I’ve always thought Passat was one of those cars that sadly slipped under the radars of most buyers. Passat fits into the same category as Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo, Holden Insignia and Malibu, and the Mazda 6. So far this year, sales have been: Camry 6,274, Mazda 6 1,190, Mondeo 1,146, with Holden selling a slightly pathetic 93 of their miserable Malibus, and a rather shocking 7 excellent Insignias. VW sold 846 Passats, and a further 312 of the SUV-like Passat All-Track. With Commodore gone soon, Holden will want to be taking a serious look at themselves because buyers are not best pleased.
So, back to the VW Passat: You can transport 5 people at a push, or 4 in absolute comfort.
Sadly, Australia considers wagons only fit as a mum’s taxi, or for a dad who has lost the will to live. In fact, it suits anyone with an active lifestyle, or has pets, or who loves a well-catered holiday on the road.
The Passat sedan is great, but the wagon goes one better and ads a capacious cargo hold with a smart electric opener for those who simply can’t manage with gadgets. The automated parking is easy to use and there are multi view cameras for you DIY parkers. The star of the cabin for anyone under 40, must be Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The top model gets an 8” high quality display with VWs auto-hide utility bar. All your buttons slide out of view when not being used, only to reappear as it senses a finger approaching. It gives you maximum real estate to view your SatNav, or, keep your media available for music selection on the central screen, and display SatNav on the driver’s 12” “virtual dash” LCD instead.
I first saw Virtual Dash on the TT, and loved it. You can tab between views, and when you get to the SatNav view, the speedo and tacho shrink in size to allow more space for the maps. Why does any car still have physical dials? Surely an LCD is cheaper and easier?
Because the vehicle settings split between the 2 displays, Passat allows a certain level of customization within existing parameters. We are still quite away from a driver being able to more precisely make instruments exactly the way he likes it. For example, I’d happily do away with a speedo, having just the digital readout and perhaps a bar graph-type display for engine revs. That would leave even more space for maps. The centre LCD could then be used for media and climate etc.
We took Passat for a sneaky couple’s weekend away. In fact, Passat rescued us when the car we planned to take away developed a fault in a run-flat tyre. Instead, we moved forward the VW’s evaluation, and it performed flawlessly.
The 206kw 4 cylinder comes with 4Motion, VW’s AWD system. The turbo petrol engine is mounted east-west (AKA transverse) and puts out a respectable 350Nm of torque. It has Bosch Motronic direct injection allowing a more precise control of the fuel, and an allegedly better burn. It has expensive taste and drinks only the very best of 98ron juice. So, best you loosen the ties on your wallet.
There is a 6 or 7 speed DSG auto gearbox depending on model.
VW claims this Nappa-leathered gentlemen’s club on wheels, will use just 7.3L/100km, and will sprint to 100kph in just 5.5 seconds. This performance is considerably better than the old V6 of days gone by, and feels rather more like a boy-racer hot-hatch than a respectable wagon. Perhaps a new term should be coined. How about GT Wagon?
The understated exterior is complimented by an impeccable cabin. The look is crisp and clean inside and out. The front seats are incredibly comfortable with power adjustment. I’m reminded of the luxurious lounges that were once found in high-end limos. We drove for several hours and felt refreshed at the end of it.
The dash layout is typically German, and manages a certain reference to its Bauhaus roots. There is no flummery to distract from function, yet there is an air of luxury combined with convenience. Everything is in easy reach, but it took a while to get used to the button placement. I particularly liked the location of cup and bottle holders which fell easily to hand without being in the way.
VW claims the conservative wagon gives you the versatility of an SUV, and I agree. I’m not a huge fan of SUVs at the best of times, and have said for ages that a wagon will do just as well. It costs less and uses less fuel. I put my folding E-bike in the back to enjoy day’s fresh air in Centennial Park. Passat swallowed the bike with plenty to spare. A gesture tailgate would have been nice. Pressing a button is so last century.
The VW insignia on the rear tailgate houses both the reversing camera, and locking handle. The camera only appears when needed meaning is stays cleaner than had it be glued to the exterior. (see Video for demo).
ABOVE: rear door operation. (note: reversing camera also housed inside this emblem)
BELOW: Drivers instruments (apologies for video quality)
The drive was uneventful. This 4-cylinder simply doesn’t deliver the same kick in the pants that a 6 cylinder does, but it is fast. 5.5 seconds to a hundred sounds quick, and it is, but sitting in the driver’s seat is a different experience. If you want a thrill, buy t Golf GTI, but if you want regal splendor, buy Passat.
The gutsy engine makes overtaking easy, and the highway is where Passat felt most at home. The cabin was ghostly quiet on all but the roughest of roads. The scalable MQB platform is the same one used in other VW, Audi, SEAT and Skoda models. It makes for a rigid body which can be thrown in to corners with gay abandon. The chassis feels tight and has drive modes which adjust the steering, throttle, and suspension. The DSG also has a sports mode, and when used with the drive select in Sports, a stately wagon turns in to a bit of a larrikin. Although not quite as thuggish as the Golf GTI, you can really get stuck in, if that’s your thing. I think most Passat buyers won’t be doing that, especially as the Sports mode ruins the ride completely. I’m not a fan of harsh suspension but VW has a solution: the user programmable setting. One of the modes can be customised to individual likes. You can have softer suspension with sharp throttle, and all can be used to with steering wheel paddles.
While on the steering wheel, I want to point out the auxiliary controls. They’re so easy to use, and are backlit. While I’m not usually a fan of stalk-mounted buttons, the Cruise Control is a simple button on the headlight stalk. Of course you can alter the distance between you and the car in front, and the smart Cruise Control will keep you there. If the car in front stops, you do too.
From next year, a 5 star safety rating will require Autonomous Emergency Braking, which is standard in Passat.
The VW Passat wagon was a delight. The chassis and steering is reminiscent of my favourite Golf GTI without being brutish or brusque. You can be as adventurous as you like, and although you won’t get too far off-road, you shouldn’t get bogged on a muddy track. There isn’t the ground clearance of a true SUV, but then you don’t have the ridiculous height issues either.
The sound system has a rich tone, and with CarPlay, adds the versatility of true handsfree. Siri allows many functions of the phone and audio systems to be completed by simply saying “hey Siri”, but the background noise must be at a level where the mic won’t be obscured by lumps, bumps and rumbles. It worked for us most of the time.
The exterior is handsome, but the cabin is utterly beautiful. It Is simple without the need to be festooned in expensive materials to feel premium. The analogue clock in the centre of the dash compliments the time displayed in other locations on the dash.
I’ve already mentioned the LCD drivers console, but it’s worth a second shoutout. The clear menu system takes very little time to get used to.
I love the Passat. The simple elegance appeals to a sense of order. There is function without the sacrifice of form.
Would I buy one? Yes, but I’d have to be absolutely sure I didn’t still harbour my secret desire for a Golf GTI. Then, there is the price, $65,992 drive-away (nsw). That’s an awful lot of enchiladas.
Price: $65,992 (drive-away NSW) Passat R-line wagon
Engine: 206kw/350Nm 4 cyl, Turbo Petrol, Bosch Motronic Direct Injection
Transmission: 6 speed DSG
Performance: 5.5 0-100kph