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Driven: Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI
Crushingly quiet competence from Volkswagen's diesel Passat wagon.

 



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Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: quality, chiselled looks, supreme motorway manners, efficient diesel

Not so good: lacks character; how much?!

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Passat Estate SE Business 2.0 TDI 150 DSG
Price: Estate from 24,200; SE Business 150 from 28,165; car as tested 38,015
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed DSG automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 119g/km (Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 62.8mpg
Top speed: 134mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Power: 150hp at 3,500- to 4,000rpm
Torque: 340Nm at 1,750- to 3,000rpm

Our view:

For more than four decades, the Volkswagen Passat has offered safe, sturdy and reliable transport for the thinking family man. Well, either that, or it's been something a little different to the Ford and Vauxhall norms on company car lists. And apart from that mad period from 1988 to 1993 - when Volkswagen decided that a front radiator grille was unnecessary and gave the car a face that looked like it had had too much Botox - and a couple of sundry moments of madness from Wolfsburg's top brass (W8 or R36, anyone?), the Passat has remained conservative throughout its life. Never exciting; just quietly competent.

It has also often shared components with various mid-sized Audi saloons during its time, such as the 80 and the A4, and the new Passat - now into its eighth generation - is very closely related to the current Audi A4. However, despite all of Volkswagen's upmarket intentions, Audi still occupies the compact executive battleground with the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE and Lexus IS, which leaves the Passat in the 'lesser' D-segment, alongside the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Peugeot 508 and more.

So what is it about the Passat that makes it feel like something special in its class? A class that now includes an excellent fifth-gen Mondeo and some intriguing, warranty-laden 'bargains' like the Hyundai i40, lest we forget. What is the Passat's one definable characteristic that, like the sparkling chassis on the Mondeo, means we can really gel with it?

Well, after 670 miles and nearly 16 hours behind its wheel within a week... we're not sure. It remains a car without much in the way of character, the Passat. It is undeniably a quality machine, what with its impressive interior, incredible levels of refinement and eminently reasonable running costs. But when many of its rivals can do impressive interiors, incredible levels of refinement and eminently reasonable running costs too, you're kind of looking for a spark of something else to justify the Passat's steep asking price.

That's because the car we drove, a 150hp diesel in fleet-targeted SE Business trim, was specified to an eye-watering 38,015... and this from a prestige estate car that lacked leather seats (it was full cloth), an automatic tailgate (handy things, these), or keyless entry and exit (it had a push-button starter). These might sound like needless luxury extras, but many cars costing less money than the Passat offer such items as standard, so it's a pity the Volkswagen doesn't.

OK, the press team had clearly gone tick-box crazy when specifying the Passat, which had the 580 Active Info Display - the company's take on the Audi Virtual Cockpit, it's a beautiful 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, but it's also not quite as functional in all departments as the Audi system - Head-up Display (500), the uprated Discover Navigation Pro infotainment (825), Dynamic Chassis Control (715), a rear-view camera (315), a Driver's Assistance Pack Plus (1,215)... we could go on, but it is easy to see how a few of the more desirable extras can quickly push the Passat into the 40 grand territory and that's just way too much money.

Which is not to say the Passat is without merits. Far from it. The 2.0-litre TDI engine is one of the best in class for refinement, in terms of vibrations transmitted to the car's occupants and how quiet it is. The six-speed DSG transmission (1,600) doesn't let you down, although having paddle shifts on the heated steering wheel (another 205) is - in the words of Blackadder's version of Samuel Johnson - 'like fitting wheels to a tomato; time-consuming and utterly pointless'. Owners who specify DSG on a TDI estate will never, ever do anything other than slot the car into 'D', before moving off and forgetting about the transmission entirely.

The ride, along with the interior refinement, is magnificent, which is where the Passat aces its brief. Designed to spend its time hammering tirelessly up and down the motorway networks of the world, the adaptive cruise control-equipped Volkswagen is completely adept at smoothing out the dirge that is hundreds of miles on the modern-day M1. During our week-long mileage marathon, not once did we get out of it feeling stressed or exhausted. It also managed 53.5mpg at a 42mph average, and its trip computer was still showing a range of 60 miles with the fuel light about to come on. So a 700-mile cruising capability courtesy of a 66-litre tank is a big plus point.

The issue is what we said about the rivals doing motorway comfort to the same degree. A Mondeo would burr along in the outside lane for miles on end in the same amount of comfort. Naturally, so would the more aspirational Audi A4. And don't even mention the Skoda Superb wagon, which drives almost identically to the Volkswagen, but has more attributes to fall back upon. Throw in the fact that even with adjustable drive controls that firm up the suspension and sharpen the drivetrain, the Passat is not in the slightest bit entertaining when slung around in the bends, and you realise it doesn't have one strong attribute that makes it shine. It is a very, very good car; it's just not exceptional.

However, there's a silver lining for Volkswagen UK. More than 80 per cent of the best-selling SE and SE Business grade cars are expected to go into the fleet market, while Volkswagen sold 10,606 examples of the old Passat Estate in 2015 alone. So while it might not have glittering star quality, it clearly still has a loyal fan base. And that surely counts for something, especially in a market segment where emotion rarely plays a part in purchase decisions.

Alternatives:

Ford Mondeo Estate: has the better chassis and some would say nicer looks; also cheaper as a 180hp Titanium than the 150hp Volkswagen SE Business, although for many it doesn't have badge cachet.

Skoda Superb Estate: this is the Volkswagen's major problem - it's larger, just as cultured to drive, has edgy exterior styling and toy-packed SE L Executive starts from 25,840. We'd opt for the Czech.

Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: on its last legs and tremendous value, although it's going to be replaced by an all-new model soon that'll have quieter engines and vastly improved interior finishing.


Matt Robinson - 11 Jul 2016









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2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.2016 Volkswagen Passat Estate. Image by Volkswagen.








 

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