From £23,0608

The refocused Passat is targeting a more upmarket audience, but will need to prove itself against established performers like the BMW 3 series and Mercedes C-Class

This is the one that’ll have the competition worried. Not just the traditional competition, either. The Volkswagen Passat has been troubling the large family car market for years, but this time Volkswagen isn’t just targeting the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia.

Not when the wider Volkswagen Group has a new Skoda Superb that will muscle its way farther into that market. No, this time, as well as competing against high-end large family cars, VW is ever more serious about pitching the Passat against compact executives such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The truth is that it’s one of the few mainstream manufacturers with a sufficiently carefully nurtured brand cachet to do it.

Now in its eighth generation, more than 22 million Passats have been sold worldwide since the original was launched in 1973

In reality, though, the previous generation Passat has been on the way to this position for years. The new version is its eighth generation, and more than 22 million have been sold worldwide since the original was launched in 1973 (and even then it was a development of 
the Audi 80, Volkswagen having 
just acquired the brand).

Almost half a million of those sales have been in the UK, and with good reason. The Passat hasn’t often led the class outright – at least, not for those who like their saloon cars to come with a modicum of driver enjoyment and involvement – but if you are a buyer who puts interior 
feel and refinement at the top of your list of priorities, the big Volkswagen has been as good a buy as you’ll 
find at this level.

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The latest iteration of the Passat arrives in five trim levels, from S through to R-Line, and priced from £22,680 in saloon form. Almost the whole range is diesel except for a the petrol-hybrid GTE that tops the range. Estates carry a £1530 premium, while there is also the inclusion of a rugged 4x4 Alltrack estate, while the coupé-like four-door CC, due in 2017, is a different proposition again.

Our test car is a 2.0 TDI 190 GT saloon with the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

Is the Volkswagen Passat available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

Yes it is. The Volkswagen Passat was one of the plug-in hybrid pioneers, its dedicated GTE trim level combining performance with low emissions and strong efficiency. Like all Passat models, the latest GTE is only available as an estate, but it packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre and an electric motor that deliver 215bhp and a claimed electric range of 37 miles. Currently there’s no all-electric Passat, Volkswagen’s closest EV alternative being the ID4.

What are the Volkswagen Passat's main rivals?

With the increased popularity of SUV models, family estate cars such as the Volkswagen Passat have fallen out of fashion. Even so, there are still plenty of similar machines to choose from, including the Mazda 6 Tourer, which isn’t as spacious but is sharper to drive. The closely related Skoda Superb estate is even roomier thanks to its vast boot. Upmarket rivals include the BMW 3 Series Tourer and Audi A4 Avant, although both cost more and carry less.

How much power does the Volkswagen Passat have?

Having dropped the Passat saloon from the line-up in European markets, Volkswagen has also reduced the choice of engines for the remaining estate version. Both the 1.5-litre TSI petrol and 2.0-litre TDI diesel deliver the same 148bhp, although the latter has more torque, with 266lb ft compared to 184lb ft. Most powerful is the plug-in hybrid GTE, which serves up a useful 215bhp and can accelerate from 0-62mph in a brisk 7.6 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there for the Volkswagen Passat?

There’s a fairly familiar choice of gearboxes available with the Volkswagen Passat, with entry-level models getting a six-speed manual. As with other models in the brand’s line-up, this is light and precise transmission with a progressive clutch, making it easy to drive. A smooth and fast-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic is standard on R-Line versions and optional on all the others. The exception is the plug-in GTE, which gets its own six-speed DSG automatic.

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Where is the Volkswagen Passat built?

Unlike many Volkswagen models that are built in many different factories around the world, the Passat is only assembled in three plants. In Germany it rolls off the line at the brand’s Emden and Zwickau, the latter also being the hub for the brand’s ID electric car production and the former site of the Trabant factory. The Passat is also constructed at the firm’s joint venture FAW-VW joint venture facility in Changchun, China.

How many generations of the Volkswagen Passat have there been?

The Passat is one of Volkswagen’s longest serving models and can trace its roots back to 1973, a year before the smaller Golf made its debut. Officially there have been eight generations of the Passat, but the MK7 (B7) of 2010 is essentially a heavy facelift of the 2005 MK6 (B6) rather than an all-new car. The B6 Passat also marked a turning point for the model, as it was the first not to share its platform with an Audi.

