Volkswagen Passat review
The Volkswagen Passat is a very capable blend of discreet looks, quality, space, performance, efficiency and comfort
Volkswagen knows the only way is upmarket if you're going to convince buyers out of BMWs and Mercedes, and the Passat is a more convincing alternative than ever. It might lack the badge prestige, but it's got the quality, refinement and tech to compete with the best.
The latest VW Passat is technologically clever, with advanced infotainment and active safety options, plus the noteworthy addition of a plug-in hybrid variant. But it’s the core diesel engines that showcase the Passat in its best light, proving punchy, smooth and very economical.
The exterior looks won't merit much in the way of emotion, but the Passat has moved up a notch in terms of luxuriousness, something that’s reflected even more strongly inside where it feels like a cut above the Ford Mondeo. This latest car is roomier than any previous Passat, despite not being larger on the outside, and it both rides and handles better than ever thanks to the new, lighter platform architecture.
The Passat is perhaps seen as a safe, unadventurous choice, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not a thrill-a-minute car but if you’re looking for something to please over the long term, it’s a model that should never disappoint.
The long-running Volkswagen Passat is one of VW’s most well-established cars. It was first introduced in the 1970s and today’s model is the eighth generation of the saloon and estate series; the model line has sold more than 15 million examples over its various generations.
The current Passat was introduced in early 2015 and is based on Volkswagen’s latest MQB platform. This is the fully flexible architecture that has been stretched to make the latest Passat the biggest variant launched to date. The greater sophistication of the underpinnings means that, more than ever, this feels like a premium car without the premium price tag.
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As a result, although the Passat still competes with familiar rivals such as the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Mazda 6, Volvo S60 and Toyota Avensis, it’s also closer than ever to the premium experience offered by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE and, of course, its Volkswagen Group sibling, the Audi A4.
Styling reflects this: it’s still understated and is unlikely to turn heads, but the attention to detail and upmarket finish is more premium than ever – this is a richly finished car that fully justifies the little bit extra Volkswagen charges for it. And with top-spec models costing upwards of £35,000, perhaps this is a good thing.
Most Passats sold in the UK have a diesel engine and the engine line-up reflects this: you can’t actually buy a (conventional) petrol-engine Passat. Instead it’s the familiar line-up of 118bhp 1.6-litre TDI plus the 2.0-litre TDI in 148bhp and 187bhp guise. There’s also a fancy range-topping 2.0-litre bi-turbo TDI with 237bhp, DSG gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
If it must be petrol for you, the only option is a the Passat GTE pairs a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with an electric motor, for a system total of 215bhp and 400Nm of pulling power. Despite offering 0-62mph in just 7.6 seconds, official economy figures (on the fairly unrealistic test cycle) claim a staggering 166mpg and just 39g/km – Volkswagen says it will even drive in fully electric mode for around 30 miles before the engine kicks in.
The GTE will sit at the head of a model line-up that compromises S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line variants. There’s also a Bluemotion variant, an eco-tuned 1.6-litre TDI and tweaked exterior styling, plus an allroad-style Alltrack estate with raised ride height, tough body cladding and standard 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
Engines, performance and drive
The smooth, refined Passat has long been known for its fuss-free, grown-up drive and the latest eighth-generation model is the most premium and executive-style variant yet. However, thanks to the new lightweight MQB platform, which is stiffer and has a lower centre of gravity, it also handles more dynamically than any Passat before it.
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Similar to the latest Volkswagen Golf, the Passat is very easy to drive, with precise and ultra-accurate steering not offering much feel but compensating with easy placement in corners. Because there’s less weight, it turns more confidently into bends and has more agility than previous models. There’s lots of grip and traction too.
The latest Passat still delivers the cushioned ride that’s become a trademark of the model though. This, too, is even better: running refinement is improved and the lack of road noise combines with low levels of wind noise to make it feel extremely quite and executive car-like on the move. Improved body control adds to the comfort – passengers are rocked and rolled less, with the Passat’s greater composure adding to its smooth, unruffled feel.
BlueMotion spec does firm up the suspension around town, which is noticeable, but it smooths out the faster you go. The GTE model suffers from the same issue, which is down to the heavy weight of the batteries causing the suspension to thud and clang into bumps.
At speed, on a motorway, it’s more comfortable than it has ever been, and more than a match for a genuine premium-badged car. Its classy styling is now fully matched by a grown-up, classy drive.
The engine line-up in the Passat looks, on paper, a bit limited: just three core engines, plus the quicker bi-turbo and a plug-in hybrid petrol range-topper. This is sensible stuff from Volkswagen though: it knows only low-CO2 diesels sell in this sector, so has optimised the range around the three high-volume TDIs.
