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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - sedan/wagon range

Launch Story

Volkswagen logo20 Apr 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

VOLKSWAGEN has given its solid middle-class citizen, the Passat, a new suit, greater efficiency and a swag of high-tech party tricks in a mild new-model makeover that the company says will get the German-made sedan and wagon range back on song in the showrooms.

While sales of the run-out mid-sizer are down 42 per cent so far this year compared with the first three months of last year, Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) says the arrival of stocks of the new 2011 Passat in local showrooms from this month will not only reverse the sales downswing this year but resume the model’s long-term growth trend.

Passat sales peaked in 2008 when 3297 vehicles found homes in Australia, before slumping in the global financial crisis to 2258 units in 2009 – a fall of 31.5 per cent – and recovering by 15.3 per cent last year.

VGA managing director Anke Koeckler declined to disclose the company’s sales targets for the new seventh-generation 2011 model – known internally as B7 – saying only that the car would make a major contribution to the company’s planned sales growth in Australia.

The company is also expecting an update of the Passat CC coupe-cabrio “in due course”, and says watch this space on a high-performance version of the Passat sedan and wagon, probably using a turbo-charged four-cylinder engine in the mould of the Golf R.

The new Passat is effectively an evolutionary re-skin of the previous B6 generation, with all panels except the roof being re-shaped over the same underpinnings and carryover powertrains, but with a range of new features and tweaks thrown in to improve safety, efficiency, comfort and value.

The new nose has a strong four-bar chrome grille to give the Passat’s conservative countenance a little more pizzazz. Inside, a new console layout and fresh trim throughout is designed to do the same.

Leather is now standard across the range, as is a new driver fatigue sensing system, Bluetooth with audio streaming and fuel-saving brake energy recuperation technology that charges the car’s battery under deceleration to reduce the alternator’s load on the engine at other times.

Fuel savings over the previous model range from 4.6 per cent for the flagship petrol V6 to 12 per cent for the 2.0-litre diesel. The latter also gets VW's BlueMotion idle-stop to cut the engine when the car is stationary, bringing the claimed combined fuel consumption for the diesel down to 5.7 litres per 100km – the best for any Passat in its 38 years.

Despite elevated feature levels, prices have been held firm in a move that Volkswagen says will attract more buyers to the model that straddles the gap between family mid-size cars such as the Mazda6, Honda Accord twins and Ford Mondeo and the luxury brigade that includes the Passat’s prestige relative, the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Lexus IS range.

The previous four models (with four engine choices) have been cut to three, with that trio carrying three carryover powertrains – the 1.8-litre 118kW/250Nm TSI petrol four-cylinder, the 2.0-litre 125kW/350Nm TDI diesel four-cylinder and top-of-the-range 220kW/350Nm 3.6-litre FSI petrol V6 with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.

Pricing for the base 118TSI model kicks off the range at $38,990 for the sedan and $40,900 for the wagon – the same as before.

The 125TDI diesel model is next up the price range at $43,790 for the sedan and $45,990 for the wagon – again, unchanged. Compared with the base model, this version gets the up-spec Highline fit-out with up-market Nappa leather, brushed aluminium highlights in the cabin and extras such as fog lights.

While the sharp-edged R36 sports model has been dropped, the good news is that its lusty 3.6-litre V6 now graces the sole remaining V6 model – the 220FSI 4Motion.

This new variant effectively marries the two previous V6 models, with the high-performance powertrain wrapped in the softer Highline body, chassis and trim package, to create an executive express.

The extra good news is that the new model comes at $55,990 for the sedan – the same price as the previous, less powerful 3.2-litre V6 4Motion. That’s well under the $64,990 price tag for the discontinued R36. For the record, the new V6 wagon version – bearing all the same bells and whistles as the sedan – will sell for $57,990.

By comparison, the similarly sized and European built Ford Mondeo – one of competitors closest in concept to the Passat – ranges in price from $30,990 for the 2.3-litre petrol LX hatch to $48,490 for the Titanium diesel wagon.

All Passat engines are mated to automated dual-clutch transmissions – seven speed on the 118TSI and six speeds on both the 125TDI diesel and 220FSI V6.

The base-level 118TSI Passat sedan is said to be good for an 8.5-second sprint from zero to 100km/h, while combined fuel economy is rated at 7.2L/100km.

The torquey 125TDI diesel is only a smidgen slower to 100km/h, at 8.6 seconds, but returns the best fuel economy at 5.7L/100km for both the sedan and wagon.

The swiftest Passat, the 220FSI, hits 100km/h in 5.5 seconds, but it is also the thirstiest at 9.7L/100km.

V6 Passat buyers not only get more bang for the buck but a load of extra features, starting with that 4Motion AWD system to tame the extra power.

An alarm, 18-inch wheels in place of the 17s on the lesser models, adaptive chassis control and 12-way powered front seats are among goodies made standard on the 220FSI.

For an extra $1300 on all models, drivers can enjoy the Passat’s new party trick – Park Assist2.

This upgraded second-generation self-guided parking system can not only parallel park in tighter spots than before, but even reverse park into right-angle parking bays, all without the driver having to touch the steering wheel.

Once activated, the system will seek out a parallel parking spot while cruising along the street at up to 40km/h, and cram itself into a bay with just 80cm of space at either end of the car.

If some killjoy parks even closer to your car while you are away, the system will even extricate the car from the spot with just 50cm of space at either end.

The system even throws in a rear-view camera.

The adaptive cruise control that is standard on the V6 flagship and a $2000 option on other models not only locks on to cars in front via radar when cruising in traffic but will also bring the car Passat to a halt if the lead car stops at traffic lights.

Unlike the previous system, a tap on the accelerator pedal restarts the system so the procession continues when the car in front moves off again.

As well, this system provides a Volvo-style emergency braking ability, prepping the car for a potential crash and warning the driver and automatically braking if the radar detector lurking behind the badge on the grille detects that the vehicle in front has stopped or slowed suddenly. Above 30km/h, the system automatically goes for maximum anchors.

A so-called driver assist and visibility package not only upgrades all the lights with Bi-xenon headlights in place of the halogens, cornering fog lights, LED running lights, LED tailights and so on, but adds a lane departure correction system that uses a camera mounted in the top of the windscreen to scan the road for line markings and, if the car begins to drift, takes automatic corrective action.

The standard driver fatigue detection system uses a complex sensor system in the steering to detect tell-tale signs of tired driver steering movements – which are said to be greater and sharper than those of an alert driver – to detect a drowsy driver and issue a warning on the in-dash display.

Boot space of the sedan is a handy 565 litres, while the four-cylinder wagons can swallow 603 litres of luggage, or 1731 litres with the split fold seats down. The V6 sedan and wagon hold slightly less due to the 4Motion system under the rear floor, taking 541 litres (sedan) and 588 litres (wagon) respectively.

All Passats are covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with free 24-hour roadside assist.

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