DESIGN & STYLING

The eighth generation of the Volkswagen Passat
This new Passat measures 2mm shorter than its predecessor, however, the wheelbase is 79mm longer

Evolution, not revolution, is at the heart of the Volkswagen Passat’s exterior design. You’d expect nothing else for a model with worldwide appeal (including places as conservative as China) and, besides, VW now makes the CC for those who want a more rakish saloon. The next generation CC is said to follow the same design cues that have been exhibited on the Sport Coupé GTE, which includes angular headlights and abrupt nose.

It’s under the skin where the Passat is more noteworthy. This Passat is just 2mm shorter than the one it replaces, but housed within the 4767mm length is a wheelbase that’s 79mm longer than before, allowing the rear cabin to be larger. Across the range, VW claims the latest car is up to 85kg lighter than the outgoing one thanks to the use of Volkswagen’s MQB platform, which also underpins the latest Volkswagen Golf.

Door mirrors on our test car came with two indicator repeators and a blindspot warning light. Complex, but sensibly sized for good visibility

There was a time when a platform could be stretched across only a narrow range of models. The old Golf platform couldn’t be used for the Passat, for example. But the pace of development and intelligent use of high-strength materials means that’s no longer the case.

On the MQB platform, the distance between the centre line of the suspension and the front bulkhead is fixed, because that’s where all of the hard structural work is done in crash protection and packaging the major mechanicals. Beyond that, VW can pick whichever dimensions it likes, so the front overhang, rear overhang and space between the wheels, including behind the B-pillars, are all open to change.

Hence, even on cars badged as Volkswagens alone, MQB will, within this model cycle, be good for the Volkswagen Polo, Beetle, Volkswagen Golf, Scirocco, Jetta, Volkswagen Tiguan, Volkswagen Touran, Sharan, Volkswagen Passat and CC. Theoretically, despite different wheelbases and track widths, they – and MQB cars from the other VW-owned brands – could all roll down the same production line. Even the GTE Passat uses the same underpinnings despite its hybrid inclinations.

For the Passat, the estate (which will take just over half of UK Passat sales) has the same wheelbase, length and width as the saloon but sits 21mm higher, at 1477mm.

INTERIOR

The driver's view from inside Volkswagen Passat
Adult-sized knees and heads are well catered for, thanks to the interior's 33mm of extra length

The highly profitable niche that VW has carved for itself between the mainstream and premium markets is based, in part, on a superior – but not overtly luxurious – interior design language.

Recently, that position has been threatened, not only by others moving upmarket but also by the snowballing maturity of Skoda and Seat, both of whom enjoy access to the same MQB parts bin.

The optional tyre pressure monitoring system is the best one I've used, telling you what your pressures are and what they should be for different loads

But VW’s satellite brands will have to hit unprecedented form to match the Passat’s interior. Constructed, aesthetically speaking, on an incredibly confident layering of horizontal lines, the dashboard radiates an imperturbable, white-collar elegance. As an antidote to the workmanlike Ford Ford Mondeo, it is imperious and – dare we say it – studiously European.

Into the new design, VW has slotted its usual ergonomic proficiency. The dials, switchgear and infotainment are all recognisable, both in appearance and positioning. The driving position is elevated, but not upsettingly so, and instrumentation is superbly clear.

As we mentioned before there are five main trims to choose from, while those opting for the hybrid Passat GTE get two trim levels to choose from. The entry-level S comes with 16in alloy wheels, hill hold function, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, electric windows and a post-collision braking system. Inside occupants get air conditioning, cupholders, a cooled glovebox, lumbar support and a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system complete with DAB, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Upgrade to the more eco-friendly Bluemotion version and you get bigger alloys, a lowered sports suspension and an aerodynamically efficient bodtkit, while the SE Business models get the addition of chrome trim, sat nav with a three-year subscription to VW's connected services, adaptive cruise control and all round parking sensors.

The GT trim adds 18in alloy wheels and a full size spare, Alcantara and leather seat upholstery, three-zone climate control and a panoramic sunroof, while the range-topping R-Line models come with R-Line bodykit, interior trim and decals. The bi-turbo four-wheel drive Passats, only available with the GT or R-Line trims, include dynamic chassis control, a locking electronic differential and LED headlights.

