Road Test - Volkswagen Passat SE Business 2.0TDI 150PS DSG
The Passat has been a real mainstay of the Volkswagen range for more than 40 years – it pre-dates both Golf and Polo. VW has sold more than 22 million worldwide, including 442,000 in the UK, and the car has now reached its eighth generation.
The latest version is launched at a busy time in the upper-medium sector, following the Peugeot 508 last year and hitting UK showrooms just ahead of the new Ford Mondeo. A facelifted Mazda6 has just been launched, and the new Skoda Superb, which shares much of the running gear of the Passat, will go on sale later this year.
So the new Passat needs to be on the top of its game. And it doesn’t disappoint. The new Volkswagen full-width grille gives it a big-car look and plenty of road presence. In fact the overall car is slightly smaller than the old Passat – a little shorter and lower overall, but wider, with the wheels positioned closer to the corners, shortening the front and rear overhangs.
With a 79mm longer wheelbase, that translates into 33mm greater interior space. This may not sound a lot, but rear legroom is improved as a result. Indeed, only its stretched stablemate, the current-shape Skoda Superb, offers more. Unlike Superb, or the new Mondeo, Passat comes as a booted four-door saloon and estate, with no hatchback option.
While the exterior isn’t taking any chances – this is Volkswagen, after all – the interior has received a serious upgrade. Materials, finishes and fit of parts are of a strikingly high standard. Better, arguably, than D-sector rivals from luxury German brands – a BMW 3-series, for example, can’t match the Passat dash for quality of materials.
Our test car is as mainstream as Passat gets – an SE Business edition model with DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission and the top-selling 150PS 2.0-litre single-turbo diesel engine. At a list price of £26,735 it’s not cheap, and with extras such as leather upholstery and dynamic suspension control, the on-the-road price swells to £31,610.
The 150PS engine claims an impressive 64.2mpg combined and just 116g/km of CO2 with auto transmission (108g/km with a manual box). On test we achieved 41.8mpg overall, and a figure of 50.2mpg on a typical motorway run. A nice big fuel tank gives a handy 600-mile range.
Our mpg returns are short of the claimed figure, but it’s the one to go for unless you’re looking for sub-99g CO2 performance, in which case it’s probably best to wait for the BlueMotion versions, which will use a smaller 1.6-litre TDI engine to bring CO2 down to just 95g/km when it goes on sale later in 2015.
But even this car won’t be the cleanest Passat – that will fall to the GTE plug-in hybrid version that will combine a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor and externally chargeable battery. With a system power of 218PS, GTE will have a 30-mile pure electric range when it goes on sale in late 2015. This will be the only petrol Passat to be sold in the UK.
Inside the Passat, the styling is crisp and simple, with sharp lines throughout. The wide-bodied look carries across the dashboard, with full-width air vents above the large 8.0in central touch-screen sat-nav. Somewhat surprisingly, this is positioned fairly low on the central console – so as not to disturb the sweep of the full-width vents. It’s still well-sited, though. Lower-spec versions have a smaller 6.5in screen.
The satnav functions in a similar way to previous versions, combining touch-screen technology with buttons down the side of the screen. But the graphics are much-improved, and very readable, with more subtle colours and better detailing of the map. DAB and Bluetooth are standard on all models.
Initial UK supplies have a standard analogue dashboard, with separate primary gauges separated by a small digital information panel, just like the old Passat. However, later this year, a new digital instrument cluster will be optional on SE and SE Business trim and above, and this will allow the driver to combine satnav information alongside the speedometer and rev counter.
While this 12.3in Active Info Display digital instrument panel isn’t yet available, we did test it last year on the Continent. It’s an extremely clear display with a 1,440x540 pixel resolution and high-quality graphics. The digital panel has a clever trick, allowing you to downsize the primary speedometer and rev counter gauges and maximise the area given to the map, just by pressing a button on the steering wheel. We’re not sure why this hasn’t been made standard across all models from day one.
