What’s hot: Improved styling, groundbreaking digital dashboard, Golf-like driving enjoyment, quiet and strong engines
What’s not: Steering a bit too light; we may not get the up-spec TSI and bi-turbo TDI engines
X-FACTOR: Audi-like quality feel to the interior and sublime on-road finesse will get this Passat back into the game for Volkswagen.
Vehicle style: Mid-size sedan
Price: TBA, current range starts at $38,990 for petrol $44,490 for diesel - expect a small rise).
Engines: 132kW/250Nm 1.8 turbo petrol | 135kW/380Nm 2.0 TDI diesel
If you lived in Turkey, Germany, the UK or even China, you’d be very excited about the arrival of this all-new, eighth-generation Passat, the first since 2005.
You'd also be excited if you had VW shares, because those countries have made this mid-size model the biggest selling Volkswagen in the world. Globally, Volkswagen sells a Passat every 29 seconds, or more than 3000 a day.
In Australia, of course, it’s a different story and the bland outgoing model has failed to ignite the market’s interest.
Never one to rest on its giant fluffy bed of cash, VW has totally redesigned the Passat, given it one of the best interiors this side of an Audi, and jammed it full of new technology.
The new car apparently features more innovations in a single model than any VW has ever launched.
Volkswagen’s own marketing people admit that the outgoing car was never particularly “emotional” - it was staid and solid and tended to appeal to highly rational people - read Germans - and Euro sales reps.
But the new one is something different: everything about is it better. If buyers can be convinced to give it a second look, this Passat could be the car to change Australian buyers’ perceptions.
We drove the new Passat at its German launch.
- Active Information display
- Horizontal ventilation strip (a design element that wraps across the whole dash)and air-con
- MirrorLink - puts the apps from your phone (Android only at the moment but Apple is coming) on the car’s centre screen
- CarNet - Wifi hotspot and POI search
- Rear-seat temperature controls
- Alcantara/leather seats
- Multifunction steering wheel
- And cruise control, among a host of features for Australian-spec cars.
Throw someone into this car blindfolded, peel off all the VW badging, and ask them to tell you what brand they’re in and most would immediately plump for Audi - the world leaders in classy cabins (only the absence of the unique Audi smell would give it away).
This is helped, in particular, by the Active Info Display, a lush, 12.3-inch screen that replaces the traditional dashboard with beautiful, modular graphics (a system previously only seen on the new Audi TT).
In the TT it’s called the Virtual Cockpit; but the TT has no screen in the traditional centre stack - the info sits in front of the driver - while the Passat has both.
It’s like a big, colourful satnav screen, right before your eyes where it should be.
That centre screen offers other wonders, like CarNet, which provides an on-board wifi hotspot and MirrorLink, which uploads the apps from your phone and allows you to access them through the car.
Special VW apps are available as well, including some that allow you to take the data about your driving away and analyse it in your own time on your smart phone. If that’s your kind of thing.
The whole dash is sharply designed, with a nice character-line running from the vents all the way across, and it all feels ‘quality’.
The new Passat is bigger inside too, with 26mm more headroom (despite a lower roof, giving it a sportier stance) and a bigger boot - up 47 litres in the wagon or 21 in the sedan.
The seats are excellent and the overall ambience suggests you’re driving a car from another level up, as does the level of NVH, which is commendably low.
The new diesel engines are much quieter than has been seen at this level before.
The new Passat is loaded with the latest in safety technology with ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution, City Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Front Assist, Emergency Assist, Side Assist, Rear Traffic Alert, Driver Alert, and Traffic Jam Assist.
The latter technology can take over driving at up to 60km/h, bringing you to a complete stop, accelerating away and even turning the wheel to keep you in your lane. Should be very good for both fatigue and stress levels.
ON THE ROAD
- Turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol, 132kW/250Nm; 2.0-litre TDI diesel, 135kW/380Nm.
- Seven-speed DSG automatic
- Power electromechanical steering
- Enhanced MacPherson front suspension with spring struts, modular performance rear axle
If you could drive the new Passat blindfolded, which we don’t recommend, you could easily be convinced you’re in a Golf, which is high praise indeed.
New progressive steering means turn-in is unusually sharp for a mid-sized sedan; even when exploring the limits, the Passat will hold a line well through a corner.
The rider is that you have the DCC in Sport mode, as the other selections can feel a bit sleepy and slow.
Steering feel is good, but it could be a bit meatier, it’s almost as if it’s over-assisted, providing a very light feel.
The new package is up to 85kg lighter, which helps, while the chassis has also been stiffened appreciably.
Previous Passats were almost as dozy as their image suggests, but this is more like it.
At this stage, Australia is only expecting the two engine options, but we also drove a 2.0-litre bi-turbo TDI with 176kW that’s an absolute peach, which may still make it if demand is high enough.
Europeans will also get a truly sparkling 2.0-litre TSI that makes 206kW, and the tech-tacular GTE plug-in hybrid version, which can combine its electric motors with the petrol one for more than 200kW and yet uses just 1.7 litres per 100km.
The two engines definitely coming here will do the job just fine for Passat, of course, and come with typical VW Group torquiness and fizzing top ends, so there’s plenty of fun to be had.
It’s a better car to drive than it used to be, and better than we expected.
It’s almost as much fun as a Golf, and if your lifestyle (and family) no longer fits in one of those, you’d be very happy to move up to the new Passat.
HOW IT COMPARES
In terms of performance, driving involvement and interior style in particular, the Passat gives the Mazda6 a fairly solid kicking, but you could still see some people going for the Japanese car on looks alone.
Style wise, the new Passat is better, but still cautious compared to the flowing lines of the Mazda, although the Mazda’s interior feels extremely dated next to this new offering from VW.
Subaru has a new Liberty on the way, which has a tradition of being a great driver’s car, but feeling slightly low rent on the inside. It will want to be competitive on price to win this battle.
Likewise, Ford's ageing Mondeo range will be replaced by an all-new liftback hatch and wagon in the new year.
You could also shop the Passat against cheaper Audis, Benzes and BMWs, and on value terms it would do extremely well.
TMR VERDICT | FIRST DRIVE
The new Passat is a significant step-up from the bland and basic car it replaces, and brings all kinds of new technology to the market, and a fantastic new interior in particular.
A super-handy feature it will offer - unique in the Australian market - is Trailer Assist, which basically turns any driver into an expert at reversing boats, vans or camper trailers.
This ingenious system uses the wing-mirror adjustment buttons as a joy stick. Simply by using the controls and the screen, you can place the trailer exactly where you want it. Take your hands off the wheel, gently prod throttle and brakes, and the car does the rest for you.
The new Passat is also larger and roomier and feels heavier than the old car, but it’s actually lighter and uses less fuel.
Its big ace though is that it’s great fun to drive. The handling of the new Passat has that feeling of effortless brilliance you get from its little brother, the Golf.
The level of quality, fit and finish is up there with the best Germans and the new graphic dashboard is superbly realised, simple, and intuitive to use.
This new model could make the Passat something of a sleeping giant for Volkswagen in Australia. This car is a big step forward for Volkswagen.
(Disclosure: Connor Stephenson travelled to Germany as a guest of Volkswagen Australia.)
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