What is it?
Volkswagen set the tone for the new Passat at a group preview event, which took place on the night before the Paris motor show opened last October. Through varying degrees of pizzazz involving flames, exploding crates and mock pit garages emerged Lamborghinis, Skodas, Bentleys and Audis.
Then, accompanied by nothing more than a puff of dry ice, out pootled the 'new' Passat. "Look," they said. "Waft your foot beneath the bootlid and it automatically opens." Woo.
The implication was pretty clear. This is a new Passat, rather than a new car; no shocks, no surprises. It'll do the same as it ever has: be a faithful companion to those people (and there are more than 15 million to date) who like the fuss-free way the Passat accompanies their life.
Volkswagen calls this Passat the seventh-generation car, but really it's a reskin (every panel save the roof is changed) and rework of the sixth-generation 2005 Passat. There are a few manufacturers who figure that modern platforms are so advanced now that, significant material changes aside (and they’ll eventually come, to reduce weight), honing will do.
Every major component has been tweaked on the Passat, though. Most significantly, suspension components are lighter and refinement is said to be improved.
What's it like?
Our test Passat, a 138bhp diesel, was pretty representative of a UK fleet car. We're pretty familiar with Volkswagen's 2.0-litre turbodiesel, but there are new engine mounts and the promise of smoother and quieter performance.
That's true enough, too. The Passat idles quietly and its drivetrain engages and operates with slickness and efficiency. The shift is light and positive, the controls deftly and progressively weighted.
It also rides. Whatever changes have been worked to the suspension have left the Passat supple yet well controlled, and with a surprisingly good level of crash-free bump absorption, so you hear but don't feel most imperfections.
Whatever you think of the Phaeton luxury car, it's pretty clear to me that the lessons haven’t been wasted. The Passat feels like a mature, sophisticated car, with a high-quality feel to the interior.
Both saloon and estate go on sale this month, and both are more or less the same size as before. In estate form, as tested, that means a sizeable 603-litre boot with the rear seats in place. They can be unlatched by switches just inside the tailgate, then dropped by nudging them forward with your long luggage. Handy.
What the Passat isn't, though, is particularly engaging. Your perch is wide, flat and firmly comfortable, the environment ergonomically sound and exceptionally quiet. There's a clock within easy read. All admirable qualities in a bedroom, but the enthusiast will be left wanting more from a car. The chassis proves capable at stopping, going and turning, but there's no reward to be gained by doing any of them.
Should I buy one?
Volkswagen has the ability and resources to make a car entertaining if it chooses to, so it's clear that it doesn't expect or want those qualities of the Passat. For those whose interest in driving extends no further than it being a requirement of their job or family life, the Passat will prove close to class leading. If it were the equivalent of a fridge or a lawn mower, we'd have no hesitation in recommending one.