Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI review

The new Volkswagen Passat is better than ever – but will it topple the Ford Mondeo?

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The new Passat hasn’t torn up the rulebook, but Volkswagen’s big-selling saloon is better than ever. Refinement and comfort are class-leading, plus with tauter handling it’s more engaging than Passats of old. Excellent cabin quality and sharper looks also help it edge closer to premium-badged rivals. The new Ford Mondeo has a tough rival.

The Volkswagen Passat is something of an enigma. Vast global sales make it VW’s biggest seller and it has a well earned reputation as a dependable family saloon. Yet in the UK it’s never quite been the car at the top of everyone’s wish list.

Operating in the middle ground between mainstream rivals like the Ford Mondeo and compact execs like the BMW 3 Series, it’s seen as a sensible choice – but not an exciting one.

That's something the all-new eighth-generation Passat could be about to change. Based on VW’s adaptable MQB platform, it has shorter overhangs, a lower bonnet and a more steeply raked windscreen than before. With its sharper lines and more chiselled look, this latest Passat has more kerb appeal than the car it replaces.

Having said that, it’s still unmistakably a Passat – and it’s a similar story inside, where the straight lines and no-nonsense layout of the dash remain. The cabin has an upmarket feel, and is dominated by a full-width horizontal ventilation strip and a standard-fit 6.5-inch colour touchscreen, which includes sat-nav on SE Business models upwards.

The traditional analogue clock is still a feature, while material quality is superb and crucially a step ahead of the new Ford Mondeo. A first-rate driving position is an encouraging start and the good news continues once you’re on the move. All the controls are well weighted and the Passat shares the same unflustered composure and linear steering as the smaller Golf. With excellent body control and precise turn-in, it’s lighter on its feet and more agile than previous generations of Passat.

Yet at the same time, it’s also impressively refined and very comfortable. On the motorway there’s very little wind or road noise, while the suspension smoothly irons out bumps and undulations. However, the 18-inch alloy wheels on our test car upset things a fraction by thumping into potholes and joints in the tarmac. In the UK, these less forgiving 18-inch wheels will be reserved for GT and R-Line models, with SE Business cars riding on 17-inch rims.

There is also the option to fit Volkswagen’s Dynamic Chassis Control system, although the effect of the adaptive damping isn’t huge. The steering weighting and throttle response changes can be felt, but again the differences are marginal. When it comes to engines, the UK range is exclusively diesel – until the GTE Hybrid arrives next year.

The 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion will be the cleanest choice, but we drove the 2.0-litre TDI that’s likely to be the biggest seller in the UK. This is available with 148bhp and 187bhp outputs, and we tried the former, which delivered brisk enough performance, with decent punch in the mid-range.

Engine noise is well isolated from the cabin, so the smooth TDI is well matched to the slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox, although Volkswagen’s dual-clutch DSG is optional. And if you want even more performance, the range-topping bi-turbo 237bhp TDI comes with 4MOTION all-wheel drive and a DSG gearbox.

However, on the evidence of our first drive, whichever model you choose, the refined and well built Passat is better to drive, be in and look at than ever. And that’s almost something to get excited about.

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