Fancy the petrol-electric hybrid GTE, well, you will be pleased to know it doesn't lack on the equipment front with the standard GT-trimmed car with a unique styling kit, infotainment tweaks and charging equipment, while the GTE Advance models add LED headlights, smartphone integration, a Nappa leather upholstery and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat nav and a 64GB hard drive.

We’d opt for fewer buttons on the steering wheel and bigger pockets in the door, but the Passat leaves few avenues open for sustained criticism of an immaculate, well-conceived cabin.

It’s a similar story aft of the driver’s seat. The interior’s 33mm of extra length doesn’t sound significant, but adult-sized knees and heads were already well catered for, and the additional space certainly doesn’t hurt.

Any occupant of the middle perch will have their feet astride a sizable transmission tunnel and not be in a proper seat, but there’s shoulder room enough for it to be bearable.

The boot, which is accessed via an enthusiastically sprung lid, is still decently proportioned, and its capacity also swells by 21 litres to 586 litres.

It lacks a hatchback-sized aperture, which would make the loading of particularly bulky items easier and accessing of stuff buried deep likewise, but the rear seats are conveniently folded forward via manual levers mounted in the boot, and there’s a full 1900mm of load length, as long as your item doesn’t exceed 470mm in height.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The Volkswagen Passat has good refinement and high-speed stability
Passat's gearbox and clutch can make unnecessary wheelspin off the line during quick launches tricky to manage

At launch, all of the VW Passat's four diesel engines available are Euro 6-compliant, because that’s the norm in a market where more than 80 per cent of sales are to business users.

The range starts with the 118bhp 1.6 TDI and rises to the 237bhp 2.0 BiTDI that is VW's most powerful four-cylinder diesel to date. Both motors are from the same modular family. In the middle are 148bhp and 187bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel units. The Passat GTE comes with a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor which produce a total output of 215bhp. It's expected that the 187bhp version tested here will be the volume seller and comes equipped with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The Passat's engine feels stronger than the average modern 2.0-litre turbodiesel, and the transmission shifts smoothly and quickly

The entry-level 1.6 TDI takes 10.8sec to hit 0-62mph, while the 2.0-litre 148bhp and 187bhp variants dispatch the same benchmark in 8.7sec and 7.9sec respectively. The flagship 237bhp BiTDI with Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive cracks 0-62mph in 6.1sec.

The VW Group has now beaten just about every undesirable trait out of its dual-clutch transmissions, but one of the few remaining is step-off power delivery.

If you’re in a hurry to get away from a standstill in this particular Passat, the gearbox is too abrupt in its management of the clutch to avoid unhelpful snatches of wheelspin and unnecessary activation of the traction control.

That quirk primarily accounts for our failure to match VW’s acceleration claim of 7.7sec to 62mph. More important, it’s evidence that you need to be delicate with the throttle pedal at times in order to get the performance for which you’re paying. On price, the Passat ought to be able to keep pace with the sportier four-cylinder diesels in its class, both through the gears and on in-gear flexibility.

In reality, it’s just a little bit shy of the standard on both counts. A BMW 320d takes a second less to get from 30-70mph through the gears, and a Mazda 6 2.2d Sport is more than three seconds quicker across the same increment in fourth gear.

In subjective terms, however, this engine still feels stronger than the average modern 2.0-litre turbodiesel, and once you’re off and running the transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. Torque comes in a broad tranche, so your perception of it isn’t enhanced by a sudden whoosh of boost, yet the engine pulls quite freely at high revs.

On the flipside of the performance equation, refinement is quite strong. With optional sound-insulating glass fitted, our test car kept its cabin well isolated from wind noise, and the engine’s vibrations are well controlled.

The engine is more vocal than some equivalents, and road noise over coarse surfaces could be better suppressed, as we’ll come to. But overall, this is a refined and calming car to drive.

RIDE & HANDLING

The Volkswagen Passat
Passat has excellent high-speed stability and good refinement

Maturity and reserve pervade the VW Passat’s driving experience. The car conducts itself with a casual aloofness to low-frequency lumps and bumps and delivers excellent high-speed stability combined with accurate, slightly remote handling.