The 118bhp 1.6-litre TDI is a smooth, refined engine that these days boasts similar power to earlier entry-level 2.0-litre TDI units. It’s been optimised to give linear, torquey response: 250Nm of pulling power is impressively available in a broad 1,750-3,500rpm rev range. A 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds means it’s no rocketship against the clock but is swift enough not to be embarrassed, and a top speed of 128mph means there’s plenty in reserve on motorways. The 1.6-litre TDI is available with a six-speed manual or optional seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.
The 1.6 TDI also comes in eco-optimised Bluemotion guise. This version is fitted with a standard SCR Selective Catalytic Reduction filter that minimises NOx emissions (through the addition of AdBlue fluid), although it’s manual-only: the DSG gearbox is unavailable.
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Despite this being an eco special, acceleration against the clock, is identical to the regular 1.6 TDI and top speed is actually 2mph faster at 130mph. Thank the slightly lower drag coefficient and taller gearing for this.
The 2.0-litre TDI 150 is the core Volkswagen Passat engine. Its 148bhp output is backed up by, again, a broad spread of torque: 340Nm of pulling power is again available between 1,750-3,500rpm. Like the 1.6 TDI, it comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox but is optionally available with a DSG dual-clutch auto; in this instance, a six-speed unit. 0-62mph takes 8.7 seconds in both manual and automatic guise and the top speed is 136mph.
The more powerful 2.0-litre TDI 190 produces 187bhp and a full 400Nm of torque between 1,750-3,000rpm. Against the clock, it’s a swift engine: 0-62mph takes 7.9 seconds in six-speed manual guise, or an even faster 7.7 seconds with the six-speed DSG. That’s warm hatch territory and a top speed of 147mph is pretty impressive as well.
The top-line TDI diesel is Volkswagen’s impressive-sounding 2.0-litre BiTDI 240 motor. Its dual turbos help it produce 237bhp at 4,000rpm and a huge 500Nm slug of torque from 1,750-2,500rpm. Befitting its range-topping status, this engine is only available with a DSG dual-clutch automatic – this time, it’s back to a seven-speed gearbox. Volkswagen also only offers this engine with 4MOTION all-wheel drive, which is sensible given the amount of pulling power it boasts. 0-62mph takes 6.1 seconds, which genuinely is hot hatch territory, and the top speed is just shy of 150mph.
The tech-laden Passat GTE plug-in hybrid is the most advanced Passat ever sold. It mates a 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol engine with a powerful electric motor and high-capacity plug-in batteries, for a system total power of 215bhp and system torque of 400Nm. This is good for 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 140mph.
Peak power is delivered at a revvy (and not very green) 5,000-6,000rpm range but, thanks to the electric motor, peak torque is spread more diesel-like between 1,500-3,500rpm. The Passat GTE is fitted as standard with a six-speed DSG gearbox, which makes it more engaging and controllable than a CVT.
The GTE is brisk enough, and very refined, but don't go fooling yourself into thinking it's a proper GTI. Still, if you're sensible with the way you combine electric power and petrol usage, and you're journeys allow you to charge it up, it's a frugal way of avoiding a diesel.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Excellent fuel economy is guaranteed across the Passat range, particularly now the firm has removed any slow-selling TSI petrol options from the UK line-up. Focusing on high-economy 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre TDIs means it’s impossible to choose a Passat that doesn’t deliver low CO2 and great fuel efficiency.
Indeed, the manual-gearbox trio of 1.6 TDI 120, 2.0 TDI 150 and 2.0 TDI 190 all dip below the 110g/km CO2 mark, which will be noteworthy to the fleet drivers who dominate Passat sales: impressively, both 1.6 TDI 120 and 2.0 TDI 150 in volume SE Business guise return the same 70.6mpg combined fuel economy, with the GT-spec 2.0 TDI 150 actually bettering the GT-spec 1.6 TDI 120 with 68.9mpg against 67.3mpg (the economy reduction is due to this variant’s larger alloy wheels). Luckily, both GT-spec variants have the same 109g/km CO2 output, so there’s no risk of tax penalties if you have to take the 1.6 TDI.
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It’s worth noting that the fuel economy and CO2 impact of choosing a DSG automatic is minimised on the 1.6 TDI; CO2 actually improves from 105g/km to just 103g/km. It’s a different story for the 2.0-litre TDI though – here, CO2 emissions jump from 106g/km to 116g/km. Combined fuel economy also drops from 70.6mpg to 64.2mpg. Worth bearing in mind if you’re deciding between a 1.6 TDI or 2.0 TDI DSG Passat. Manual-gearbox estate versions, however, do still hit the 110g/km CO2 mark or less. The fuel economy penalty for choosing estate over saloon is around 2mpg.
The punchy 2.0 TDI 190 (which also comes as standard with SCR NOx emissions-reducing technology) averages 68.9mpg and emits 107g/km CO2, which falls to 61.4mpg and 119g/km in DSG guise. The 2.0 BiTDI 240 is only offered as a DSG – this averages 51.4mpg and emits 144g/km CO2, easily making it the thirstiest and least-green Passat.
