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).
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.
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.