To a VW chassis engineer, that description may perfectly describe what’s required of a business saloon. And if UK motorways and A-roads were as well surfaced as so many roads in mainland Europe, drivers seeking the last word in restful comfort and refinement would find almost nothing to fault here.

Body control is good in outright terms, but inital damper response could be better, so some body movement is usually in the mix during hard cornering

Although they’re optional, the car’s continuously variable dampers work well to soften compression rates and allow the car’s body to float over gentle crests and through troughs, and although you can distantly hear and feel the chassis working away beneath you as mile after mile passes, the Passat will often glide along for relatively long distances almost entirely unperturbed.

But not indefinitely. Even in Sport mode, the dampers’ bandwidth of adjustment is tuned more towards suppleness than bump absorption. Lateral and longitudinal body control is entirely respectable, but badly scarred roads – or even averagely broken ones taken with some enthusiasm – bring deteriorating fluency from the suspension and occasional thumps from the surrounding metalwork. Hit a sharper-edged bump mid-corner, with a lateral suspension load in the mix, and the inevitable thump can turn quite harsh.

Wider test experience suggests that the Passat’s standard steering is entirely linear and predictable, albeit lacking in feedback. But its optional progressive rack, as fitted to our test car, doesn’t really suit the car. It picks up directness at about 60deg off centre in a bid to make the car feel more eager.

But although effort levels have been carefully tuned so that extra weight comes in at the same time as the added pace, the overall effect at cross-country speeds is to make the handling suddenly seem a bit leaden and unresponsive.

Predictability is assured by the general bias towards understeer, but a more consistent steering rack and grippier front end would be a much better way to engineer in some athleticism.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 190 GT DSG
The new Volkswagen Passat is now in its eighth generation

The VW Passat GT on test, a range-topper (sporty-looking R-line aside) well stocked with options, comes in at an incredible £34,955 – only a whisker below the starting price of a BMW 5 Series with the 20d engine and in Luxury trim.

However, the bulk of Passat sales will be taken by the more reasonably priced SE and SE Business. The SE model, as a saloon, costs the best part of £25,000, meaning that it meets a Titanium-spec Mondeo at about eye level. (Ford’s latest Mondeo starts almost £2k cheaper than the Passat.)

The Passat's premium price isn't quite backed up by premium-brand residual values, but they're still more than respectable

The match-up isn’t particularly incongruous given the VW’s level of standard kit. On an SE, a 6.5in touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB tuner, adaptive cruise, drive profile select, emergency brake assist and 17in alloy wheels are standard.

SE Business is probably the best compromise of price and equipment and is £1300 cheaper than a GT. It denies you the high-powered engines, but you're not missing much. The 17in wheels should improve the ride, too.

If we gloss over the fact that VW will only introduce a sub-99g/km CO2 variant with the forthcoming Bluemotion model, the Passat is also competitive on running costs. Our GT emitted 119g/km as a result of its higher-powered engine and big wheels, but the more popular diesels will start at 103g/km for the 118bhp 1.6-litre unit, when equipped with the DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

On average, our True MPG evaluators recorded the Passat 2.0 TDI 190 GT at 45.4mpg – distant from the 61.4mpg quoted by VW, although only 8mpg shy of the less powerful Ford Mondeo that we tested.

Claimed fuel economy for the entry-level 1.6 TDI 118bhp variant is 70.6mpg, while the 2.0 TDI 148bhp version is quoted at 64.2mpg. 

 

VERDICT

The 4 star eighth generation Volkswagen Passat

The VW Passat is convincing evidence that Wolfsburg is well capable of making a credible rival to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

It remains to be seen if the market will accept the car in those terms. Our hunch is that most will consider this a plush family saloon rather than a newbie compact exec, but certainly not because it lacks the substance or style expected of the latter.

The Passat's standard steering setup is predictable and linear, but ultimately lacking in feedback.

Inside, it's classier than the new Ford Mondeo and is more relaxing to drive. All the Passat is missing is a bit of charismatic warmth and dynamic verve.

Still, its combination of space, visual presence, apparent quality, sophisticated technology and competitive ownership costs with strong performance, and fairly supple, unwearing handling still set it apart.

For a great many, the Passat will be obviously and unquestionably worth paying above the going rate for – but for enthusiasts, it’s missing something.

 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Volkswagen Passat First drives