Mid-range petrol Volkswagen Passat has the class, refinement and drivability to match its reputation, but standard-fit dynamic sophistication is a touch disappointing

What is it?

At fast approaching three years of age, the eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat is branching out. The car is now available in the UK with a choice of four petrol engines as well as four diesels, remedying a situation that meant the only petrol-powered current Passat that we Brits could buy, until quite recently at least, was the top-of-the range GTE plug-in hybrid.

In light of what’s currently happening to the interest in diesel-engined new cars of so many shapes and sizes across Europe, this may be considered less of a sensible, prudent  move and more of a blatantly essential one, you would think, for a car maker hoping to maintain the reach of one of its biggest-selling models.

The current Passat was introduced to UK showrooms late in 2014 with an almost entirely diesel engine range, nearly a year before Dieselgate hit the headlines. Had the scandal in question not been so squarely centred on the Volkswagen brand, you might have had a bit of sympathy for the UK distributor in stacking all of its chips behind diesel only to watch the croupier change the rules of the game shortly after their bet. Three years ago, after all, the expectation that a mid-sized saloon might sell to UK consumers mostly with diesel engines would have been entirely reasonable.

Since that point, meanwhile, VW can be forgiven for addressing one or two more pressing problems than the missing half of its mid-sized saloon’s model range. Now, however, there are 123bhp and 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol Passats to choose from, as well as a 178bhp 1.8-litre TSI and a 217bhp 2.0-litre TSI. The more powerful of the 1.4s has Active Cylinder Shutdown technology fitted and is therefore one of the most tax-efficient cars in the whole Passat range. It’s also the one we elected to test here.

These engines have been available to Passat buyers elsewhere in the world for the past couple of years, of course, so ushering them into UK showrooms isn’t exactly a stretch. We can assume that VW’s new 1.5-litre EVO petrol will be added to the Passat range when the car gets its big mid-cycle facelift.

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What's it like?

The Passat’s 1.4-litre turbocharged engine develops 148bhp (which leaves it at a slight disadvantage on power relative to some like-for-like downsized petrol rivals) and 184lb ft of torque (which is more competitive). Although VW’s identically powerful 2.0-litre diesel Passat is nearly 40% more torquey on paper, it’s also slightly slower-accelerating (8.4sec versus 8.7sec for 0-62mph) – not to mention nearly £2000 more expensive and 2% more punitive on benefit-in-kind tax (for as long as the current regulations survive).

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Ignoring whichever way the breeze of public opinion is blowing, then, there are good objective reasons to prefer a Passat petrol to a diesel before you’ve even got near the driver’s seat. And once you’re installed, the Passat 1.4 TSI isn’t backwards in coming forwards with plenty more reasons. This is a smart, spacious, comfortable and very well finished modern saloon whose cabin excels with its apparent material integrity and technological sophistication. Furthermore, a relatively refined and free-revving, yet still flexible, turbocharged petrol engine suits it even better than a diesel would.

The Passat’s driving position isn’t desperately sporty-feeling but it seats you low enough to feel like your hips are fairly close to the roll axis of the car while also giving you a good view out. The fascia design is clean-lined and simple, with its complementary senses of material class and attention to detail percolating slowly through the fit, finish and feel of its mouldings, switches, fittings and controls, and through the intuitive placement and easy usability of its secondary systems. You wouldn’t call the overall effect dazzling, but it’s certainly impressive in a slow-burning, everyday-use sort of a way.

Buy the car in GT specification and you get plenty of technological sophistication as standard. The car’s flat-screen digital instruments are presented very clearly on a 12.3in screen that VW calls Active Info Display and, once you’re familiar with its various settings and menus, they can be made to display just the information you want in just the way that suits you. Alongside that you get VW’s 8.0in Discover Navigation infotainment set-up, which, although a step down from the top-of-the-range Discover Pro system, would actually be our system of choice in the car. That's partly because, unlike its sibling system, the standard set-up retains physical knobs for adjusting volume and map zoom – and also partly because VW’s headline ‘gesture control’ system on the optional 9.2in set-up is gimmicky anyway.

