Volkswagen Passat review
Improved in most key areas, the new Volkswagen Passat has the compact executive elite in its sights
The latest, eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat is all-new and comes with a range of engines that's up to 20 per cent more fuel efficient than before. Bigger and lighter than the car it replaces, the Passat is a key rival for the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Mazda 6 and Skoda Octavia.
Prices start at just over £20,000 and rise to over £35,000. At the top end of that range, high-end models and trims take on premium business saloons like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
The all-diesel engine range 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, which is matched to a DSG gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
As before there’s a choice of saloon and estate bodystyles, while rugged Alltrack versions will arrive in the summer of 2015. A frugal 1.6-litre BlueMotion TDI that emits just 95g/km will also arrive next year, as will a headline-grabbing 1.4-litre TSI petrol-powered plug-in hybrid GTE.
In the UK, the Passat is offered in five trim levels – S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line. 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 in equal measure.
Our choice: VW Passat 2.0 TDI (150) SE Business
The Volkswagen Passat has long occupied the middle ground between mainstream saloons like the Ford Mondeo and compact executives like the Mercedes C-Class. However, the latest car arguably has the looks to rival those premium models in the corporate car park.
Instantly recognisable as a Passat, the eighth generation has a 79mm longer wheelbase than the car it replaces, yet is 2mm shorter. These shorter 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 line 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.
Depending on trim, alloy wheel sizes rise from 16 to 18 inches as standard, with 19-inch rims 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 sense of being in a premium car 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.
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 in the dash.
Step up to SE and you get Volkswagen’s new ergoComfort seats, which come with electric backrest adjustment. GT trim adds heated seats, with luxurious Alcantara seat cushions and leather side bolsters. Full leather is optional, 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.
As before, the Passat has a traditional analogue clock, which is a nice touch, but 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. Without the Active Info Display fitted, the Passat comes with analogue dials and a multifunction display.
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.
The Passat has always been a sensible choice, but even fans of the car would admit it’s not 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, which we’ve yet to drive, will also be available. 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.
Overall, the latest Passat is better to drive and more refined than ever, plus it now offers class-leading comfort.
Including the separate US and Chinese versions, Volkswagen sells over a million Passats a year. And across the globe this model has gained a well earned reputation as a dependable, robust and reliable car.
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, to name just a few. 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.
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 them 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.
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. And don’t forget, if you want extra practicality there’s always the option to go for the Estate.
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.
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 all-diesel 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 forthcoming 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion and GTE plug-in hybrid, which lower CO2 output even further. 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.