It’s quiet and comfortable, especially with the six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox. All auto Passats have DSG boxes, either six- or seven-speed depending on specification. Electro-mechanical steering is standard, though there’s none of the disconnect that sometimes comes with these systems.
Engine noise is imperceptible, and revs rarely need to rise above 2,000. The driver’s seat of the Passat is a calm place to be, and that makes for a more relaxing work day.
On the road
Steering is precise and progressive and the wider track of the Passat makes for very stable cornering. Our test car had 18in alloys, which gave plenty of grip, but at a cost of noise and harshness. Standard 17in wheels will improve comfort, at the expense of sporty handling.
The adaptive nature of the steering means at low speeds, it’s easier to manoeuvre the car, with less steering effort required and fewer turns from lock-to-lock. Optional parking sensors and all-round cameras are handy too – it’s a wide car and parking can be tight in multi-storeys, so every bit of assistance is useful.
Over a week’s driving the Passat proves itself to be an almost viceless vehicle – everything feels progressive and smooth, and the low-revving engine has plenty of torque so there’s no need to keep shifting up when climbing modest hills.
Our car had the optional switchable suspension modes – comfort is the best, though sport mode is a lot less harsh than some rivals.
Seats are supremely comfortable – just the right degree of firmness and give, with ample side support and square base cushions that give plenty of thigh support – perfect for long-distance motoring. The ribbed, stitched leather is a carry-over from the old model.
We liked the adaptive cruise control – subtle improvements in these systems over the year make them very smooth and responsive. No more jerking on the brakes when a car pulls out, and smooth resumption of the pre-set speed when the road ahead clears.
Luggage space has been improved too. The five-seat saloon’s luggage compartment has been enlarged by 21 litres to an impressive 586 litres. Our car had an electric boot lid, very useful for chauffeuring.
Passat has always been the quality car in the upper-medium sector. Not quite Audi or BMW, but a cut above its direct rivals and very suited to private hire work in a way that the 3-series or A4 are not.
Volkswagen has opted for luxury rather than sportiness in this sector, and that’s no bad thing. The interior is as good as anything in its class, and the Passat bristles with VW group safety features such as adaptive cruise, low-speed collision avoidance and active lane departure systems.
With new Mondeo and Peugeot 508 already on sale, and a new Skoda Superb arriving soon, there are some impressive choices in the upper-medium sector for private hire operators looking to upgrade their fleets next year. But Passat offers a level of quality and presence that’s hard to beat.
It’s probably as close to a viceless car as we’ve encountered, certainly at this point in the market. There really are very few surprises to this car. It’s geared for low-range torque and low-revs cruising. The steering is just right – light around town but with plenty of feel; more solid on the motorway. And the DSG gearbox gives very smooth, almost imperceptible shifts.
Seats are very comfortable – among the best we’ve driven in the class, and the rear cabin is good – bigger than the previous Passat thanks to a longer wheelbase. Boot space is up among the best in the class.
With many chauffeur and private hire firms looking to launch an intermediate service level below a chauffeur car but above a basic minicab, Passat might just be the perfect car for this role.
Volkswagen Passat SE Business 2.0TDI 150PS 6-speed DSG
|MirrorLink Android smartphone link||£160|
|3-zone climate control||£590|
|Heated steering wheel||£135|
|18in alloys with anti-theft bolts||£665|
|Vienna Leather luxury pack||£1,615|
|Dynamic Chassis Control||£700|
|XDS electronic differential lock||£185|
|Tyre pressure sensor||£135|
Price as tested £31,610
|Engine||2.0-litre 16v 4-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Transmission||6-speed dual-clutch auto, front-drive|
|Power||150PS @ 2,000 to 3,500rpm|
|Torque||340Nm @ 1,750 to 3,000rpm|
|Top speed||135 mph|
|Combined fuel economy||64.2mpg|
|Luggage volume||586 litres|
|Fuel tank capacity||66 litres|
|Insurance group||(1-50) 19E|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 miles; 3 years paint; 12 years body|