What is it?
Warm petrol engines, such as the 158bhp 1.8 turbo in this VW Passat, are something of an anomaly in repmobiles these days. Whereas in decades gone by it was all about power and performance for the typical insurance salesman’s company car, 2011 requires most to run an ultra-efficient diesel to keep CO2 emissions, fuel bills and benefit-in-kind rating to a minimum to please their employer.
Volkswagen has a history of warming over the Passat to please the more enthusiastically minded company car driver, the 20-valve 1.8-litre turbo model from the turn of the century being the best example.
This latest warm Passat, VW’s closest offering to the BMW 320i, can crack 0-62mph in 8.5sec and return 40.9mpg at the pumps, while CO2 emissions are 160g/km. On paper, it seems like performance with a conscience.
What’s it like?
While a turbocharged 158bhp petrol engine may sound like a good starting for turning the Passat into the enthusiast’s mid-size saloon of choice, this doesn’t turn out to be the case.
The performance isn’t the issue; the Passat feels plenty quick enough and the 185lb ft of torque is available from just 1500rpm, making acceleration feel brisk and overtaking a simple exercise. The real-world economy is also decent, the 40.9mpg quoted combined figure being easily within reach with a sensible head on.
It’s the chassis that dulls any whiff of excitement. The steering is devoid of any real feel and gives very little feedback as to what’s going on with the front wheels, except from which way they’re pointing. This translates to dull handling that makes the Passat feel like one its more sensible diesel siblings.
This Passat does share two more positive traits with its diesel siblings, however: excellent ride quality and superb refinement, particularly on the motorway. The ride is supple and composed at almost all speeds, while the engine is almost inaudible when it settles into a long motorway run.
The interior isn’t inspiring to look at, but is functional, comfortable and spacious, with an excellent driving position. Much like the rest of the car, then.