In contrast, the amazing Passat GTE plug-in hybrid officially averages 166mpg and emits 39g/km CO2, significantly dipping beneath the 50g/km CO2 barrier. Of course, you’ll only get near these figures if you plug it in and use it around town.
The electric driving range is officially 31 miles (but we found it was around 25) and charging takes around four hours from a home socket - or two with a wallbox. On a mixed commute involving sensible motorway and town work you'll find over 55mpg is easy to achieve. But even with discharged batteries, the natural efficiency of the 1.4-litre TSI ensures that'll only dip to around 40mpg.
Most green-seeking Passat drivers will probably prefer the cheaper, more mainstream Passat Bluemotion though. Using the 1.6-litre TDI 120 engine, this has eco-tweaked styling and 15mm-lowered sports suspension to lift economy to 76.3mpg; it is the only other Passat that dips below 100g/km CO2, with 95g/km overall for a Band A VED tax rating.
Because the Passat is so fuel-efficient, running costs should be low. Two extra things you’ll have to budget for though are AdBlue additive for the 1.6 TDI SCR Bluemotion, 2.0 TDI SCR 190 and 2.0 BiTDI SCR 240 variants (a 13-litre tankful lasts around 5,000 miles), plus electricity costs for the GTE.
The 1.6 TDI Passat has the lowest insurance groups, with the entry-level S coming in at group 15E, matching the Bluemotion variant. More expensive SE Business and GT versions are even better though, coming in at group 12E and 13E respectively: this is because they have Adaptive Cruise Control as standard, which includes city emergency braking. This auto-stop feature makes them harder to have accidents in and insurers thus believe the car insurance risk is lower.
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The 2.0 TDI 150 jumps up to group 21E with the 2.0 TDI 190 just one group higher at group 22E – but note, the lowest 2.0 TDI 150 rating actually drops to 19E if you choose the SE Business over standard S. the 2.0 BiTDI 240 is in group 28E, with the Passat GTE plug-in hybrid two groups lower at 26E.
Retained values for the Passat are strong, considering it’s a large, business-focused saloon: the best versions – that’s the 2.0 TDI 150 in SE and SE Business guise – retain around 47%, which is very strong indeed for a car in this sector. Many volume-brand rivals can only dream of such low levels of depreciation.
The 1.6 TDI is almost as strong, but do note that S models are less highly prized on the secondhand market: they retain around 2% less than the better-equipped SE. DSG versions also, interestingly, carry an RV penalty of between 1% and 2%, depending on trim.
The 2.0 TDI 190 retains just over 1% less than the 2.0 TDI 150, but it’s the Passat 2.0 BiTDI 240 that ironically has the highest levels of deprecation. It will retain just under 42% of its £35k-plus list price after three years, making it the bargain of the range on the secondhand market.
Interior, design and technology
The latest Passat has a very appealing interior. The design isn’t flashy or standout, but it’s very satisfying and ergonomic, with a quality of materials to lift it above both the old Passat and many other cars in this sector.
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The clear layout is designed around the central touchscreen, which is very well positioned, and intricate finishing touches such as beautiful chrome air vents and detailing on the perfectly-shaped steering wheel complete the showroom appeal masterclass.
Befitting its executive car aspirations, the Passat can be had with lots of big car features, such as three-zone climate control for rear-seat passengers, an electric rear sunblind and a heated front windscreen. A fancy analogue clock is standard on all Passats, as is an air conditioned glovebox, while rain and light sensors feature on SE models and above. Top-spec models get LED headlights, and clever dynamic full-beam tech which allows you to keep the full beam on all the time without dazzling people is offered as an option.
A whole host of optional driver assistance technology is available for the Passat, including park assist, head-up display, lane assist, high beam assist and side scan. A 360-degree Area view parking camera is offered, and you can even get a trailer assist system that will reverse-park your Passat even if you’re towing a caravan.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
As standard, the Passat comes with an 80W, eight-speaker stereo with DAB, Bluetooth, SD reader, USB socket and pairing for two mobile devices. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is also standard.
On SE Business models and above, it is further enhanced by Discover Navigation sat nav, which includes the VW Car-Net system that pairs with a mobile device to offer real-time traffic, weather, fuel price and parking space availability updates.
An even more comprehensive Discover Navigation Pro system is available with an 8-inch screen, as is a better-sounding Dynaudio stereo system whose 700W 10-speaker output commands a £1,650 price tag.
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Volkswagen’s latest infotainment system is extremely comprehensive and feature-packed, but the firm’s also kept it reasonably simple and straightforward to use. The touchscreen is particularly smart in 8-inch guise, and will keep you entertained for hours (particularly if you pair it with your smartphone).
