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Volkswagen Passat review

What is it?
All-new Volkswagen Passat is the latest version of a fleet favourite.

Key features
Lighter weight, new engines, innovative tech.

Our view
The new Volkswagen Passat is a major contender, but is notably more expensive than a Ford Mondeo.

Cars such as the Golf might make most of the headlines but the Passat is a very important model to Volkswagen.

This is a car regarded as a core part of the brand’s line-up for the past four decades, during which 22 million have been sold globally, 442,000 in the UK. And it is very much VW’s biggest fleet player, company buyers accounting for more than 80 per cent of sales.

Now there is a new, eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat, and while VW might suggest that the car’s quality of construction and bang up-to-date tech will attract buyers downsizing from premium contenders by the likes of BMW and Audi, its biggest challenge will come from a much-delayed new model launching just a few weeks after the Passat – the Ford Mondeo.

The new Passat is offered like its predecessors in both saloon and estate form, and takes full advantage of the VW Group’s latest MQB modular platform and lightweight body construction techniques seen in other recent new models. While it has a substantially longer wheelbase, extended by 79mm over its predecessor and thus translating to more interior space, it weighs in at up to 85kg lighter, with resultant efficiency and handling improvements.

Visually the car looks assured and purposeful, and the positive first impressions are enhanced on slipping behind the wheel. The interior feels very spacious, courtesy of that extra wheelbase length. Luggage space is increased too, 21 litres up in the saloon to 586 litres, and 47 in the estate, to 650 litres –1,780 when filled to the roof.

Quality of fit and finish is generally high, though on our test cars the finish of the surround to the navigation touchscreen did not match the upmarket feel of surfaces around it.

The instrumentation is very clear and easy to live with, and this aspect is soon to improve further, the Passat set to be offered with the digital dashboard Active Info Display that has already highly impressed in sister brand Audi’s TT. A head-up display will also be available in due course.

A notable aspect of the new Volkswagen Passat line-up is the lack of any petrol engines. In fairness sales of previous petrol models were minuscule, but VW’s decision to go diesel only does come at a time when we are seeing the first stirrings of a diesel backlash particularly in urban environments.

There will be a petrol option – but only in the plug-in hybrid model, combined with an electric motor to offer 215bhp and an official range of more than 620 miles. But we won’t see this until October.

There are four engine options at launch, all new with the entry model a 1.6-litre unit of 118bhp. The other three are all of two litres, with 148, 197 of 236bhp, the last a bi-turbo unit in a range-topping model also boasting 4Motion all-wheel-drive. According to VW all are improved over their predecessors with fuel efficiency gains of up to 14%.

The bi-turbo is matched as standard to the seven-speed variant of the DSG twin-clutch auto-manual gearbox, while all other models can be specified with either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG box.

The Car Expert got to drive cars with all but the entry engine, and it will be of little surprise to learn that all three tested units are spirited in performance but equally smooth and quiet.

The 147bhp engine is more than adequate to keep this quite large car on the move, and the extra power of the larger engines could be regarded as much more of a performance bonus than a necessity.

However the 4Motion all-wheel-drive, for some a desirable extra with today’s increasingly unpredictable weather and resultant challenging driving conditions, is only available with the range-topping bi-turbo engine.

Ride comfort on the road is up to the standards one would expect, though choosing the sport chassis mode does stiffen matters up to a degree of choppiness. But overall one could imagine eating up many a motorway mile in this car.

Similarly, in corners the Passat is well composed – it’s no sports car, but then it’s not meant to be. It will traverse twisting roads with competence while not providing a particularly exciting driving experience.

Extra technology features heavily in the new Passat range, with the various innovations topped by a trio of driver aids. The first, dubbed Traffic Jam Assist, brakes, accelerates and even steers the car in queues, taking the pressure off the driver.

Emergency Assist will intervene if it detects the car drifting out of a motorway lane, guiding it back and if necessary braking the car to a full stop if the driver doesn’t respond.

Finally, Trailer Assist will cleverly reverse a car and trailer combination into a parking space, with the driver only accelerating and braking as needed.

There will be five trim levels, and ignoring the entry-level S trim is an advantage – moving up one grade to SE, a cost of £1095, adds a host of extra equipment including Front Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, the Pre-Crash system, Driver Profile Selection, Ergo Comfort seats and front and rear parking sensors.

The first Passats are on UK roads in January, and the initial range will soon extend. A diesel BlueMotion model will join the range in June, with combined cycle fuel economy of around 78mpg, and the soft-roader type Alltrack Estate will arrive a month later, ahead of the plug-in hybrid in October.

Will it beat the Mondeo? Our test of the Ford later this month will offer big clues. Certainly the new Volkswagen Passat is a major contender – though at prices starting from £22,215, with a £1,530 premium for the Estate, buyers will need to find around £1,400 more than they will for a Mondeo.

Volkswagen Passat – key specifications*

Models tested: VW Passat 2.0 150PS, 190PS, 240PS 4Motion
On sale: First deliveries January 2015
Range price: £22,215-£35,505
Insurance group: 12E-28E
Engines: Diesel 1.6, 2.0 (3)
Power (bhp): 118, 148/187/236
Torque (lb/ft): 185, 251/295/369
0-62mph (sec): 10.8, 8.7/7.7/6.1
Top speed (mph): 128, 135/146/149
Fuel economy (combined, mpg)**: 70.6, 64.2/61.4/53.3
CO2 emissions (g/km)**: 105, 106/116/119/139
Key rivals: Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia
Test Date: January 2015
* all figures refer to saloon
** figures for cars with DSG gearbox

Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.
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