VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

TOBY HAGON

Stage TWO

TRADES SEX APPEAL FOR SENSE APPEAL, BUT DOES IT MOVE THE INNOVATION METER?

“YOU CAN DRIVE THE ABSOLUTE TYRES OFF THE 132TSI AND IT NEVER STOPS GIVING, IT NEVER QUITS” NATHAN PONCHARD

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage TWO

SEXY isn’t a COTY criteria, which is probably a good thing for the Volkswagen Passat. As with previous Passat iterations, this newly minted mid-sizer is all about clean-cut visual neatness, yet it rollicked all over the five COTY criteria. Efficiency: tick.

Safety: tick. Value: tick. Technology: tick. Function: huge tick.

It stormed into the second round with the frugality and verve of its four-cylinder engines, all the while impressing with its upmarket cabin, a blend of carefully crafted shapes and well-chosen materials that give the conservatively styled car a premium ambience well beyond its $35K starting price.

But value was a two-part story with the Passat.

In its most affordable form, the 132TSI, those elegantly executed Teutonic finishes and its exemplary attention to detail allow it to soar above rivals. That it does so despite dropping some 10 percent in price – now undercutting several key rivals – is impressive. As the first mid-sizer with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – the next big connectivity must-haves – it brings relevant tech to the table, too. Having auto emergency braking, blind spot warning and radar cruise control from the $39,990 Comfortline up is also a win.

Yet in the $50K-plus Highline with R-Line sporties thrown in (up to $3000 extra for the latter), the only-partial electric seat adjustment and lack of features such as digital radio are suddenly more apparent against mid-sized rivals and more expensive contenders that could conceivably wear a three-pointed star or quartet of rings. Cheap sound from the audio system is also a rare letdown.

That R-Line pack, too, takes the edge off the Passat’s superb dynamics, a result in part of the stretched MQB architecture also employed for Golf.

Grip from the 19-inch tyres is great, but broader 40-series rubber is chunky over choppy surfaces.

On the standard 17s it’s a different machine, elegantly waltzing over all manner of irregularities, in the process beautifully containing unwanted body movement. Quiet, too, with hushed wind noise and impressively tempered tyre roar.

From the driver’s seat, Passat’s understated demeanour transforms into a tantalising handler.

Sharp turn-in only ends in understeer when you tip in far too fast; even then it’s neutral enough to tease the tail around too. No medium car corners with the verve and eloquence of the Passat.

Refinement is top notch, too, especially in the 132TSI that uses its 1.8-litre turbo to good effect.

Modest 132kW/250Nm outputs are helped by a lightweight frame and its willingness to explore its upper limits, as well as the slick-shifting sevenspeed dual-clutch ’box (there is no manual).

The diesel isn’t as adept, with some top-end breathlessness and less of the silky rev-fest that characterises the TSI. Some stop-start DSG hesitation is also a tiny chink in the polished Passat’s mid-sized armour.

But calling it a mid-sizer is underselling its internal dimensions. Passat’s boot is a Commodorewalloping 585 litres (650 for the wagon) while rear seat space is closer to large-car sprawling than the Mazda 6s and Subaru Libertys it competes with.

It offers the utility and space many vastly more popular SUVs don’t come close to. A family of four or five could comfortably load into a Passat for the Big Trip. That it manages to do so while driving with maturity and corner-cutting confidence cements the Passat as a new benchmark in its class.

Key to its talent is impressive weight saving, a result of increased use of aluminium, including in parts of the body. From 1450kg, it’s one of the lighter medium cars on the market, and one of the most spacious – something that helps everything from its agility and performance to fuel economy.

Yet the Passat has a large, threatening cloud hanging over its COTY contention. While the new Passat is so far not part of the worldwide emissions scandal, there was heated debate about what we can – and can’t – believe from an automotive group embroiled in what is an enormous fraud. After all, at the crux of the emissions scandal is a company that has deceived everyone from its customers to the world’s toughest regulators.

Yet it was the lack of genuine innovation – Passat is more about refining a proven formula – that saw its COTY run end in the second round.

Ultimately, it was deemed a great mid-sizer – brilliant, even – but one that achieves its excellence without the spirit and fizz necessary to really elevate itself. That and the fact the Passat was up against a stellar field, and one with a diversity and breadth COTY has never experienced before.

BODY

Type 4-door sedan/5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 586 – 650 litres Weight 1450 – 1562kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front engine (east-west), FWD Engines 1798cc 4cyl turbo (132kW/250Nm); 1968cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (140kW/400Nm) Transmissions 6-speed dual-clutch; 7-speed dual-clutch

CHASSIS

Tyres 215/55R17 – 235/40R19 ADR81 fuel consumption 4.8 – 6.0L/100km CO2 emissions 126 – 137g/km Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $34,990 – $47,990

M O D U L A R S QUA D

The eighth-generation B8 Passat debuts Volkswagen’s MQB (Modular Transverse Matrix) platform in a family-sized sedan and wagon.

The scalable, cost-saving MQB architecture also underpins the likes of the Mk7 Golf, as well as other models from within the Volkswagen Group including 2016’s all-new Tiguan. In Passat’s application, it sits on a stretched 2791mm wheelbase for extra cabin space. The car is also marginally shorter and around 40kg lighter than its predecessor.

“IF VW CAN DO EVERYTHING ELSE SO WELL, WHY CAN’T THEY PUT A BIT OF SPIRIT IN THE CAR?” GLENN BUTLER