Volkswagen Passat review
Improved in most key areas, the new Volkswagen Passat has the compact executive elite in its sights
The current Volkswagen Passat is an all-new car for 2015 – raising the game from its already high-quality predecessor in an attempt to steal sales not only from mainstream manufacturers like Ford and Vauxhall, but also from premium brands such as BMW and Audi.
The new Passat is bigger, yet lighter and more fuel efficient that the car it replaces. Some versions are as much as 20 per cent more economical than before, with the tax-friendly 1.6-litre TDI diesel emitting just 105g/km of CO2 (103g/km with the DSG gearbox).
Obvious Passat rivals include the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Mazda 6 and Skoda Octavia, but with top-spec models commanding list prices north of £35,000, it’s also a worthy challenger for the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. While that may sound extraordinary, the high quality interior, grown-up driving dynamics and long list of standard equipment ensure it is more than capable of mixing it with the best from the compact executive class.
From launch, the new Passat has only been offered with a choice of diesel engines. The all-TDI line-up kicks off with a 118bhp 1.6-litre TDI, includes a 2.0-litre TDI with 148bhp or 187bhp outputs, and is topped by a flagship 237bhp bi-turbo TDI. The latter is matched to a DSG gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive. There's also a super-eco 1.6 TDI BlueMotion that emits just 95g/km of CO2.
From October 2015, a petrol plug-in joined the range – using the same type of tech the smaller Golf GTE uses, the Passat GTE (available as a saloon or an estate) features a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine mated to an electric motor. VW quotes 215bhp, 400Nm of torque and a top speed of 140mph (81mph if you’re in pure electric E-Mode), while 0-62mph takes 7.6 seconds. The total range in E-Mode is 31 miles and VW claims staggering fuel consumption of 166mpg and emissions of 39g/km of CO2, on the flawed combined cycle at least.
As before there’s a choice of saloon, estate and rugged Alltrack bodystyles with the Passat. It's offered in five trim levels – S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line – (the GTE is offered in entry- and high-sepc grades) with the mid-spec models providing a great blend of equipment versus purchase price. The all-new Passat sees the introduction of host of new technologies, while a longer wheelbase and more interior space increase practicality. Smarter and more upmarket than ever, the Volkswagen Passat should appeal to private and business buyers alike.
Our choice: VW Passat 2.0 TDI (150) SE Business
Engines, performance and drive
The Passat has always been a sensible choice, but it’s never been the most exciting drive. However, the new model sits on VW’s adaptable MQB platform, which underpins cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. With a longer wheelbase, lower centre of gravity, improved torsional rigidity and better weight distribution, the Passat is more dynamic than ever.
It also helps that the car is lighter than before. As a result, this latest Passat is faster on its feet and more agile than past models. It shares the same unflustered cornering composure and linear steering feel as the smaller Golf, while body control is excellent and there’s lots of grip. Traction is good on the exit of tighter corners, and the Passat delivers the same impressive dynamics as other MQB-based models.
Volkswagen has also spent a lot of time ensuring the Passat serves up class-leading refinement. At motorway speeds the cabin is hushed and comfortable. There’s hardly any road and wind noise, while the steering is precise, yet not edgy either side of the straight-ahead.
The suspension and damper set-up has been tuned to deliver a really cushioned ride, although the larger 18 or 19-inch wheels upset things a bit, by crashing over imperfections. As before, Volkswagen’s Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) adaptive dampers are optional across the range.
When it comes to engines, the 2.0-litre TDI is refined and smooth with decent power in the mid-range. Both the 148bhp and 187bhp versions have enough performance, while a 1.6-litre TDI feels punchy despite the lower power output. If you cover a lot of motorway miles, we’d step up to the 2.0-litre, as the 1.6 feels slightly noisier at higher speeds.
The standard six-speed gearbox has a nice shift action, while there’s also the option to choose Volkswagen’s dual-clutch DSG gearbox. The range-topping 237bhp bi-turbo TDI comes exclusively with 4MOTION all-wheel drive and DSG.
While this model is pricey, you’ll notice the extra urgency of the acceleration, and the power is spread wider across the rev range. The four-wheel-drive set-up means there’s plenty of grip on offer and this flagship model gets progressive steering – which adjusts the ratio depending on the angle of steering input – giving it more spirited turn-in.
The only petrol choice is the GTE and the combination of a 1.4 turbo petrol and an electric motor give quick accceleration, but despite the GTE badge's sporty connotations, the Passat GTE is a fast hybrid car designed for cruisong rather than country road thrills.
Overall, the latest Passat is better to drive and more refined than ever, plus it now offers class-leading comfort.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
In the UK, 82 per cent of Passat sales are to the fleet market, so keeping company car drivers happy with low CO2 emissions and reduced tax bills is key. However, thanks to the diesel-dominated engine line-up, whichever model you go for shouldn’t result in high fuel bills.
With a manual gearbox, the low-output 2.0 TDI emits 106g/km, while the 187bhp version only emits 107g/km – meaning both sit in the 17 per cent company car tax band, and will cost private buyers just £20 in Vehicle Excise Duty.
