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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - sedan/wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Elegant exterior styling, well-crafted and highly ergonomic interior, performance (especially in V6 form), fuel consumption, highly effective DSG transmission (on TDI and V6 variants), handling dynamics, equipment levels, safety features, interior space, build quality, value for money
Room for improvement
Some road noise, dull steering, cheap central LCD screen, some gauges difficult to read, no front bumper, gimmicky electric park brake, expensive metallic paint option

4 Apr 2006

VOLKSWAGEN’S Passat has always been a GoAuto favourite. Enough style, sophistication, safety and solidity in a well-equipped and well-priced package made it a logical alternative for the thinking family.

Wind the ratchet up in all those areas, add a big dose of new technology and, for the first time, the option of turbo-diesel power and Audi-style driving dynamics, and the new Passat makes more sense than ever.

But throw in vastly lower pricetags across the board, and you’d be mad not to drive the new Passat before you sign up to buy the equivalent Liberty, Accord, Maxima, 407 or 3 Series.

Oh, or sister company’s smaller Audi’s A4, which shares many components with the new Passat, not least its engines.

In fact, the entry-level TDI is about $14,000 less than the A4 TDI, the 2.0T FSI is more than $18,000 less than the similarly powered A4 and the flagship 3.2-litre V6 all-wheel drive Passat is almost a whopping $32,000 less than the similarly equipped A4 3.2 quattro.

That’s value in anyone’s language – even if metallic paint (there are only two solid paint colours) is a hefty $990 - but finally Passat drivers don’t have to be handicapped when it comes to driving dynamics.

Vastly firmer across the board than before – to the point where some on the Hunter Valley launch drive loop deemed the ride too harsh, especially on optional 18-inch wheels and 15mm-lower sports suspension – the new Passat feels decidedly Audi-like on a twisting backroad.

Gone is the floaty, under-done cornering characteristic of the previous Passat, replaced by stable, sure-footed handling over all manner of surfaces, which helps to give the new model a sense of solidity its predecessor couldn’t match.

It’s not all rosy, however, as the first Passat fitted with electro-hydraulic steering is overly light in its tiller action at low speeds.

Though it tends to firm up reasonably effectively at speed to provide fairly crisp turn-in without a trace of the previous model’s kickback, it’s never what you’d describe as communicative.

There is a surprisingly high level of road noise on course-chip road surfaces too, and minor let-downs continue in the form of a cheap-looking central LCD screen that’s straight out of the cheapest Golf.

Oh, and while we’re complaining, we lament the loss of an actual front bumper - which could potentially save many hundreds of dollars worth of damage in a minor carpark collision – as VW follows Audi’s lead in adopting a bumper-less new corporate face.

We also question the need for a costly electronic parking brake – though it works intuitively enough and comes with a handy anti-roll feature – in such a model.

Oh, and before you criticise the prospect of yet another push-button on/off switch, note that the new key fob simply needs to be pushed into the dashboard slot to start the car, rather than requiring one to push a fiddly starter button - as is the case with most new BMWs.

Beautifully cohesive exterior styling - which features striking circular-themed tail-lights, proper door handles, neatly integrated wing mirror indicators and manages to pull off the rare feat of looking even better in wagon guise - extends to the inside, where Passat’s hallmark blue instrument backlighting continues.

It may be a little Teutonic for some tastes and secondary displays such as the trip meter are difficult to read at a glance, but otherwise the Passat interior is a model of simple, ergonomic excellence.

Apart from the somewhat cheap LCD screen, the only evidence of cost-cutting to deliver such competitive pricing is the lack of full power seat adjustment, which remains a $1490 option.

Indeed, all the German hallmarks of solid design, build quality and meticulous fit and finish are here, and there’s an abundance of unexpected design features, like coin trays that pop out from the dashboard, super-sized front door pockets, and the fact the gearshift gate readout is, for once, on the correct side for Australians.

The equipment list is extensive, even at base level, and includes dual-zone climate control, a full trip computer and a top-notch sound system – the latter two operated via a multi-function, fully-adjustable steering wheel.

We didn’t drive the least expensive turbo-diesel version, but the turbocharged petrol TFSI delivered crisp response, consistently strong midrange overtaking power, a characterful engine note and commendable fuel consumption.

Thanks for this must go in part to Volkswagen’s weight-saving efforts, which see the new model – despite an array of the latest safety features including eight airbags and a vastly stiffer bodyshell – undercut its forebear in terms of kerb weight.

Frugality continues to the top-spec V6 4Motion, which even in heavier wagon form managed an outstanding consumption figure of 11.8L/100km – despite judicious use of the throttle all day.

VW’s formidable performance claims, for the flagship V6 at least, seem entirely believable, with a number of testers matching the most expensive variant’s surprisingly rapid 6.9-second 0-100km/h acceleration claim, and many easily producing sub-15-second quarter-mile passes at a disused airstrip. That was performance car territory less than a decade ago!

Combine the V6’s healthy urge with the delightfully quick-shifting DSG transmission and the limpet-like grip of all-wheel drive, and the 3.2 FSI 4Motion is a rapid family express wrapped in discreetly elegant clothing.

For less than the luxury tax threshold, the wagon version adds a pile of extra cargo space, the same split-folding rear seat with ski-port, and practical items like 12-volt outlets, a luggage cover and tie-down hooks (but not the Audi A6’s clever cargo systems).

Bigger, more powerful and with the option of a turbo-diesel, the stylish, safe and well-equipped Passat is in another league to its dynamically challenged predecessor.

There’s no doubt it makes Audi’s A4 look expensive, but after a first drive the new Passat also appears accomplished enough to go straight to the top of the medium prestige class. Luxury family motoring has never come so cheap.

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