Volkswagen Passat Estate review
It may look similar to the previous model, but the new Passat Estate is better to drive and more practical
It may bear a striking similarity with the old car, but the eight-generation Passat Estate is totally new. The Volkswagen Passat is based on an enlarged version of the VW Group’s versatile MQB platform. This eighth-generation model is designed to be an upmarket family car, while the Estate has more space than ever.
Lighter than the model it replaces, the new Passat Estate is also more spacious and has improved fuel economy and CO2 emissions. On sale now, it sits in the middle ground in the executive estate market – on the one hand it goes up against traditional competition such as the new Ford Mondeo Estate, Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer and Mazda 6 Tourer, while on the other, Volkswagen has made the Passat posher than ever before so it can do battle with premium cars like the BMW 3 Series Touring, Mercedes C-Class Estate, Audi A4 Avant and Volvo V60.
This positioning is reflected in the prices, too. The entry-level Passat Estate S starts at around £1,700 more than the equivalent new Ford Mondeo Estate, while the range-topping Passat Estate R-Line costs about £2,800 less than a BMW 330d xDrive M Sport Touring.
Like the new Passat Saloon, the Estate can only be ordered with diesel engines in the UK – but there are a number of engines sizes to choose from. The cheapest is a 118bhp 1.6-litre TDI while further up the range there is a 2.0-litre TDI with 148bhp or 187bhp and a twin-turbocharged, high-performance 2.0-litre. Called BiTDI, this engine sits at the top of the range, has 237bhp at its disposal and only comes with a twin-clutch DSG automatic gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive. There's also a super-eco 95g/km of CO2 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion version.
For petrol fans there's only one model – the plug-in hybrid GTE powered by a 1.4 TSI turbo petrol and an electric motor – VW claims 215bhp, 31 miles of pure electric range, fuel consumption of 166mpg and emissions of 39g/km of CO2. An Alltrack model with four-wheel-drive and off-road styling will also appear in 2015.
Volkswagen is allowing customers to choose from five trim levels – S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line (an there are two trim levels for the GTE – an entry- and high-grade). Mid-spec SE Business with the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine should prove to be the best-all rounder.
Our choice: VW Passat Estate 2.0 TDI (150) SE Business
Volkswagen has a reputation for building solid-looking cars, and the latest Passat doesn’t deviate from that formula. Designers have taken styling cues from the four-door CC, and the nose features a narrow grille that stretches out between a pair of large headlamp clusters. These feature halogen bulbs, but you can upgrade to smart LED lights to give the car a bit of a visual boost.
The subtle curves of the nose and front wings blend into a square body with distinctive creases running along the sides to the tail-lamps, while a discreet roof spoiler and rear windscreen surround boost the car’s aerodynamics. To top it off, you get smart-looking, 17-inch, 10-spoke alloys and a pair of roof rails, which are finished in silver on SE-spec models and above. GTE versions add classy blue exterior trim and c-shaped LED daytime running lights. Overall, the Passat is an attractive car, but unless you go for bright silver or white, the palette of dark metallic paints on offer make it look a little underwhelming.
It’s a better story inside, because while there’s plenty of dark-grey plastic, silver trim breaks up the monotony. The chrome vent trim stretches across the dashboard, while the analogue clock and silver dash inserts add a bit of interest. Plus, the whole cabin has an air of quality that neither rival here can match.
Neat touches include a flock-lined glovebox and door bins, so loose items don’t rattle about when you’re on the move, while the piano-black trim on the steering wheel is a classy addition. SE Business models get sat-nav and Bluetooth as standard, and the touchscreen is easy to use.
The Passat has never been the most thrilling car in its class to drive, and even more so with the Estate. However, the eight-generation Passat is now based on the much-used MQB platform. It forms the basis of many VW Group cars – from the Golf hatchback and Skoda Octavia Estate through to the posh Audi A3 – and as such the new Passat Estate is a far better car to drive compared to the models that have come before.
VW’s engineers have managed to shed 85kg from the old Passat Estate which has helped the car’s handling and fuel consumption by quite some margin. Like the Saloon, the Estate has also been made more rigid so, along with the weight savings, the car is far more agile on the road. Behind the wheel, the Passat handles in a way that belies its size and doesn’t get flustered when you push on through corners – the whole driving experience is further improved with accurate steering that weights up when needed and a slick six-speed manual gearbox (if specified).
The Passat’s six-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission delivers quick shifts, although the software can get confused when switching between coasting and accelerating, which can result in hesitant downshifts.
Take it easy, and the Passat is supremely refined. There’s very little engine noise, and the suspension soaks up lumps and bumps in town well. Head for the motorway, and the soft suspension, minimal tyre and engine noise and user-friendly standard adaptive cruise control combine to make the car an excellent long-distance cruiser.
