What is it?
This may very well be the version of Volkswagen’s new Passat that matters most: the cheapest and most frugal diesel, and the model likely to account for a large chunk of the number supplied to company fleets and run as company cars. We’ve tried richer and more powerful variants of the car abroad and in the UK already, so does the new Volkswagen’s redoubtable pragmatism and class extends all the way down to entry level?
It’s powered by Wolfsburg’s 1.6-litre TDI engine updated for Euro 6 emissions compatibility and, for this model generation, with a smidgeon more power than before and with a six-speed manual gearbox. Those factors make its sub-11-second 0-62mph claim look more respectable, but more important to owners and fleet operators will be the car’s carbon dioxide emissions.
At 105g/km they’re not outstandingly low; the equivalent new Ford Mondeo qualifies for company car tax at a three per cent lower rate and a comparable Vauxhall Insignia is two per cent lower, while a Mazda 6 offers you considerably more power and performance for a similar price and less tax outlay. So this Passat doesn’t get off to a brilliant start on the spec sheet.
What's it like?
Thankfully it does much to address that early numerical deficit before you’ve even moved off. Even at its cheapest, the Passat’s interior is very handsomely finished and consistently solid to the touch. The seats are broad and comfortable, the controls perfectly placed and accommodation levels are generous in both rows. Although its qualities are a bit less flashy, this is a cabin that stands up to comparison favourably with lower-end versions of the Mercedes C-class and Audi A4, and is leagues ahead of its direct volume-brand saloon car rivals.
The engine isn't the quietest in the class, but declines to send rattles or vibrations into the cabin. It gives the Passat an entirely adequate turn of speed between 2000 and 3500rpm when it’s fully on song, but isn’t as punchy or as flexible as other turbodiesels in the same emissions bracket.
Torque rushes in a little abruptly as the turbo spools up, while a few of the VW’s rivals get going more smartly and keep going at high revs more willingly. So you have to work the six-speed gearbox quite hard to maintain any briskness on a country road, and you'll spend plenty of time with your foot down.
The suspension strikes a middle-of-the-road compromise between handling poise and comfort, but strikes it expertly. The Passat is smooth and refined with an absorbent low-speed ride and plenty of compliance elsewhere. The steering is medium-light, medium-fast and fairly muted for feedback, but it’s totally free of torque steer and bump steer, and unerringly consistent as you wind on angle. Meanwhile, the chassis tune isn’t so soft that it creates wallowing body control or takes away from the accuracy with which you can guide the car through bends.
Should I buy one?
Other mid-sized saloons do a better job of driver involvement, but this one’s tuned for precision, ease-of-operation, comfort and general good manners. Given its readily apparent civility and quality, it’s clearly a very commendable machine indeed.
Other versions of the Passat offer a more compelling balance of performance and running costs, but despite giving up ground to its competition on paper and propping up its particular model range, this one is no poorer sibling.