The Volkswagen Passat reaches its eighth generation with grace, dignity but still little in the way of excitement
Peter Burgess | October 2014
What do you do with a car like the VW Passat? Volkswagen has made an unseemly number of them, last year alone selling over 1.1 million.
So offering more of the same recipe is the obvious solution, but then again, life moves on. Today’s buyers like their saloons and sedans to have a premium edge. They already get that from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, with Jaguar, Infiniti and Lexus hovering in the shadows to snap up the undecided.
Yet this being Volkswagen, there’s a budget to do things above and beyond what some of its mainstream rivals manage, enough to bridge the gap between the Mondeo, Insignia and Hyundai i40, and the upmarket premium stuff.
So although the 2015 Passat is a touch shorter and a tad lower, there’s a smooth sophistication about the design that genuinely seems to push it up a notch in the desirability stakes. The real push forward, though, is in the technology.
We are used to car manufacturers telling us about the clever new technology they have fitted to their cars. Usually we’ve seen it all before, in some form or other, somewhere else. The Passat, though, has a couple of world firsts.
There’s Emergency Assist, which detects if the driver has failed to steer, brake or accelerate. There’s also third generation Park Assist that will park the Passat for you, and you can also specify the new Trailer Assist that helps with the manoeuvring of a trailer.
There is the usual Passat option of saloon and estate body style, though still no hatchback. The engine range is new to the Passat, each power unit coming with the option of automatic transmission, and four-wheel-drive on the top Passats.
What’s the 2015 Volkswagen Passat like to drive?
Undemanding, which is probably how it should be. On the launch event in Sardinia just three of the 10 turbocharged engines were available to drive, although luckily the popular-choice 150hp 2.0-litre TDI was among them. The optional automatic transmission suits this derivative well, minimising the noise that comes at higher revs in the manual gearbox cars. The CO2 is as low as 108g/km and economy is claimed to be 69mpg.
This diesel, of course, has low speed punch that makes it such an easy drive, but it is nowhere near as engaging as the new 1.4-litre TSI petrol Passat. Yes, 1.4-litres sounds a bit small for a sizeable machine. But that’s the way things are moving, the lower capacity offering better economy while turbocharging ensures 150hp is available just like the 2.0-litre TDI.
The difference is that the petrol car is more joyful to drive, singing around the rev range, smooth, responsive and just fun. It’s quieter on a cruise than the diesel too, while real-world economy is probably only about 20% worse.
The 1.4-litre TSI Passat drives a little more sharply, being lighter at the front end. There are complex chassis packages on offer, which allow you to choose how the car behaves, from comfortable to sporty, though it’s hard to imagine many Passat drivers wanting to bother.
And that’s the key point here. Volkswagen has thrown much at the new Passat in the way of technology, yet we suspect few buyers will be prepared to stump up the additional cost. The most extreme example of this is the development of the 2.0-litre BiTDI Passat.
It’s the most powerful four-cylinder diesel ever offered by VW. With 240hp coupled to a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive, the BiTDI reaches 62 mph in 6.3 seconds, gets close to 150mph yet has a CO2 of 140g/km. Even so, it’s hard to work out who is going to buy this car. On the road it feels quick but not 240hp quick
This Passat gets Volkswagen’s faster steering rack as standard, which means twisty roads can be addressed quickly without the need to move your hands around the wheel. Impressive, yes, but thrilling? No.
Why buy the new VW Passat instead of the Mondeo or Insignia?
First, it’s a Volkswagen, and whatever Ford and Vauxhall might think, that counts for a bit more. There’s a sense of higher quality to the VW even if independent reports show that its reliability is only in the middle ground.
It’s the interior of the Passat that deals the killer blow. This is beautifully finished, with just the right use for chrome and detailed traditional instrument clusters in the base models that are nicer than those in the upscale Passats that get the high-tech TFT display from the latest Audi TT.
In all honesty the Passat doesn’t feel much short of the VW Phaeton for its interior ambiance. The seats offer a wide range of adjustment and prove very comfortable, the driving position can be tailored over a wide range and the space in the rear passenger compartment is limousine-like.
Throw in a massive boot (though a somewhat height-challenged opening) and easy-fold rear seats, and very few will need more space.
Verdict: 2015 Volkswagen Passat
The 2015 Volkswagen Passat makes sense on many levels. The new styling is sophisticated and sleek, the interior is lovely and incredibly spacious, and overall it feels like a class act.
It’s unlikely you’ll thrill at the thought of a forthcoming adventure in your new Passat. Yet in this area of the market that’s usually the case. Move up into the equivalent Audi, BMW or Mercedes and you’ll pay more money for less space and less equipment. It was always the way, but each new iteration of the Passat gets closer to bridging that gap. It makes sense.
Rivals: Volkswagen Passat
- Ford Mondeo
- Hyundai i40
- Vauxhall Insignia
- BMW 3 Series
- Audi A4
This area of the car market has been under threat for years now. As soon as buyers of ‘family’ cars get the chance, many want to slide into a premium alternative. Also challenging sales of cars like the Passat are crossovers and SUVs, which are the new stars of car market. That said, there is still much be to gained with the Passat, which offers lots of space and is more practical than either a premium car or a crossover when it comes to the estate versions. All of these cars are price-driven, so expect to negotiate a good deal, whether it’s a Passat, Mondeo, i40 or Insignia.
2015 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI SE
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Torque: 251b ft
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 138mph