue indoors. In fact, it’s rather functional, albeit in a clean, uncluttered fashion. Somewhat unusually for a Volkswagen, this could be where rivals will seek solace. There is a good deal more use of light tones than in the unremittingly dark dashboard of the previous generation Passat, but those looking for something that signally moves the game on in terms of design philosophy may well come away disappointed. There are a number of technical highlights featured, however, such as a superior quality stereo, an electronic handbrake and a 2Zone Climatronic air conditioning system.
This sixth generation Passat is the first to have the capacity to take on not only Mondeos and Vectras but also more badge-conscious rivals. If you want something in this sector that’s priced in the mainstream but with a quality of engineering you might not normally expect for mainstream money, here’s where to start looking.