Volkswagen Passat Estate review
The VW Passat Estate is as refined and comfortable as the saloon, but much more practical
The Volkswagen Passat Estate for sale today is the eighth generation in a line of vehicles that’s renowned for practicality and reliability. There’s been an estate version of the Passat since the first generation was launched way back in the 1970s, but the current model launched in 2015 must not only contend with mainstream rivals like the Ford Mondeo Estate and Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer. As the Passat has grown in quality, refinement and price, so executive estate rivals like the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class have moved into the frame as potential alternatives. The Passat also has to battle those two key ‘in-house’ rivals from VW Group sister-brands – the Audi A4 Avant and the Skoda Superb Estate.
As per the VW brand’s usual practice, the styling of the latest Passat Estate is entirely evolutionary. The engineering is all new compared to its predecessor though, as the Passat range is built on VW’s latest MQB platform. It’s powered by a range of mainly diesel engines from the 118bhp 1.6 TDI to the 187bhp 2.0 TDI, with a twin-turbo range-topper called the 2.0 BiTDI which boasts a muscular 237bhp. The hottest engine comes with 4MOTION four-wheel drive as well as a DSG auto gearbox. The DSG is available with all other engines too, apart from the manual-only Passat BlueMotion efficiency model. There’s no straight petrol option, although the Passat GTE plug-in hybrid features a 1.4 TSI petrol engine in tandem with its batteries.
The model range starts with the Passat Estate S, which has 16-inch alloy wheels, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen system with Bluetooth and DAB radio. The Passat Estate BlueMotion model adds battery regeneration, stop/start and some minor aerodynamic tweaks to improve economy.
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The Passat Estate SE Business has 17-inch alloys, cruise control, brake assist and navigation, while the GT has 18-inch alloys, tinted glass, sunroof, climate control and various additional creature comforts. Sporty buyers can opt for the Passat Estate R-Line, which adds a go-faster body kit and other design details.
There’s also a Passat Estate Alltrack, which has a raised ride height, roof rails, various bits of ‘off road’ body protection, and plenty of luxury items to go with its standard 4MOTION 4WD.
In some ways, the Volkswagen Passat Estate sits in a sector all of its own - it's more upmarket than rivals like the Skoda Superb Estate and Ford Mondeo Estate, but not quite at the level of models such as the BMW 3 Series Touring or Mercedes C-Class Estate. That means it's a great choice for those who are looking for something relatively upmarket, but the budget won't stretch to a prestige brand.
They won't be disappointed with the Passat Estate. It's smartly styled and beautifully built, with a comfortable interior that can easily rival more expensive cars. The Passat Estate is bigger than previous models, too, offering a bigger boot and plenty of space for rear passengers. In 2015, it was good enough to take the Best Estate crown in our 2015 New Car Awards.
However, compared to a Skoda Superb Estate, which took the crown in 2016, the Passat is more expensive, doesn’t offer as much luggage space and isn’t as well equipped. Indeed, the only reason you’d go for it over the Skoda is for the badge on the nose. The VW is great to drive and efficient, but you get more for your money with the Superb, and it's a better ownership prospect than the Passat, too.
Engines, performance and drive
The Passat has never been the most thrilling car in its class to drive, and even more so with the Estate. However, the eighth-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 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 feels similar to the Superb in the way it drives. The steering is precise, while the damping also delivers great body control. However, with a shorter wheelbase than the Superb, the ride is slightly less settled over more rolling, bumpy roads. There really isn’t much in it, and the VW serves up a decent level of comfort.
We’d advise adding the adaptive dampers that come as part of VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control option. It costs around £715 extra, but the result is that the ride is soft in Comfort mode and offers plush damping, while in Sport mode it sharpens the chassis.
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 had with a variety of diesel engines. The best-seller is the 2.0 TDI with 148bhp, and it 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 BiTDI – 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 as sporty as its GTE badges would suggest.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
The Passat Estate has always been a top choice in the fleet market, and the latest 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 diesel models are competitive with rival 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.
However, when compared to its family hatch rivals, the Passat Estate isn't as well equipped. While adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking are standard, along with sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB, digital climate control is an option costing around £600, and heated leather seats are part of a pack that costs around £1,800. Both of these features are standard on the lower priced Skoda Superb Estate in SE L Executive trim.
Base-spec Passats with the 1.6-litre TDI engine start in insurance group 12 - much lower than premium rivals, and on a par with the mainstream competition. As always, pack on the power and the goodies and insurance groups rise - top-spec R-Line models with the 237bhp BiTDI engine sit in insurance group 28.