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Passat is an extremely comfortable car behind the wheel, again befitting its executive car aspirations. Firm, supportive seats are a treat to sit on and are made for long distances, while the driving position is better than before with a more natural relationship between seat, pedals and steering wheel now achievable for most drivers. The range of controls adjustment is enormous and SE trim models and above get Ergo Comfort seats with handy electric backrest adjustment as standard.
Exceptional refinement further adds to the Passat’s comfort. It’s a very quiet and peaceful car behind the wheel, with a free-running feel that’s very premium. You can take things a step further too: for the ultimate in motorway refinement, tick the £315 sound insulation glass option, available on SE models and above.
The latest Passat has a much longer wheelbase than its predecessor, but overall length is actually slightly down. The 79mm stretch boosts interior space but overall length is kept in check at 4,767mm, with width of 1,832mm and height of 1,456mm. The Passat Estate is the same length as the saloon.
The tallest Passat is the Alltrack: this raised-ride height model is the only one to top 1.5 metres tall, and is the longest Passat at 4,777mm – still under the 4.8-metre length some less space-efficient rivals clock in at.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The significant stretch to the Passat’s wheelbase has boosted interior space a lot. The old model wasn’t bad here but the latest one is another step on.
Passenger space is very impressive. It’s not quite as commodious as a Skoda Superb, of course, but space and comfort for two adults in the rear is still impressive. The seats are supportive and it’s also easy to step in and out of. Only three-up does it become a bit less comfortable because of the wide central tunnel. Headroom is ample in both bodystyles, although be mindful of choosing the panoramic roof option if you frequently carry adults in the rear.
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As a practical family-focused Volkswagen, the Passat has always offered a commodious boot, but the latest model is bigger than ever. The saloon has a seats-up capacity of 585 litres, one of the best figures in this sector (and ahead of cars such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia). Fold the seats and it stretches to a total of 1,152 litres: 60:40 split rear seatbacks are standard on all models.
The Passat Estate is even better. 650 litres with the seats up stretches to 1,780 litres with them down – that’s far bigger even than cars such as the Volvo V70. The Passat Alltrack is a little smaller, due to its four-wheel drive running gear, but it’s still spacious at 639 litres or 1,769 litres with the seats down. The boot’s also equipped with four load lashing points.
In-cabin stowage is impressive. There’s a storage compartment in the driver’s door pocket that will take a 1-litre bottle; the one in the passenger door is even bigger, taking 1.5 litres. There’s further storage in the rear doors, plus a sunglasses holder in the roof.
Reliability and Safety
The previous generation Passat was a surprisingly poor car for reliability and build quality, with Auto Express Driver Power respondents ranking it well down the order for both – it came in 166th for reliability with build quality even lower than that.
We expect the new Passat to mark a big improvement in fortunes. The car is built upon the already well proven MQB architecture and Volkswagen has really focused on rectifying the grumbles of the previous model. We have already noted great steps on in terms of build quality, fit and finish.
The same engineering is proving dependable in other Volkswagen Group cars and we feel sure the same will be the case when the first owner satisfaction results come back for the eighth-generation Passat.
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It’s certainly a very safe car. When tested in 2014, this latest Passat scored a full five stars, with 89% for Adult Occupant safety, 87% for Child Occupant safety and 76% for Safety Assist technologies. The worst ranking was 66% for Pedestrian safety, although even here the Passat can impress.
That’s because SE models and above are fitted as standard with Volkswagen’s Adaptive Cruise Control, which include a city emergency braking system that will try to mitigate impacts the driver may miss. It also has front assist, a radar-controlled distance monitoring system and both cruise control and speed limiter combined. Volkswagen’s standardisation of this technology across the core Passat range is to be applauded.
Other safety features include a PreCrash system that helps minimise the effects of accidents, automatic post-collision braking and a driver alert system that makes sure you don’t fall asleep behind the wheel.
The Passat comes with Volkswagen’s regular three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which is a full manufacturers’ warranty that is actually not limited by mileage in the first two years – reassuring if you cover very high miles. There’s also a three-year paintwork warranty and a 12-year body protection warranty.
Volkswagen sells an extended warranty that covers the Passat for up to five years or 90,000 miles – this is the same 100% Volkswagen warranty that’s offered on new models. The Passat GTE in addition has an eight-year battery warranty, which covers the battery for almost 100,000 miles.
Volkswagen offers a choice of either fixed 10,000-mile or one-year service intervals or variable servicing that can stretch flexibly between 10,000-20,000 miles, or two years (an indicator on the dash tells users when a service is due). The firm advises high-intensity users – those based in the city or frequently running short journeys, to take the fixed intervals, and higher-mileage motorway drivers to choose variable servicing.
A three-year fixed-price servicing plan is offered on the Passat when purchasing from new, which helps to cut maintenance costs.