If the luxury car market was as obsessed with actual luxury as it was with image, I suspect we’d be seeing a lot more of the modern day Passats on our roads.
Volkswagen’s family-sized stalwart was popular many aeons ago when it was still a fairly humble chap. Then it disappeared for over a decade, before returning in the late nineties wearing a suit and sporting a proper shave and neat new haircut.
Yet while its smaller Golf sibling managed to convince us, over time, that it belonged in more elite, fashionable circles, the Passat still lurked on the sidelines as that respectable but unassuming character.
Is its name still tainted by images of that rusty old station-wagon from the 1980s school run? Or can we blame the conservative design that evolves so gently from generation to generation? I suspect a bit of both are at play here.
As you’d expect, the new, eighth-generation Passat makes no radical changes to its predecessor’s design recipe, although it is a totally new vehicle from the ground up and every body panel is new. Look closely and you’ll notice the more prominent crease in its profile, shapely new door-mounted mirrors and pointy headlights to name a few of the design departures.
The biggest changes occur beneath this surface, with the Passat having moved onto VW’s new weight-saving MQB modular platform – which helped it shed up to 85kg. While the new car is 14mm wider, it’s actually 2mm shorter than before, although the front and rear overhangs have actually shrunk to make way for a 79mm-longer wheelbase.
That means more interior space and the new sedan certainly does offer ample legroom. Rear headroom will be on the tight side for taller people though, and designers didn’t do the vertically gifted any favours here when they lowered the car by 15mm.
All is good with the world when you’re upfront though, where VW has once again outdone itself with a cockpit that looks and feels like it belongs in a top-end sedan. It just oozes understated quality, although you might even accuse it of looking a bit sombre.
Things are cheered up quite considerably if you opt for the Active Info Display, which is bundled with the Discover Pro 3D satnav system as a R22 000 extra.
This option treats you to a fully digital instrument cluster that can be configured with various views, one of them even squeezing the speedo and rev counter to the corners to make way for a navigation map.
While not a cheap option, it gives the cabin a distinct high-tech flair and once you get used to having it, conventional instrument clusters just look so last century.
A bigger map is displayed on the 20.3cm central touchscreen infotainment system that comes with Discovery Pro (a 16.3cm screen is standard across the range). The optional gizmo also comes with a 64 GB hard drive, SD card reader and traffic sign display.
This is one of many modern gadgets that you can indulge in if your pockets are deep enough; other nice-to-have bank account drainers include head-up display (R9 250), adaptive cruise control with city emergency braking (R10 900) and the DynAudio Confidence sound system (R10 100).
DYNAMIC CHASSIS CONTROL
For those that enjoy toying with the driving characteristics, the Passat 2.0 TSI R-Line model that we tested comes standard with VW’s second-generation Dynamic Chassis Control gizmo that offers Comfort, Normal and Sport driving modes. The R-Line gets its own sports chassis set-up too, pitching it 10mm lower to the ground and reducing understeer with the XDS+ electronic diff that lightly brakes the wheels on the inside of a corner when needed.
Despite the sportier suspension set-up and rather low-profile tyres, the R-Line’s fully independent suspension still cushions you from the outside world with a very comfortable ride quality, but the tyres do make it just a tad jittery over rough surfaces at lower speeds and I’m sure the ride would be truly exceptional if the car had a more conservative wheel/tyre combo.
I still don’t understand why a Passat needs to have a sporty wheel and suspension set-up though – surely those that want to dart through tight corners at the limit of adhesion would just buy a BMW 3 Series? Or am I missing something here?
For the performance side of the equation, the R-Line uses the Golf GTI’s two-litre turbopetrol, rated at 162kW and 350Nm. Forward thrust is not exactly riveting, but it’s certainly smooth and effortless, while the six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox makes all the right moves.
The Passat R-Line is a bit on the pricey side at R491 100, but it is rather well appointed, with Alcantara/leather seats, three-zone automatic climate control, fatigue-detection and park-distance control, to name a few of the standard features.
There is a trio of more affordable models, starting with the R390 200 1.4 TSI, which undercuts the equivalent new Audi A4 by a good 50K.
Despite the familiar and conservative styling, the new Passat just oozes quality and luxury – call it Passatness if you will – and it’s bang up to date on the gadgets front too. Yet with all the flashier options that buyers have at this price level, it’s destined to remain the understated, and highly underrated, family saloon in the corner. And that’s actually part of its appeal in my book.
VW Passat 2.0 TSI
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: six-speed /automatic
Power: 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 6.7 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 246km/h
Consumption (claimed): 6.2 litres per 100km
Price: R491 100
Warranty: Three-year/120 000km
Service/Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km
PASSAT VS ITS RIVALS:
VW Passat 2.0 TSI R-Line DSG (162kW/350Nm) – R491 900
Audi A4 2.0T FSI S Tronic (140kW/320Nm) – R496 000
Honda Accord 2.4 Executive AT (132kW/225Nm) – R501 700
Ford Fusion 2.0T Titanium AT (177kW/340Nm) – R487 900
Lexus ES250 EX AT (135kW/235Nm) – R499 600
Source – iol