Carrying some of Volkswagen's best technology, will the new 4WD Passat pack a punch in the premium brand market?
This Passat has some of VW's best technology - a punchy 3.2 V6, a slick-shifting twin-clutch DSG transmission and a clever 4WD system. But the result is disappointing. It's not very exciting to drive, really expensive and set to struggle residually. If you need a luxury 4WD, buy one with a more upmarket badge.
There are two types of performance saloon. On the one hand are those which shout about it with big wings, loud paint and glitzy alloys. Then you get the cars that hide honed engines and chassis beneath sober looks.
There are no prizes for guessing which camp Volkswagen's Passat V6 4MOTION falls into. Apart from some 17-inch alloy wheels and the addition of a bootlid badge, it looks just like any other Passat. But underneath, it's very different, with a 247bhp 3.2-litre V6, a twin-clutch DSG sequential transmission and four-wheel drive.
Priced from £25,090, it's competing with premium brand 4WD models such as Audi's A4 2.0T quattro and Jaguar's X-Type 2.5 V6, as well as mainstream performance cars like Mazda's 6 MPS and Vauxhall's Vectra VXR. So, despite the sober looks, is it a real sporting saloon, or simply a capable fast cruiser?
Already seen on the hot Golf R32, the 4MOTION all-wheel drive is certainly very clever. It drives the front wheels most of the time, but if conditions get slippery, all the power can be sent to the rear tyres or split between the axles. Traction control, ESP and an electronic differential lock are also standard.
On our snow-covered German test route, one thing was obvious straight away - this Passat has excellent traction. On the kind of mountain passes that would have left most two-wheel-drive vehicles struggling, the 4MOTION hauled its way up steep hills without a problem. And it's very fast, too. With 247bhp and 320Nm of torque on tap, there's plenty of gutsy acceleration - the 0-62mph sprint takes only 6.9 seconds - and the snappy DSG set-up makes the most of this considerable thrust.
However, if you were thinking the 4MOTION would be an exciting driver's car like the Golf GTI, you'll be disappointed. With soft suspension, numb steering and a refined engine note, it's better at covering motorways at speed than charging down a B-road. And this is emphasised by the interior, which has comfortable seats and is equipped with satellite navigation, automatic headlights and a six-CD multichanger.
The trouble is, Jaguar, BMW and Audi will happily sell you a luxurious cruiser for £25,000 - and there are plenty of more focused drivers' cars for that sort of money, too. So although the Passat 4MOTION is capable, it's difficult to see exactly who it will appeal to.