MPG figures depend on which wheel size you go for (smaller is better), but the Passat's current engine range can currently manage up to 70.6mpg from the 1.6 TDI manual. The least economical model in the range is the most powerful 2.0-litre diesel model with the DSG gearbox, which gets 52.3mpg.
Business users will be even happier with the 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion and GTE plug-in hybrid, which lower CO2 output even further – with both models managing less than 100g/km of CO2 (95g/km for the BlueMotion and 39g/km for the GTE). Across the board, fixed-price servicing is a plus, while Passats normally have predicted residuals in-line with premium-badged rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
Interior, design and technology
You could argue the new Volkswagen Passat echoes the design of its predecessor, but line them up side-by-side and the sleeker, more grown-up eighth-generation body is clear to see.
The new car’s wheelbase has been extended by 79mm, yet is 2mm shorter overall. These shorter front and rear overhangs combine with tauter lines to give the Passat a more dynamic stance than before.
With the engine mounted lower in the car, the bonnet has been lowered and the windscreen angled rearwards, which help give the nose a sportier look, while the upmarket four-bar chrome grille and swept-in headlamps add to the Passat’s more confident face.
From SE spec upwards the Passat gets upmarket chrome window trim, while GT cars go a step further with gloss black B-pillar treatment, extra chrome detailing and LED tail-lamps. Go for the range-topping BiTDI 4MOTION and you get distinctive all-LED headlights, while GTE cars get blue-coloured exterior trim, c-shaped LED dayrunning lights and are based on the GT trim.
Depending on your chosen trim, alloy wheel sizes range from 16 to 18 inches, with 19-inch rims are optional on the R-Line. As with other Volkswagen models, R-Line cars get a sportier look with unique bumpers, wider side sills and different exhaust and grille treatment.
The premium feel continues inside. As you’d expect from a Volkswagen, material quality is first-rate throughout the cabin and a step ahead of key rivals like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. While it may not surpass cars like the new Mercedes C-Class, it’s certainly on a par with the outgoing Audi A4
The dash design is simple, yet appealing. It’s dominated by a full-width horizontal air vent, and defined by straight lines and sharp edges. The business-like interior gives the Passat an upmarket feel and even entry-level S trim cars come with brushed chrome inserts on the dash.
Step up to SE and you get Volkswagen’s new Ergo Comfort seats, which come with electric backrest adjustment for the driver. GT trim adds heated seats, with luxurious Alcantara seat cushions and leather side bolsters. Full leather is optional – and we’d thoroughly recommend it – while GT trim cars get piano black inserts on the centre console, plus swish ambient cabin lighting. R-Line cars get sporty interior touches to match the exterior treatment.
Arguably the biggest highlight in the cabin is the optional Active Info Display. This 12.3-inch virtual screen replaces the traditional dials, and combines super-clear resolution with a really interactive set-up that works in unison with the smart multifunction wheel. We first saw this setup in the new Audi TT, though Passat buyers not willing to stump up the extra cash will be able to order their cars with conventional analogue dials.
On the plus side, all cars feature a 6.5-inch central touchscreen, which includes DAB radio and Bluetooth. From SE Business trim upwards, navigation is standard, and if you add it, mapping is duplicated in the Active Info Display.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Although the latest Passat saloon is 2mm shorter than the previous model, a longer wheelbase means interior space has grown by 33mm. When you’re sat in the back there’s plenty of leg and headroom, and two adults can travel in real comfort.
In common with most of its rivals, the large transmission tunnel makes the middle seat a little less accommodating. Still, the saloon has split-folding rear seats that can be tumbled with a lever in the boot. With the seats in place the 586-litre boot capacity is 21 litres up on the outgoing car's, and compares favourably to the 480-litre boot in a BMW 3 Series. The more practical hatchback-shape of Ford’s latest Mondeo is more versatile – though it outright practicality is you main concern, the capacious Estate is worth a look.
It’s good news up front, as well, where the Passat has big door pockets and a decent glovebox. From SE trim upwards you get twin cup-holders on the transmission tunnel, plus an armrest and through-load hatch in the back. You also get a 12V socket in the boot.
SE Business cars add heat insulating glass and power-fold mirrors. Practical options include an electric rear blind and a powered bootlid. You can also add an area view camera, swivelling tow bar and keyless entry.
Reliability and Safety
Including the separate US and Chinese versions, Volkswagen sells over one million Passats every year – earning this model a well-earned reputation as a dependable, robust and reliable car across the globe.
While the eighth-generation Passat is new from the ground up, it’s based on the MQB platform that underpins cars like the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and Audi A3. So with established components and technology, you can expect it to be reliable.
Volkswagen has spared no effort on the development of its biggest-selling model. However, it’s a slight concern that the German firm only ranked in 19th position in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, with its dealers coming home a disappointing 31st out of 32.
You should have no concerns when it comes to safety, though. Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the new Passat yet, but you can expect a five-star rating.
The latest Passat comes with an impressive tally of hi-tech safety kit. All models feature curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag, plus a post-collision braking system, while from SE upwards you get PreCrash occupant protection and adaptive cruise control, including a driver alert system and city stop emergency braking. The optional Driver’s Assistance Pack comes with High Beam Assist automatic full-beam dipping, Lane Assist, side scan radar and Predictive Pedestrian Protection, which uses a camera and radar to detect pedestrians on the side of the road.