VW’s 1.4-litre engine is particularly quiet at idle and at a gentle cruise, and although it operates with a little bit of latency at low crank speeds, it compensates with very useful torque between 2000rpm and 4000rpm. The upper limit of its useful range is about 5000rpm, beyond which point it will spin – although a bit unwillingly. During typical road use, though, it seems a very well mannered and flexible engine with a decent enough turn of pace for assured overtaking and plenty of stout in-gear muscle to make for easy motorway work. Real-world cruising economy can easily be made to hit the high-40s to the gallon on a decent trip, although it does nosedive more quickly than a diesel might in more demanding use.

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Luckily for frugal types, this Passat isn’t the kind of car that encourages a speedy rate of progress. The examples of the car we’ve sampled before have mostly been tested on VW’s optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers. This may be the first occasion we’ve tried the car on UK roads with standard passive suspension and one of its larger alloy wheels. Thus equipped, the car deals with a typical UK road fairly softly and with decent bump absorption, but with slightly leaden-feeling wheel control and a ride that’s a bit short on dexterity and finesse.

The Passat fidgets a little over an even motorway, lacking the initial damper response and the well-matched springing that might have kept it more level and calm. It thoroughly isolates its driver via its major controls, as most modern VWs tend to do – but the car’s handling isn’t as precise or well rounded as that of some of its range-mates and doesn’t stand up as robustly when driven quickly. 

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Should I buy one?

Quite possibly – allowing for a caveat or two.

In the face of a renewed challenge from the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport, the ever-present lure of the ‘compact premium’ hatchback segment and the increasingly numerous ways you might spend similar money on a crossover hatchback, VW’s Volkswagen Passat continues to appeal. Very few cars offer so much apparent substance, technical accomplishment and all-round maturity for the same outlay. If a liftback-style boot would make your daily life easier, a classic three-box saloon clearly isn’t for you – and yet this car’s practicality showing isn’t to be sniffed at.

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A wide choice of turbo petrol engines certainly broadens the reach of the Passat range and will bring greater refinement and value to it for many, the 1.4-litre 148bhp TSI being strong. But investing plenty of time in equipping your car just so is clearly advisable if you want to be sure of buying this car at its best – and if you’re opting for bigger wheels, make sure you also have adaptive dampers in order to preserve your car’s touring comfort levels.

Volkswagen Passat 1.4 TSI 150 GT

Location Feltham On sale Now Price £25,900 Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbo, petrol Power 148bhp at 5000rpm Torque 184lb ft at 1500rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1387kg 0-62mph 8.4sec Top speed 137mph Economy 56.5mpg CO2/tax band 116g/km, 22% Rivals Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport 1.5T 165 SRI, Ford Mondeo 1.5T 160 Titanium

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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405line 18 September 2017


More boredom but this time with a petrol engine because a certain company f****d up the diesel car industry in the UK and europe, but hey, no worries because other markets got nwewr petrol engines that europeans wouldn't have got if we hadn't told fibs about diesel engines in the first place. Cynicism to the Max.

jerry99 17 September 2017


Much the same was written about the 1992 Passat I had 15 years ago. But I feel this report flatters the Passat whereas the Hyundai i30 report seems more critical of what is a similar chassis compromise.

Ultimately I nevered warmed to the older Passat's lack of sharpness but it seems Autocar assume that is what most of it's buyers want.

NY_69 11 September 2017

Best in class

It's so true- people that moan about VW being boring is tedious,  that's their niche, it works well hence why they don't over design their cars, the Passat's rivals to me all look the same, unnecessarily curves, flared everything... the Mazda 6 sums this up perfectly. 

db 16 September 2017

VW Niche but not for enthusiasts

NY_69 wrote:

It's so true- people that moan about VW being boring is tedious,  that's their niche, it works well hence why they don't over design their cars, the Passat's rivals to me all look the same, unnecessarily curves, flared everything... the Mazda 6 sums this up perfectly. 

Many thanks for pointing out why I have a Mazda 6 Tourer on my drive I obviously like curves flares and interesting design that to my eyes looks far more interesting than tedious straight lines and another attempt at a VW glitzy corporate grill.  A matter of taste choice and opinion I agree . The Autocar test said ". All the Passat is missing is a bit of charismatic warmth and dynamic verve" and "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"

My apologies for being one of those enthusiasts who likes to enjoy driving and be interested by their cars  styling.