Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - range
Terrific diesel engine, value for money, exterior design, cabin quality, space
Room for improvement
Slightly underwhelming petrol engine, fussy 19 inch R-Line wheels, buyers might be turned off brand because of emissions scandal
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14 Oct 2015
IT IS fair to say it has been a mixed year for Volkswagen in Australia.
On one hand, the company has increased its sales by 14 per cent year to date over the same period in 2014 by building on the success of core models, including the Golf, Amarok and Touareg, and making improvements to is aftersales service.
On the other hand, it is now embroiled in a global emissions cheating scandal impacting 11 million vehicles that has taken the scalp of VW Group’s CEO Martin Winterkorn, called into question the ethics of the auto-maker and left the company scrambling to find a solution and identify the culprits.
But the biggest automotive manufacturer in the world is pressing on with new-model roll-outs, no doubt hoping the diesel issue blows over and consumers will forgive and forget. Time will tell whether that will happen, and how much longer the scandal will play out.
But for now, the company is launching one of its most important models since the arrival of the Golf 7 in 2013 – the eighth-generation Passat.
VW says the Passat has become their biggest seller globally – even bigger than the Golf – so there is a lot riding on the new version.
Eschewing the boxy look of the outgoing model, the new version carries a sharp, attractive exterior design, and thanks to the use of horizontal lines, and looks sleeker and sportier, particularly from the front, in both sedan or wagon guise.
The LED head and tail-light signatures (the top-spec 140TDI gets a 'premium tail-light signature) add to the look, which from front-on is not dissimilar to Volvo's handsome S60, but there is no mistaking this as anything other than a Passat.
Dressed up in the R-Line options pack ($2500 for Highline, $3500 for Comfortline), the Passat gets a tweaked grille and lowered (by 15mm) sports suspension, among other flourishes, for a more aggressive look, and it works a treat, particularly when matched with the Pure White body colour.
Inside, the horizontal lines continue, with a modern, clean-looking dash, and enough brushed aluminium inserts to break up the predominant dark grey of the the cabin.
A touchscreen (6.5-inches in the base variant and 8.0-inches in the rest of the range) dominates the top of the centre stack, and the the dials are laid out for ease of use.
In both grades we sampled (mid-spec 132TSI Comfortline and 140TDI Highline), the Passat has a typically Volkswagen interior, with high-quality soft-touch materials and contrasting roof liners, although the Vienna leather in the 132TSI Comfortline does not feel quite as high-end as the Nappa leather in the range topper.
There is ample headroom in both sedan and wagon guise and the stretched wheelbase compared with the previous model ensures acres of leg and knee room up front and in the rear. It is technically a mid-sizer, but it would be difficult to find anyone that would complain about cabin space.
VW has seriously upped the standard kit on the B8 Passat and it now gets App Connect that includes connection to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
The App Connect system and touchscreen are reasonably simple to use with no phone connection problems.
Elsewhere, the 'ergoComfort' sports seats provide excellent support and overall the cabin feels more premium than most of its mainstream competitors, except perhaps the impressive Mazda6.
There are airvents in the rather comfy second row, and the mid- and top-spec Passat wagons get an automatic tailgate that opens and closes at the perfect speed – not too slow, but not too fast. There are levers in the sizeable cargo area to lower the rear seat back-rests.
The new Passat is more generously equipped than the model it replaces, and now starts from $4000 less at $34,990 for the 132TSI sedan. It tops out at $47,990 for the diesel 140TDI wagon.
The drive from the Gold Coast via the Hinterland to Byron Bay started in the $45,990 140TDI sedan which uses a 2.0-litre Euro 6 diesel engine – unaffected by the messy diesel scandal – and pumps out 140kW and 400Nm. This powertrain is matched with a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.
Torque comes in low before the power kicks in, giving the Passat plenty of get up and go when required. There is some light lag, but higher up the rev range the diesel is a solid performer, picking up pace with ease and making overtaking a breeze.
The steering is sharp, direct and nicely weighted, but we found it difficult to tell the difference between progressive steering of the R-Line package fitted to our test car and the regular steering on the 132TSI Comfortline.
The steering is reminiscent of the Golf, perhaps unsurprisingly given they are both built on VW's MQB architecture.
R-Line versions also increase the wheel size on the TDI from 18 to 19 inches with 235/40 mobility tyres, which caused some skipping during cornering on less than perfect surfaces. Aside from that, the Passat is flat through corners, but of course, given its size, not as nimble as its smaller Golf sibling.
The lowered sports suspension of the R-Line did not negatively impact ride quality, even when encountering some shocking pot holes, offering a smooth, compliant ride.
Our very brief stint in the 132TSI Comfortline – we did not manage to get behind the wheel of a base 132TSI – left us slightly underwhelmed by the 132kW/250Nm 1.8-litre four-pot petrol engine, but it was a freeway run only, so we will reserve judgment until we get one in the GoAuto garage.
It struggled a little climbing with the seven-speed DSG kicking down late, but once on urban roads it was smooth sailing.
In both variants, there was little noticable road or engine noise penetrating the cabin, emphasising the premium feel of the Passat.
In terms of fuel use, we recorded 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the 140TDI which is a solid result given the enthusiastic driving. The official figure is 4.0L/100km.
The 132TSI recorded 7.8 litres but had been driven quite heartily before we stepped in. The official figure is 6.0L/100km.
Regardless of how good the Passat is – and we think it is rather good – VW Australia could have a tough time getting people into a showroom to test drive one for a while yet.
The Passat deserves a better environment in which to launch, but that can't be changed.
For the consumers out there that do not care about the diesel emissions scandal – and there are a lot of them – they will find a beautifully put-together, premium mid-sizer offering excellent value for money in an appealing package.
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