18 March 2015

Road Test: VW Passat

In general, Volkswagen is an evolutionary company in style terms, preferring to keep faith with what existing customers have more than doing a total change to shake up the market, writes Brian Byrne.

And if you talk to owners of any the seven generations of the Passat you'll likely be told that's a big part of the reason they keep on coming back. It's arguable that only Toyota would have the same level of brand loyalty as has the German car-maker.

Still, the latest generation Passat which came to Ireland a short while ago does have a sharper look along with the overall sense of gentle evolution. Largely due to the front end treatment, which has more aggressive lights style, and a wide bladed grille.

The car looks longer and bigger, which is a bit of an illusion, as it's actually shorter by a bit more than a whisker than the older Passat. But a longer wheelbase, gained by moving the front wheels forward, both adds a longer look to the profile and provides more room inside. The car is lower to the road too. This is the latest Volkswagen model to use the company's scaleable MBQ platform, and in the same theme as the latest Golf and other cars in the overall VW Group, it also comes in substantially lighter than before. All good for driving dynamics and better fuel consumption.

Get inside and there are differences to before, but not major. The dual-dial instruments are classic VW and classic Passat too. The centre touch-screen is straight out of the upper level Golfs and Skodas and SEATs. The dashboard style reflects the bladed look of the grille outside, and I wondered immediately would that date quickly?

Volkswagen said they were going to up-step the sense of quality in this generation of the Passat, and it does feel as if they have, certainly in the Highline grade of the review car. They had to be careful not to get right up to the perceived quality of their Audi cars, and in fairness a decent balance does seem to have been achieved.

That said, though, the overall effect even with the Highline trim touches didn't make the car feel particularly special. On the other hand, the extra room is very evident, especially for back seat passengers, who have a really good space in which to be driven long journeys in comfort.

The driving feel, and ride and handling are definitely a significant improvement. Maybe though, the growl from the review car's diesel when under acceleration might have been dampened a bit more.

The engine was the 2.0 150hp TDI, with the 6-speed version of the DSG automated manual gearbox, and they make a very good match. With a Tax Band of A4 and emissions of 118g/km thanks to VW's BlueMotion technologies, there's a fine balance of performance and efficiency.

Highline is the top level of specification, and added to the review car Alcantara leather upholstery on superior seats with heating, brushed aluminium inserts on the dash, 17" alloys and exterior decorative trims, as well as adaptive cruise control, electrically folding mirrors, and a full size alloy spare wheel.

The car also has voice control for the navigation and phone. As with every other car I've driven with this, it doesn't work well. Maybe it's my voice, or accent, but I'm not a mumbler, and this is at least for me a technology not yet perfected.

Pricing for the Passat starts at €27,295 plus dealer charges. The Highline entry price comes in at €32,580, while the review car with extras that included metallic paint, an automatic high beam control, sat-nav, LED headlights, and keyless locking, hit the road at €41,556 with dealer charges paid.

The segment in which Passat competes is a shrinking one, but still very important. It is without argument that the new one will get its own fair share of the market, and there are a lot of current owners out there now glad to see a replacement they can go for.