Long-term test review: Volkswagen Passat Estate
Final report: as the VW Passat Estate leaves our fleet, we reflect on how much else it had to offer beyond style and practicality
I’ll miss the Volkswagen Passat’s calming influence and how it simply does everything it’s supposed to on all fronts. There’s no doubt our premium estate is pricey, especially when totting up all the options. However, its quality, practicality and driving dynamics shouldn’t be overlooked.
The motoring world might have gone SUV mad, but sometimes when space is the most important issue, you just can't beat a nice big estate.
Our Volkswagen Passat has certainly been packed up and put through its paces of late. I've been moonlighting as a wannabe roadie, hauling music gear for my son's band, spending evenings and weekends transporting George around the studios and venues of London. It's always a pleasure, never a chore, mostly due to the space, comfort and clever design of our premium VW estate (plus some parental pride).
Our popular SE Business model comes with a host of standard features to make life safer and easier, like Adaptive Cruise Control with radar-controlled distance monitoring, and city emergency braking.
But it's some of the more expensive extras that ease the process of loading up. The optional keyless entry (£600) offers the usual headline-grabbing easy entry and push-button start, but the hands-free opening for the powered tailgate is the biggest boon. It means you don't have to faff around putting items down, while if I'm picking the band up, the bootlid can be popped from the driver's seat.
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Inside the 650-litre load bay, quick-release handles (set into the side trim) allow the rear seats to be dropped easily, so you don't have to clamber into the back. With them down, the capacity more than doubles to 1,780 litres, which is where the opportunity to get creative with packing really begins.
George and I have found that, with careful loading, we can squeeze in a decent-sized drum kit, a couple of guitars and a few medium-sized amps, plus some flight cases with assorted guitar pedals and cables.
Our car also features the VW Cargo management system (£290), which includes a sliding load bed to help move heavier items in and our from the middle of the boot without having to stretch. There are also belts and straps for securing more precious cargo via the rail system, or even splitting the boot into compartments.
There's no denying that all this makes life easier, but as a reasonably young, fit, six-footer who drives carefully, I would probably save myself the cost on that option - although I expect some Passat drivers would absolutely love it!
More often than not, my son's band don't need to take all their kit to a gig or practice session, which means I can split the 60:40 back seats and get a couple of band members into the back for a lift as well.
Rear legroom is very generous in the Passat so the boys can put personal bags and laptops down by their feet without too much compromise when it comes to space.
Only last week, my estate-driving in-laws commented on how generous the Passat's legroom was in comparison to their own load-lugger - although they thought our boot wasn't as good as others they've seen.
Personally, I love the VW because it's great to drive. Even loaded up, the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI has plenty of power, yet it's super smooth, quiet, and the 38.5mpg it's returing isn't half bad for London driving.
I'm still not convinced by some of the costly extras that bump up the price. While I love the ergoComfort driver's seat, I've never taken the £715 Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers out of Comfort mode.
Perhaps my view will change, and I'll see the benefit of the Sport setting on an imminent half-term trip involving some inviting roads in Lincolnshire - although George will miss out as he has a gig and a bus ride waiting.
Volkswagen Passat Estate: second report
Mileage: 3,068Economy: 35.9mpg
In my first report on our Volkswagen Passat Estate, I was running around like a kid in a sweet shop making use of the massive 650-litre boot, shifting anything and everything from office furniture to garden materials, just because I could.
These days I’m more ‘Zen’ – overcome by a sense of intense well-being and relaxation – and much of this is down to the car.
The more I drive the Passat, the more I’m impressed by its design, comfort and simplicity. When I’m in stressful city traffic, the solid build and soundproofing make it a safe haven from the hectic world outside, while the infotainment system is top notch and simple to control through the touchscreen or steering wheel buttons.
The VW tells me the speed limit, warns of stationary traffic ahead and can suggest alternative routes, too. It’s getting close to autonomous driving without cutting me out of the equation, just as I’d like.
It’s also easy to stay at the correct speed in town. This might be partly to do with my age and passengers, but the Passat’s gearing ties in seamlessly with urban speed limits. It feels unnatural to go any faster anyway; what’s the hurry when you are this comfortable?
Take the VW out of town on to country lanes and it glides along, with its composed and controlled ride. After a recent family day out at the seaside, I drove home in the dark down winding A-roads and through a forest. Sometimes a journey like this can be cause for concern. However, I absolutely loved navigating the twisting lanes with the auto beam headlights shining a reassuring glow on the road. They’re far more courteous to oncoming drivers than my fat fingers could ever be, too.
My motorway trips have been relatively limited so far. The few family journeys we’ve made have been very smooth, with the refined 148bhp 2.0 diesel doing the donkey work, while my family enjoyed the spacious leather-lined cabin and connectivity tech.
The novelty of that huge boot hasn’t worn off, either. I’m still a lugger and will be taking my family to the airport this week, safe in the knowledge that we can easily fit everything required into the back of the Passat. I’ll just be a bit nervous that we might be paying for some excess luggage...
Volkswagen Passat Estate: first report
Mileage: 1,490Economy: 38.5mpg
It’s amazing how different cars can affect the way you live. I’ve happily spent the past 10 months driving our Suzuki Vitara, and not once did I feel cramped or devoid of space. Yet within days of getting the keys to our new Volkswagen Passat Estate, I’ve turned into something of an ‘action man’, the Eddie Stobart of Auto Express. I’ve been shifting anything and everything I can fit into the car’s huge 650-litre boot – and the opportunity to move bulky bits about has opened up a new world of possibilities.
Within days, I’d packed up and moved my wife’s entire millinery studio from one place to another. This included dismantling and loading desks, furniture and shelves, not to mention dozens of delicate hats. It only took three trips, which is testament to the amount of space the estate offers when all the seats are folded down (1,780 litres).
Soon after this, I also remodelled our back garden, using the car to collect (among other things) several two-metre-long decking boards. That’s certainly more than most average family models could accommodate.
The usual tip run and shopping trips have become easier with the added space, while the automatic hands-free tailgate (£600) has made loading easier. I also love the option to pop the boot open from the driver’s seat; especially useful when collecting friends and family who are carrying loads of gear.
Cabin quality is impressive. I love the look of the patterned metal finish cutting through the soft-touch dash plastic, and the high-gloss black steering wheel edging. As you’d expect of a car designed to eat up motorway miles, it’s relaxing and comfortable to drive; this estate is aimed squarely at fleet buyers.
However, some options take the quality further. The Vienna leather luxury pack brings heated front seats and windscreen washer jets, but at £1,815 it isn’t cheap. The driver assistance pack is another pricey extra, with £1,110 of tech including high-beam and lane assist, traffic sign recognition and predictive pedestrian protection.
The clarity of the systems’ display and the superb ergonomics can’t be faulted, and the functions I’ve used so far have been straightforward. But as I count up the cost I think of the Vitara; true, it’s in a different class, but for around £6,000 less it came with many of those pricey options as standard.
Estates are designed to lug things about, yet the Passat’s cabin is so finely finished I feel a strange urge to protect it to the best of my ability. I permanently carry a tarpaulin in the back to prevent causing any damage from messy jobs. I don’t own a dog, but if I did it wouldn’t be allowed in the back without a shampoo and rinse.
The VW is beautifully smooth on the road. Its 2.0-litre BlueMotion diesel is quiet and refined (especially compared with the Vitara’s engine), and its 38.5mpg isn’t too bad given that the first 1,500 miles have been spent in the city. I’d expect that figure to come down as the estate gets to stretch its legs over the summer and into the holiday season.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three penalty points.