Maturity and reserve pervade the Passat’s driving experience. The car conducts itself with a casual aloofness to low-frequency lumps and bumps and delivers excellent high-speed stability combined with accurate, slightly remote handling.
To a VW chassis engineer, that description may perfectly describe what’s required of a business saloon. And if UK motorways and A-roads were as well surfaced as so many roads in mainland Europe, drivers seeking the last word in restful comfort and refinement would find almost nothing to fault here.
Although they’re optional, the car’s continuously variable dampers work well to soften compression rates and allow the car’s body to float over gentle crests and through troughs, and although you can distantly hear and feel the chassis working away beneath you as mile after mile passes, the Passat will often glide along for relatively long distances almost entirely unperturbed.
But not indefinitely. Even in Sport mode, the dampers’ bandwidth of adjustment is tuned more towards suppleness than bump absorption. Lateral and longitudinal body control is entirely respectable, but badly scarred roads – or even averagely broken ones taken with some enthusiasm – bring deteriorating fluency from the suspension and occasional thumps from the surrounding metalwork. Hit a sharper-edged bump mid-corner, with a lateral suspension load in the mix, and the inevitable thump can turn quite harsh.
Wider test experience suggests that the Passat’s standard steering is entirely linear and predictable, albeit lacking in feedback. But its optional progressive rack, as fitted to our test car, doesn’t really suit the car. It picks up directness at about 60deg off centre in a bid to make the car feel more eager.
But although effort levels have been carefully tuned so that extra weight comes in at the same time as the added pace, the overall effect at cross-country speeds is to make the handling suddenly seem a bit leaden and unresponsive.
Predictability is assured by the general bias towards understeer, but a more consistent steering rack and grippier front end would be a much better way to engineer in some athleticism.