First Drive: Volkswagen Passat

Quality oozes out of every grille slat, vent and opening in the new Volkswagen Passat, the eighth generation of the model to have graced the world’s roads.

Tasked with taking on the new, but very delayed, Ford Mondeo as well as more premium targets from the like of BMW and big brother Audi, the new Passat treads a line that is undeniably effective, if a little too straight.

Walking up to the car, you’re taken by its size. Seemingly longer and sleeker than others of its ilk, careful styling hides the fact that it’s actually a tiny bit shorter than the outgoing model. It pulls of elegant, imposing and opulent with ease.

As you open the door to step inside, expectations are obviously high. Fortunately the interior designers at Volkswagen have been working double shifts as there’s a clear step forward from the outgoing model. Air vents merge with a wide horizontal styling line that leads to a 6.5-inch touch screen panel complete with sat-nav. Carry on to the right and a neat and business-like instrument binnacle sits in front of the driver, who’ll be relaxing on broad and soft seats that adjust seemingly endlessly.

It’s a classy environment, with a clear and almost clinical layout that quietly reinforces the sensation of quality.

There’s quantity too, with an equipment list on this SE Business spec model that includes adaptive cruise control, parking sensors front and rear and a sat-nav system that brings with it Google Maps-esque ‘rubber band’ rerouting – simply plot a route, then drag the line around if you want to go a different way.

From a safety point of view, you’ll find pre-crash systems that brake automatically, a post-crash safety system and misfuelling prevention. Unique rear lights shine with a horizontal band of red until you press the brake pedal, when it switches to vertical slashes, a system Volkswagen say will help prevent shunts.

So it’s stylish, safe, and suitable as family transport thanks to spacious rear seats and an enormous boot. Has Volkswagen finally got to grips with driver engagement though? Is the Passat a driver’s car to rival the BMW 3 Series?

No. It’s not in the least bit sporty, instead aiming squarely for relaxing, predictable and reassuring.

Press the loud pedal hard and the 2.0-litre diesel engine rumbles into life, delivering all of its 150 horses in a linear and unassuming manner. The turbo doesn’t so much kick in as quietly wanders into the engine bay and gently leans on the cylinders, asking them to provide a smidge more power. But smoothly, please.

A slick six-speed gearbox allows you to access that power as best you can, the car accelerating quickly enough, but never enough to push you back into the seat, and then, once you arrive at a corner, it turns and goes round.

There’s plenty of body roll, but it grips and never lets dynamic cornering get in the way of comfort. There’s virtually no feel through the steering wheel, which requires very little effort at low speeds but does weigh up nicely once making progress, but the stable chassis allows you to place the car exactly where you want on the road.

The lack of sporting pretensions are obvious as you head down a motorway, the soft suspension simply absorbing any imperfections in the road and letting you arrive at your destination entirely unruffled.

Even at higher speeds suitable for the autobahn, it never lowers its guard, remaining unflustered whatever surfaces you throw at it.

Such is the level of disconnection that it’s a remarkably easy car to drive under any circumstances. Thanks to the optional Trailer Assist, that even includes situations when you’re towing something behind you. When the time comes to reverse your caravan or yacht into a parking space (something I assume happens frequently) then you can simply press a few buttons and sit back as the car does it all itself.

Amazingly, the system works – I tried it with a couple of motorbikes on a trailer – but there is one small flaw in the system. If you do specify trailer assist as an option, you seemingly lose the ability to use the reversing camera. That’s probably something that can be solved with a software update, but it’s worth considering which feature you’ll use more frequently when running through the options list.

the Passat then is a good all-rounder, with nothing serious taking points away. It’s not as engaging to drive as the new Ford Mondeo, but it does feel more premium and rides exceptionally well.

It’s also reasonably frugal, with the 2.0-litre diesel returning 70.6 mpg (in theory) and emitting just 106g/km of CO2. With low maintenance and insurance costs, it’s an attractive proposition to businesses and user-choosers. Car tax of just £20 per year will appeal to private buyers, too.

Of course, if you fancy petrol then… actually, no. Thanks to almost imperceptible levels of sales, the petrol engine option has been removed. It’s diesel, or nothing. Well, at least until the electric version turns up later in the year.

The only thing the Passat lacks, beyond a petrol engine, is a bit of flair. Not every journey is a two-hour schlep down the motorway, and something to leave a smile on the face after a few corners wouldn’t go amiss, but then Volkswagen would run the risk of spoiling the sumptuous levels of comfort on offer.

If that’s what you’re after, the ever-so-slightly dull but exceptionally worthy Passat could be the perfect car.


Model tested: Volkswagen Passat SE Business 2.0 TDI
Price: £25,135
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 136 mph
0-62 mph: 8.7 seconds
Power: 148 bhp (150 PS)
Torque: 251 ft-lb (340 Nm)
Combined fuel economy: 70.6 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 106 g/km
VED Band: B / £180 per year
Car insurance group: N/A
Kerb weight: 1,475 kg

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

One thought on “First Drive: Volkswagen Passat

Leave a Reply