Volkswagen Passat

New estate cars fall into two distinct categories these days: stylish, trendy tourers, and boxy, practical load-luggers. But VW is aiming to blend the two together with its Passat Estate.

This latest Passat is a capable all-rounder. It's not the biggest or cheapest estate on the market, but with a 3.2-litre V6 engine, four-wheel drive and the DSG sequential transmission available, there is a model for everyone. And what the newcomer may lack in driver appeal, it makes up for with its superb blend of style, performance and practicality.

New estate cars fall into two distinct categories these days: stylish, trendy tourers, and boxy, practical load-luggers. But VW is aiming to blend the two together with its Passat Estate.

The model has just hit UK showrooms, and there's no doubt it makes a good first impression. Our test car - an economical 138bhp 2.0 TDI diesel - manages to combine the handsome lines of the acclaimed saloon version with a vast carrying capacity.

Unlike some rivals, the Passat's ex-tended roofline tapers to meet an angled, rather than vertical, tailgate, which gives the car a sleeker look. While this limits boot space, with the seats folded the VW can still swallow 1,641 litres of luggage - 41 litres up on its predecessor. While this isn't as much as the Honda Accord Tourer (1,707 litres) or Vauxhall Vectra Estate (1,850 litres), the new Passat does trump image-conscious models such as the BMW 3-Series Touring (1,285 litres).

To further boost the load space, VW offers an optional Cargo Management System. Metal rails mounted on the boot floor let you secure loose items using a combination of adjustable bars and straps. This extra will set you back another £175, but the added versatility means it's money well spent.

From behind the wheel, the 2.0 TDI engine is perfect for the demands of a family holdall. With 320Nm of torque at 2,500rpm, the oil-burner pulls cleanly from even lower down the rev range, giving the new estate a 0-60mph sprint time of 10.1 seconds. And if our test model's 138bhp output isn't enough for you, a more powerful 167bhp version is also available.

On the road, the 138bhp engine offers impressive in-gear performance, and the car seems faster than the figures suggest. You can overtake with confidence, and while the six-speed manual transmission feels numb, the gearchanges are swift and precise.

The suspension is borrowed from the saloon, although it's revised to take account of the estate's extra weight. It does a decent job of soaking up bumps, and gives the heavier car impressive body control, even if it can feel a little uninvolving to drive.

Motorway miles are dispatched with ease, though, thanks to the engine's immense refinement at speed. A muted whistle from around the door mirrors is all that disturbs the calm inside, while our car's SE trim includes cruise control as standard. It's a comfortable place in which to spend time as well, with excellent seats and a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake.

The cabin inevitably borrows from the saloon - there are high-quality soft-touch plastics on show throughout, and the dashboard is attractive and sensibly laid out. Only the basic rotary ventilation controls let things down; otherwise, the interior is everything we have come to expect from the German manufacturer.

VW expects 40 per cent of all Passats bought in the UK will be estates, and the 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI is tipped to account for the bulk of sales. On this evidence, that's no surprise.

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