Volkswagen is tentative when predicting sales of its new Passat. It’s forecasting 32,000 annually; last year, Ford sold almost twice as many Mondeos, and judging by the group test pasting this new VW gave the Ford back in March, it probably justifies a bolder outlook. However, that blow was dealt by Wolfsburg’s excellent 2.0-litre TDi diesel. Eight out of every 10 Passats in the UK will be diesels, VW says, and the 2.0 in 138bhp tune will be the most popular. But why not opt for the cheaper and more frugal 1.9-litre TDi tested here? If economy and value for money are high on your priority list it would seem to be a no-brainer. The smaller diesel costs £1305 less than the 2.0 litre, turns in 48.7mpg compared with 47.1mpg, is Euro4 emissions-compliant and chugs out less carbon dioxide. Ten years ago, advantages like those would have been enough to seal the deal, but the market for oil-burners has become much more sophisticated since then, and VW’s diesels have, too. Next to the new smooth-revving 2.0-litre, this old 1.9 feels uncouth, unwilling and unrefined. The 103bhp it produces at 4000rpm is less significant than its 184lb ft, which turns up with a familiar shove at just 1900rpm, but comparisons with the 2.0-litre’s 138bhp and 236lb ft are almost irrelevant. The characters of these two engines are poles apart. Six close gear ratios allow you to exercise the 2.0-litre beyond 4000rpm; the five-speed 1.9-litre, however, is at its best between 2000 and 3000rpm – past 3500rpm it’s well out of its depth. The Passat’s modified Golf suspension does a respectable job of keeping the car’s size and weight in check, and this one’s as well insulated from the outside as any other Passat in the range – which means more so than almost any other medium-sized saloon. But VW is right to suggest that the 1.9 will not be the most popular engine. After all, such an improved car deserves something similarly developed under the bonnet, and VW’s aged 1.9-litre diesel is anything but. Matt Saunders

Our Verdict

The VW Passat is a competent family car - but does it show any flair?

Driven this week