IN EUROPE, TOP-CLASS MID-SIZE WAGONS LIKE THE VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ARE EVERYWHERE. There, they are seen as both sporty and practical, and private buyers and commercial fleets snap them up with equal enthusiasm.
In Australia, it’s a slightly different story - they’re now collateral damage of Australia’s exploding SUV sales. But it really shouldn’t be so – the needs of many Australian SUV buyers would actually be nicely served by the Volkswagen Passat wagon.
Fact is, the Passat brings to the mid-size segment the same attributes the Golf brings to the small car field – handsome style, a best-in-class interior and plenty of technology.
Vehicle Style: Midsize Station Wagon
Price: $36,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 132kW/250Nm 1.8 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.0 l/100km | tested: 7.4 l/100km
TMR has just stepped out of an entry level Passat 132TSI wagon. Priced at $36,990, this model is powered by the turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine driving the front wheels via Volkswagen’s seven-speed DSG (Direct Shift Transmission) automatic.
Our test car was fitted with the optional ‘Driver Assistance Package’ ($1800) adding features which are standard in higher grade models.
Included is some significant technology: Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist with City Emergency Brake, Rear Traffic Alert, Side Assist (lane changing assistance), Lane Assist (lane departure warning system), and Driving Profile Selection (the latter included in the ‘Luxury’ package for 132TSI Comfortline models).
- Standard features: Cloth upholstery, Multi-Function Display (includes tyres pressure monitoring and fuel tanks distance to empty), three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, lockable glovebox with drink chilling function, split and flat folding (60/40) rear seat base and backrest with remote release, heated exterior mirrors, extendable luggage compartment net partition (behind the rear seat backs), extendable luggage compartment cover with automatic (two-stage) opening, luggage compartment light, load restraining hooks
- Infotainment: eight-speakers with 6.5-inch colour touchscreen display, satellite navigation, AM/FM, jpeg image viewer, compatible with MP3, WMA and AAC, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming
- Storage: 650-litres (rear seat upright); 1780-litres (rear seat folded)
With hallmark practicality, the Volkswagen Passat wagon delivers for family buyers. Immediately noticeable is the generous rear seat (including two ISOFIX child seat mounting points), genuine full-size adult legroom and even more cargo space than the superseded model.
And it’s all presented with the usual understated Volkswagen sense of style.
Material choice and trim is of a higher order, as is the fastidious production quality for which the German superbrand is famous.
Our 132TSI test car might have been the entry-level model but even so we had a beautiful three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel (rake/reach adjustment), driver’s seat height adjustment and the easily-used Volkswagen Group satellite navigation system.
Front seats are nicely sculptured for support in cornering and you felt an interstate road trip would not be followed by a chiropractic appointment.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/transmission: 1.8-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
- Power/torque: 132kW @ 5100rpm-6200rpm/250Nm @ 1250rpm-5000rpm
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front/multi-link independent rear
- Steering: Electromechanical, turning circle 11.7-metres
- Brakes: Four-wheel discs (fronts ventilated)
Our test car was powered by the 132TSI 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine – essentially the same as offered in the previous generation but up by 14kW to - surprise, surprise – 132kW while torque remains unchanged at 250Nm.
Underneath is the latest version of Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform which provides for increased interior space and improved driving dynamics (the latter courtesy of a reduced weight – 1483kgs for the model we tested).
Our test car rode on the standard 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/55 R17 Continental ‘ContiPremiumContact’ tyres which proved to be grippy, rode well and were impressively quiet on all road surfaces.
Overall, the Volkswagen Passat wagon is a very enjoyable drive – and we’re not joining the cacophony of reviewers who moan about the seven-speed DSG transmission.
Yes, in stop-start city traffic – you know the incessant shifts from first-to-second, back to first, then up to second and briefly third and back to first – it can be a little baulky. But to be honest, we hardly notice; after driving these DSGs for a number of years now we accept it as a minor characteristic.
The payback comes in country driving or on the freeway. Then the DSG rewards in spades with smooth and incredibly rapid cog-swaps which keep the 1.8-litre turbo right ‘in the meat’ of its torque band and delivers brisk acceleration as a result.
It feels swift and willing on road, and swallows kilometres effortlessly.
In the twisty stuff, the Passat wagon is typically Volkswagen firm in the suspension calibration (we like it but some may find it a bit too firm, especially on poor secondary roads). Cornering however is top-shelf with crisp turn-in, nice balance and little body roll.
The electromechanical power steering is weighted correctly and provides just the right amount of feedback when hustling through tight hairpins.
On both rural roads and in the city it is also commendably quiet – the 1.8-litre petrol engine is more refined than Volkswagen’s diesel powerplants (which themselves are very good).
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.89 out of 37 possible points.
Safety Features: Nine airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, stability and traction control
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Ford’s Mondeo $35,040 (plus on road costs) Ambiente Wagon also comes with a German pedigree; it’s a creation of Ford’s European HQ in Cologne.
But the wagon is only available with Ford’s 132kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine (petrol engines are exclusive to the sedan models range) so there is no direct rival for Volkswagen’s 132TSI Passat tested here.
It’s a coin-toss between our Passat and the Mazda6 Sport Wagon for the best driving dynamics in this class (we prefer the steering of the ‘6’ over the Passat but we have the German ahead for chassis dynamics).
The Mazda6 employs the terrific naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine offering 138kW/250Nm and the entry-level ‘Sport’ model is stickered at $33,790 (plus on-road costs).
Hyundai too has ‘skin’ in this game with the petrol i40 Tourer offered in two guises, Active ($32,490, plus) and Premium ($41,390, plus).
Both use the 121kW/203Nm naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine, which is ok but a bit outgunned in this company (and it feels a tad coarse).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Yep, Australians love their SUVs, but wait just a second all you families, sales reps and photocopier technicians… maybe a European-style mid-size wagon might suit you better.
Especially if you enjoy a sporting feel to your driving.
And, in fact, if you also need room and a flexible load area, you’ll find the Volkswagen Passat wagon has plenty of that on offer.
The latest Passat wagon is Volkswagen at its best: crisp styling, comfortable, clearly-evident build-quality, and an alive agile feel on-road.
Sure the Passat isn’t the mid-size wagon price leader, but if you want to argue it isn’t the best vehicle in the segment, you’ll need to come armed with significant justification.
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