Passat outdone by inside job

One of the biggest problems facing the VW Passat in the UK is that the class in which it will compete is contracting at a fairly terrifying rate. What’s more, petrol-powered large family cars are taking a smaller share of sales than ever before. So whereas 10 years ago a 2.0-litre petrol Passat was about as mainstream a purchase as it was possible to make, now it has a new role to play.

Welcome, then, the Passat 2.0 FSI niche product.

You can see why. If you have read our group test you’ll already know that, on paper, the argument in favour of the 2.0-litre diesel unit is almost overwhelming. Be it economy, CO2 emissions, real-world performance, resale value or range, the 138bhp diesel Passat is so clearly the pick of the range that any other choice seems at best highly individual, and at worst somewhat perverse.

Yet there are still those who remain suspicious of diesel or simply want an engine that will rev cleanly past 4000rpm and, for them, the 2.0-litre FSI Passat proves an entirely accommodating proposition. In fact, the petrol-powered range of Passats will start with a 113bhp, 1.6-litre engine, but the necessarily short gearing and the engine’s uncouth manners means it need neither delay us here nor you in the showroom. Instead, we’ll major on its altogether more soothing and satisfying big sister.

Like the car in which we find it, there’s nothing unduly remarkable about this engine, yet it is likewise a deftly executed piece of engineering, more pleasing on the road than you might suspect from its specification.

It offers 148bhp at 6000rpm and 147lb ft of torque at 3500rpm, which is absolutely par for the class course. You’ll not find much to stir your soul in the 9.4sec it takes to hit 62mph from rest, nor is the 132mph top speed any higher than you’d expect.

Yet this engine has a certain enthusiasm which, paired with the splendid six-speed manual gearbox, allows it to make the most of its limited resources. It’s strong and smooth low down, sweet and willing as it approaches and passes peak power. Drive on a motorway at a constant 85mph and the engine can still be heard, but taller gearing and an inherently quieter voice means it avoids the unpleasantly intrusive din of its 1.6-litre stablemate.

Marrying a likeable, capable engine and a car as well conceived and engineered as the Passat was never likely to spawn a dud, and the 2.0 FSI is anything but. And if you think a Passat will fit your life but can’t face diesel, it is a sensible alternative. But an alternative it remains and, for most people, the TDi will prove the more enticing choice. And rightly so: it is the superior product by some margin.

Andrew Frankel

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