What is it?
It’s no longer enough for the Volkswagen Passat to be ‘merely’ fit for purpose. Big, comfortable, well equipped, safe and affordable are all old hat, judging by the dwindling sales of traditional mainstream family cars, and the soaring popularity of smaller, more expensive saloons such as the BMW 3-series.
VW has evidently taken the hint, which is why this new model has scrubbed up and put on its best cufflinks to take on the more premium end of the market.
The problem is that the Passat has also gone up in price, so even this mid-spec GT model, complete with the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, will set you back more than £26,000. That’s still usefully cheaper than a BMW 320d but a fair bit more expensive than the new Ford Mondeo.
What's it like?
It’s no 3-series to drive, unfortunately. The Passat is a big car, and despite having a Sport setting for the steering (and the optional £700 adaptive dampers fitted to our test car), it still feels stoic and relaxing rather than exciting.
There’s a fair bit of body roll and pitch under braking, but at least ride comfort is decent even over the worst British roads. Speed bumps and broad undulations are shrugged off easily, and motorways are schlepped down in a stable and unflustered fashion. Only over high-frequency road scarring do you notice a bit of patter, unless you stick those adaptive dampers into Sport mode, at which point things get a bit more jarring.
Still, while there's not enough feedback to inject much sense of fun into the handling, the steering is light and weights up predictably, which makes it easy to place the Passat precisely on the road and gives the car a well sorted if not particularly scintillating feel.
There's little evidence of sporting intent from the engine, either. Once you’ve spun it up to about 1400rpm, the turbo kicks in progressively and delivers enough mid-range vigour for reasonable overtaking ability, although this Passat never feels fast. That said, the light, slick six-speed gearbox and well judged pedal responses make it easy to hustle the car along smoothly and at a decent pace.