Retained values for the Passat are strong, considering it’s a large, business-focused car: the best versions – that’s the 2.0 TDI 150 in SE and SE Business guise – retain around 47%, which is very strong indeed for a car in this sector. Many volume-brand rivals can only dream of such low levels of depreciation.
Interior, design and technology
The VW Passat’s design is more reserved and not as sporty as some rivals. It’s instantly recognisable as a Volkswagen, though, as it shares the company’s family face. As with the Touran MPV, the wide grille connects the headlights, while two defined creases link the edges of the gaping air inlet and the corners of the bonnet, giving the car a low, wide nose.
Together with the raked-back windscreen, the striking crease that runs down the Passat’s doors provides a long and elegant stance. The VW features a very similar cut-out to the Skoda Superb Estate at the base of its doors, and although the hatch is steeper, the narrow tail-lights mean there’s not much to split the models when it comes to exterior design.
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.
However, open the door and the Passat’s class is immediately evident. The slats for the air vents run the full width of the dash and are only interrupted by an attractive analogue clock. Below this is a 6.5-inch touchscreen that can be upgraded to a larger eight-inch system that comes when you add the Discover Navigation Pro system, that costs around £825.
It’s housed in gloss black plastic, which is a nice contrast to the soft-touch dash, and the switchgear all looks solid and feels positive to operate.
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.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
As standard, the Passat comes with an 80W, eight-speaker stereo with DAB, Bluetooth, SD reader, USB socket and pairing for two mobile devices. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is also standard.
On SE Business models and above, it is further enhanced by Discover Navigation sat nav, which includes the VW Car-Net system. This combines Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for better integration with your smartphone, and offers real-time traffic, weather, fuel price and parking space availability updates.
An even more comprehensive Discover Navigation Pro system is available with an 8-inch screen, as is a better-sounding Dynaudio stereo system whose 700W 10-speaker output commands a price of around £1,650.
Volkswagen’s latest infotainment system is extremely comprehensive and feature-packed, but the firm’s also kept it reasonably simple and straightforward to use. The touchscreen is particularly smart in 8-inch guise, and will keep you entertained for hours (particularly if you pair it with your smartphone).
The GTE gets VW’s virtual cockpit as standard, which features TFT dials, a range of trip displays and the ability to display the navigation screen between the dials if required.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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 costs around £365, while hands-free power opening costs around £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.
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.
At 4,771mm long, the Passat is actually quite compact for the class - it's smaller than the Ford Mondeo Estate, Skoda Superb Estate and Mercedes E-Class Estate. Though it's a little shorter than the previous model, the wheelbase has grown, which pays dividends for interior room and ride comfort.
Adding a reversing camera is a neat option that helps with positioning the Passat. The VW boot badge flips up to reveal the camera and this set-up helps keep the lens clean. Even so, it’d be nice if the Passat had larger wing mirrors to help out, too.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Passenger space is impressive, if slightly overshadowed by the Skoda Superb Estate. Still, the higher roofline means headroom is improved over the already-spacious saloon model, and there is space for three to sit abreast on the rear bench.
The slick cabin is practical, with storage cubbies dotted all around. The central armrest hides a big bin, a sliding shutter reveals two cup-holders, while the door bins can swallow plenty.
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.
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.
Reliability and Safety
Volkswagen is very proud of the fact that the Passat is one of its best-selling models, 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. And despite VW's premium image, the firm performered pporly in the 2016 Driver Power 2016 survey, finishing in 24th place out of 31, with customers criticising reliability.
And although we haven’t heard any horror stories about Passat breakdowns, if you do need to visit your dealer to get your car fixed, it might not be the most pleasant experience, as the brand’s garages ranked 28th out of 31 dealer networks.
The Passat Estate comes with Volkswagen’s regular three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which is unlimited in the first two years for high-mileage drivers. This is backed up by a three-year paintwork warranty and a 12-year body protection warranty.
An extended warranty is available which will extend coverage to five years or 90,000 miles. GTE models have the battery warranted for eight years.
Volkswagen offers a choice of either fixed 10,000-mile or one-year service intervals or variable servicing that can stretch flexibly between 10,000-20,000 miles, or two years (an indicator on the dash tells users when a service is due). The firm advises high-intensity users – those based in the city or frequently running short journeys, to take the fixed intervals, and higher-mileage motorway drivers to choose variable servicing.
A three-year fixed-price servicing plan is offered on the Passat when purchasing from new, which helps to cut maintenance costs.