What is it?
The Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion is the model that you’ll be considering if fuel economy and emissions are a top priority. It gets the same 1.6 diesel engine as the standard 1.6 TDI Passat (which, confusingly, is badged Bluemotion Tech), complete with the same 118bhp. However, the Bluemotion is set apart by longer gearing for its six-speed manual gearbox, a 15mm lower ride height, bespoke aerodynamic bumpers and styling tweaks and low-resistance tyres.
This all adds up to a CO2 figure of 95g/km, which will afford low company car tax of £149 per month for 40% tax payers. The problem is that the Ford Mondeo 1.5 TDCi Econetic and Skoda Superb Greenline SE Business models undercut it on company car tax (the Ford costs £128 and the Skoda £141, the latter being equipped as standard with sat-nav, too) and both are usefully cheaper to buy privately, so the Passat has some work to do if it’s to justify its premium.
What's it like?
Predictably, the long gearing in this car means that you’ll spend quite a bit of time rowing through the gears if you want any sort of sprightly acceleration. The defining characteristic of this car is its gearing. This isn’t conducive to relaxing progress in the usual ebb and flow of urban traffic, although once you’re up to speed you obviously benefit from low revs, and the 1.6 engine delivers enough torque that it doesn’t feel gutless even at higher speeds. Essentially, if you’re willing to live with sedate acceleration, the gearing probably won’t bother you too much, but you’ll be working the gearbox hard if you do want to enjoy more vigorous progress.
And while assessing whether the Passat Bluemotion deals well with a challenging B-road is a bit like judging a sofa for its document storage capacity, actually you can enjoy hustling it along a country road. You can dial out most of the understeer with proper brake use and enjoy confident, grippy cornering and – provided you work those gears – fairly respectable performance. There’s quite a lot of engine noise and noticeable vibrations through the steering wheel if you do work this 1.6 motor hard, though; the 2.0 TDI model is much better for refinement in general, although the Bluemotion does quieten down when you’re not under load.
Ride comfort is good, despite the stumpier suspension. It’s a touch firmer over expansion joints and potholes than the standard Passat and the Mondeo, but it’s settled most of the time, and there's less body float than there is in the standard Passat.
Inside, the Bluemotion is much the same as other Passat models, which is no bad thing, since the high-end cabin is one of this car's biggest selling points and probably the reason why you'd spend the extra money for it over the alternatives. The Bluemotion is based on base S trim in the Passat range, but you still get really classy-feeling materials, adjustable lumbar support to enhance the excellent driving position, a 6.5in colour touchscreen with USB, DAB, CD player and Bluetooth, air-con and all-round electric windows.
Rear passengers have masses of space in the Passat, although they don’t get a central armrest. As with all Passat models, the saloon boot makes this less practical as family transport than you’ll enjoy with the huge hatchback boot opening of the Mondeo and Skoda Superb.
Should I buy one?
Our money would go on the Skoda Superb, given that it's more practical, better equipped, cheaper for business or private buyers and virtually as inviting to sit in and drive.
Or, if you are set on the classy feel of the Passat, do your homework and you’ll find that a standard 1.6 TDI SE – which (in addition to the Bluemotion spec) gets auto lights and wipers, parking sensors, partial electric driver’s seat adjustment, cruise control and automatic emergency braking – costs only £15 more per month in company car tax, or is actually £70 cheaper to buy privately. While it won’t reach quite the efficiency heights of the Bluemotion - we returned 56.4mpg in our real-world economy test - it will certainly come close, and given the added comfort you’re getting for not much more money, we’d settle for this instead.
Overall, while the Passat Bluemotion is a seriously accomplished big executive saloon that still has the substantial appeal of being much classier inside than its closest rivals, the maths still shows that there are better options out there.
Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI Bluemotion
Location: Surrey; On sale: Now; Price £23,350; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, diesel; Power 118bhp at 3600-4000rpm; Torque 185lb ft at 1750-3500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1474kg; Top speed 130mph; 0 62mph 10.8sec; Economy 76.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 95g/km, 19%