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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - 125TDI wagon

Launch Story

16 Sep 2011

FOR a car that has outsold the iconic T-Model Ford, the Volkswagen Passat has made few ripples on the pond of automotive history.

Its conservative narrow-hipped styling and middle-class European leanings – always one step behind Audi in the pecking order – have largely consigned VW’s family car to wall-flower status, even against its brash baby sister, the Golf.

But 15 million sales can’t be wrong. The Passat is the quiet achiever of the Volkswagen Group, quietly racking up success around the globe since 1973 like a nine-to-five family man with a secret multi-million-dollar share portfolio.

And like that family man, the Passat’s secret is its competence and diligence, delivering all that’s good about European cars without the ostentation or price premium that is too often attached to a bling badge.

The latest, seventh-generation Passat is more of the same, with solid but evolutionary design, tried, trusted but still advanced mechanicals, practical packaging and the road manners of a vicar who used to be a race driver.

It is unsurprising that the newest B7 Passat drives, accelerates and handles much like the previous model, as it is in most regards identical under the skin to the previous sedan and wagon range from the Wolfsburg company. When you are on a good thing, stick to it.

Let’s face it – direct-injection petrol and diesel engines, dual-clutch transmissions and multi-link rear suspension systems are not exactly passe.

A benefit of that steady-as-she-goes policy has been to rein in development costs this time around, with the happy result of stable prices pinned at previous levels despite higher levels of equipment and technology. The high Aussie dollar helps, too.

Essentially, Volkswagen has wrapped new sheet metal around the previous model and refined, tweaked and ramped up some of the rest of it. It is a bit of a stretch to call it a new generation, but we will let that one pass.

Some might bemoan the passing of the hard-nut R36 sports flagship of the previous range, but all is not lost, with the same 220kW direct-injection FSI V6 passing into the new, more conservative-looking AWD V6 flagship, the 220FSI 4Motion Highline.

It might look like butter would not melt in its mouth, but it can crunch 100km/h in 5.5 seconds – 0.1 seconds faster than the esteemed R36. So there.

Despite the glamour and glitz of the grunty V6 (which has a seductive engine note, by the way) Audi expects up to half of all Passats to roll out of the showroom with 125kW 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine under the bonnet – another carryover from the previous model.

It was this 125TDI Highline model that drew us in at the start of the Passat media drive programme, held over a mostly unchallenging route on a rainy Victorian day.

It was too wet to learn much about the handling of the car, but for all intents and purposes, it seems to go around corners with all the skill and grace of the previous generation, which is no bad thing.

The roads were mostly billiard-table smooth, with a lot of freeway running initially, but again, the Passat demonstrated luxury-car standards of ride finesse on its MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems, if erring a little on the taut side. We would happily live with it.

Like most high-end diesel engines these days, the 125TDI was barely audible from the cabin, only detectable as an oil burner under hard acceleration.

VW says it has improved firewall insulation in the latest range, and while that was hard to pick, the Passat Mark VII is certainly a smooth operator, with just the slightest wind noise and tyre rumble on coarse-chip bitumen to disturb the country outing.

Of course, people primarily buy diesel cars for the fuel economy, and they won’t be disappointed with the diesel Passat. VW claims a combined city/highway fuel reading of 5.7 litres per 100km, and we managed almost that – 5.8L/100km – on a run that was skewed towards highway running.

Still, that is closer to the manufacturer’s claims than we usually see on such media events when the cars are often still tight.

Acceleration of the turbo-diesel Passat is closer to adequate than startling, but considering it is hauling 1550kg of German iron, it was about where we expected.

Again, current Passat diesel owners looking to trade up can expect more of the same, but with the added benefit of a 12 per cent improvement in fuel economy due to the addition of BlueMotion features including idle-stop, which cuts the engine at the traffic lights.

Along with the new skin, VW has given the interior a workover, with a fresh-looking console, leather all around (choice of black or beige) and – in the Highline diesel and range-topping V6 – brushed aluminium highlights (or walnut if you want to pay for it).

Fortunately, in the black-lined car we drove, we noticed the contrasting white headlining and pillars, which gives a break from the unrelenting darkness and lightens the mood considerably.

As you would expect, the plastics are all soft touch in the Wolfsburg manner, the switchgear all clear, easy and satisfying, and the seats sumptuous. For some reason, VW has seen fit to add an analogue clock in the middle of the centre console, with its glass face unfortunately angled back to catch the reflection of the sky through the windscreen to obscure half of it. Doh!

The spaciousness of the Passat is unchanged from the previous model, with loads of legroom and headroom front and rear. The back seat would be OK for three kids, but a bit of a squeeze for three adults on anything but a local trip.

The spaciousness extends to the boot of the sedan and cargo hold of the wagon, where a cavernous space awaits. As well, a hidey hole for extra gear can be found under the floor in the middle of the (full-size alloy) spare wheel.

A classy touch is the wagon’s cargo blind which can be released and moved back just by tapping it – handy with an armload of stuff.

We didn’t get to try the new driver fatigue detection system that is now standard on all Passats. Perhaps we had too many coffees, as it never jumped to our rescue and warned us to take a break.

We witnessed the optional new and more elaborate automated parking system in operation, which can now squeeze into tighter spots with just 80cm at each end of the car and then extricate it again.

This Park Assist2 also can reverse park into a right angle parking bay, although we remain to be convince about that one, as we witnessed a Passat get a little confused and take a nick out of the bumper of one of its brethren.

One the way home, we got to sample the flagship 220FSI 4Motion V6 – a grand tourer in an off-the-rack suit.

Even on a wet road, the throaty beast would accelerate away from standstill without fuss, never drawing attention to itself. The creamy acceleration is never thumping, but swift nevertheless.

Apart from the bigger 18-inch wheels, the V6 model is distinguished from its four-cylinder brothers by the dual exhausts on either side of the rear bumper (the others have a twin outlet on the left side).

As expected, we saw somewhat inferior fuel economy from the V6, at 9.8L/100km over the duration of the drive program – again uncannily close to the 9.7 claimed figure for this model.

Right across the Passat range, the drive experience is just like that – what you would expect: classy, well-honed but somewhat conservative.

And with prices starting from a tick under $39,000, that is going to suit a lot of people just fine.

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