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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - 3.2 FSI wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Almost unbelievable value for money, space, handling, performance, practicality, comfort, quiet and refined cabin, beautifully finished, high quality
Room for improvement
Not the design icon the Passat once was, petrol V6 can still get thirsty if driven hard despite FSI efficiency

22 Sep 2006

LIKE the lazy, overpaid, and ultimately first-to-be-fired, middle-management types working for big fat corporations desperate to downside, there seems to be more than your fair share of deadwood in the current sub-$57,009 luxury-tax driven prestige bracket.

You know who you are – largish front-wheel drive "prestige" sedans full of big gadgets and plenty of jewellery, but with precious little talent when it comes to delivering from behind their overly padded steering wheels.

Some are already gone – good riddance Lexus ES300 – while others (and we’re talking cars from Europe as well as Asia here) deserve to be euthanased in the name of mercy and decent dynamics.

In fact we’d go as far as saying that there are probably more whiffy – if not rotten – eggs in this segment than in any other.

Happily, with the passing of the pretty but patchy old Volkswagen Passat range, there now is one less underachiever to deal with.

So long live the fifth-generation Volkswagen Passat.

The old car may have been based on the 1995-2001 Audi A4, but somehow there was something lost in translation as far as ride comfort, body control and steering dynamicism was concerned.

Volkswagen’s decision to extend the current Golf V platform – complete with its sophisticated multi-link rear suspension and fine electro-hydraulic power steering system – has given the Passat a fighting chance for keen drivers.

Now the Passat steers with an eagerness and adroitness long missing from the model.

Corners are now driven through with linearity and control, free of steering wheel fidget yet full of clarity and feedback, and well measured in weightiness.

The ride, though firm, is free from pitching, bottoming out or harshness, and able to soak up bumps big and small like a prestige car should.

The 3.2-litre FSI V6’s formidable performance does not seem to corrupt the front wheel’s smoothness or grip either.

An advanced direct-injection unit (that VW says greatly improves operating efficiency while dramatically reducing wastage compared to regular ‘indirect’ injection systems), it delivers a potent 184kW of power at 6250rpm and 330Nm of torque from 2750rpm, while returning reasonable fuel economy if driven carefully (around 10L/100km).

In fact, the 12.3L/100km we averaged is not bad at all, considering how hard the Passat was driven.

Add Volkswagen’s slick six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, and the Passat is a picture of refinement, performance and dynamic control.

Only an occasional hesitation from the DSG when left in Sport mars an otherwise brilliant mechanical partnership, since this gearbox really does possess a Heckyl and Hyde-like personality of lightning-quick responses or silky smooth moves, depending on what the driver desires.

Aiding progress is the 4Motion all-wheel drive system that usually transmits 90 per cent of drive to the front wheels, until a loss of traction sends up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels.

The Passat uses the latest-generation Haldex electronic clutch device for truly imperceptible relaying of torque to whichever wheels most need it. Previous incarnations as found in 4Motion Golfs tended to feel clunky at times.

Backed up by a gaggle of computerised nannies to oversee stability, traction and braking duties, the 4Motion-equipped wagon is a wonderfully stable and secure traveller that is unfazed by the elements.

This feeling of safety is also underlined by an overwhelming impression of solidity and quality inside, for the cabin, and particularly the dashboard, is a model of restrained elegance, and arguably one of Volkswagen’s finest ever.

From the slush-moulded style hood finish and perfectly symmetry of the centre console design, to the 3D effect of the exquisitely presented and laid out instrumentation dials, it elevates the latest Passat onto a higher plane of perceived quality.

Now remember that the previous model was no slacker in the slick dashboard stakes itself, being the breakthrough VW model for model VW interiors.

It is nothing less than a treat to soak up the detailing, such as the carbon fibre-like trim presented in two tones, superbly tight shutlines, beautifully blue-lit instrumentation that contrasts against the searing red trip computer information, eye-catching ringed dials and the lovely retractable lower-console storage area.

There is also an electronic park brake and an all-in-one ignition switch that requires the key fob to be inserted and then pushed simultaneously. It works better than the fiddly separate button procedure BMWs use, for instance.

Luckily, today’s Passat also has the more proletarian areas of function and utility covered, from two gloveboxes, larger-than-usual door and centre bin pockets and the most serious pair of cupholders you have ever seen, to the ease and simplicity of all the nicely damped switches and controls.

We also defy you to find a more accommodating (for two adults) rear seat this side of the Nissan Maxima, since it does not let the side down thanks to a comfortable cushion, ample space for legs, heads and shoulders, and all the convenience amenities a modern prestige wagon should have.

These include a large ski port to complement the split fold backrests, acrobatic cupholder function, load tie hooks, power sockets, and a full-sized alloy wheel spare underneath the cavernous cargo area.

From the back you can appreciate the horizontal flavour of this generation Passat, since there is a lowness and wideness to its overall execution. This VW is feels almost as spacious as a Commodore.

With all seats folded, it is capable of carrying up to 1731 litres of cargo, or 565 litres with the backrest up in place.

In top-line V6 wagon guise, equipment levels border on the lavish, with leather upholstery, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, and parking radar part of a package that has all the usual showroom inducers like climate control air-conditioning, a trip computer, six-stack CD audio, automatic headlights and wipers and cruise control.

There really is very little not to like about the latest Passat – even the driver’s rear vision isn’t as hindered here as it is in many contemporary wagons.

Most people even liked the styling, although the consensus here is less unanimous for quite a few others, many who believed the previous Passat’s design is by far the more elegant and timeless.

Certainly the wagon is considered prettier, as it dodges the many small American-like detailing that the ungainly sedan seems to suffer from.

But the Passat V6 wagon is not American, it’s a Volkswagen built in Germany to exacting standards.

Unlike its immediate predecessors, the Passat at last offers an involving and enjoyable driving experience – particularly in all-wheel drive V6 wagon guise tested here.

Now factor in this car’s high level of quality and refinement, coupled with a functional and accommodating cabin, impressively long standard equipment level and undeniable safety and security attributes, and you might wonder why more prestige and 4WD wagon buyers aren’t beating down their local dealer doors.

Indeed, far from your average middleweight contender, the latest top-line Passat V6 wagon is an absolute overachiever, easily sweeping its deadwood rivals aside.

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