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.
Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI S
Price £22,215; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1598cc, turbodiesel; Power 118bhp at 3600-4000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1750-3500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1519kg; Top speed 128mph; 0-62mph 10.8sec; Economy 70.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 105g/km, 17 per cent