However models that ride on 18- and 19-inch alloys do lose some ride comfort - though this can be rectified if the optional Dynamic Chassis Control is ordered. It’s standard on GT cars but comes as an option on other models.
The Passat Estate can be fitted with a variety of diesel engines. While we haven’t tried the entry-level 1.6-litre unit yet, the predicted best-seller – the 2.0-litre with 148bhp – provides all the power you’d ever need. The unit is also matched with good fuel economy figures – a claimed 68.9mpg on the combined cycle – and CO2 emissions of 109g/km – the latter will certainly interest company car buyers and fleets, and its with fleets that Volkswagen reckons more than 80 per cent of Estates will be sold to.
The more powerful 187bhp is also a strong package and while the high-performance 237bhp Bi-TDI – which only comes with a dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox and 4MOTION four-wheel drive – delivers great acceleration and the added reassurance of all-weather grip, its benefits are less clear cut that the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI due to its higher fuel consumption figures – 52.3mpg – and higher CO2 emissions of 140g/km. Meanwhile the GTE is a fast hybrid rather than an eco GTI model – it's fast in a straight line and very refined, but isn't thrilling through the bends or sporty like its GTE badges would suggest.
The German company is very proud of the fact that the Passat is its best-selling model, and undoubtedly one of the reasons for this is its strong reputation for durability. This point is also further improved on the new car thanks to the Passat Estate using the VW Group’s well-proven MQB platform that unpins an ever-increasing selection of VW-owned products.
This is good news as the eighth-generation is packed with new technology that adds some extra clout to the Passat’s arsenal when it comes to safety. Although crash experts at Euro NCAP haven’t tested it yet, it’s pretty certain the new Passat Estate will receive a five-star rating due to a strong body and some clever kit. This includes, on SE models and upwards, adaptive cruise control, PreCrash occupant protection, a driver alert system, and city stop emergency braking with pedestrian detection. This is just some of the kit available – there’s also side scan radar, High Beam Assist, Lane Assist and Trailer Assist (which, cleverly, helps you park a trailer or caravan).
But all models, however, feature a Post Collision Braking System, Driver Alert System, and knee, driver and rear side airbags.
The brand has a reputation for building reliable cars, and the MQB-based Passat should be relatively problem-free, but there have been a few reported cases of problems with the DSG box. Plus, owners lamented customer service at VW garages in our most recent Driver Power dealer survey, and the network came second last in the ranking as a result.
By their very nature, estate cars need to be roomy, but today they must offer more than just sheer space. Thankfully, the Passat has a host of versatile touches to go with its claimed 650-litre boot capacity.
The VW’s practical features start as soon as you open the tailgate, which is unlatched via the bootlid badge – an electric tailgate is a £365 optional extra, while hands-free power opening costs £595. The bottom part of the latch mechanism is covered by a flap to stop it scratching items during loading, while the load cover has a useful two-stage opening.
The boot floor is mounted on runners on either side of the load bay, and the floor can be positioned at two levels, with the upper setting leaving a flat floor with the back seats folded. The floor is also hinged, while flexible panels hold it in position.
Underneath, there’s a flock-lined well for the spare wheel and slots to store the load cover when you need to use the 1,780-litre maximum capacity. There are levers in the boot to fold the back seats, while the seatbelts sit clear of the mechanism when you put the seats back. Our only real niggle with the Passat is that the boot light is mounted in the roof, so at night you need to push the load cover back to light it up.
As well as a big boot, the Passat has plenty of rear space. The wide doors make access easy and there’s plenty of legroom for the outer occupants, but the middle seat is positioned high and the transmission tunnel gets in the way a bit. Add in deep door bins,
a big glovebox and decent centre console storage, and the Estate is a hugely versatile family car.
The latest Passat Estate has always been a top choice in the fleet market, and the new version is no exception. Volkswagen reckons that more than 80 per cent of sales will be to fleets so it’s no surprise to see that the firm has worked hard to make the latest generation as appealing as possible.
The all-diesel line-up is competitive with rivals’ offerings with the manual 1.6-litre TDI and both lower and higher output 2.0 TDI units falling into the 17 per cent company car tax band. With their CO2 emissions ranging from 107 to 109g/km of CO2, it means buyers will be spending just £20 in Vehicle Exercise Duty.
For the really frugal-minded company car drivers, their bills will get even less with the super-eco BlueMotion TDI and petrol-powered plug-in hybrid GTE as both dip below 100g/km – 39g/km for the GTE. Like most cars, buyers should be aware that choosing the dual-clutch gearbox and larger alloys wheels bumps up CO2 emissions, and therefore tax prices, on most models.
Thanks to its premium positioning in the market, when it comes to part-exchange time, the Passat Estate should enjoy similar residual values as cars like the Audi A4 Avant.