The Passat lives pretty close to the summit of the Volkswagen product range. It’s a bit classier than mainstream offerings like the Vauxhall Insignia or Ford Mondeo, yet it’s not quite held in the same high regard as the decidedly premium Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series.
Still, that doesn’t stop it being an attractive car if you’re in the market for something spacious and a bit posh. It benefits from a vast choice of engines, some nice equipment on the higher-spec models, saloon and estate body styles and the feel-good factor that you want when you’re spending in excess of £20,000.
The Passat embodies classic, understated German elegance. It won’t stand out in a crowd, but that’s exactly why you’d buy one, as it’s smart-looking without being overtly flash. It’s been around in this aesthetic guise for roughly six years and in that time, it’s changed very little. This illustrates the validity of the basic design, but also the stubbornness of VW’s designers and the reluctance from the car’s target audience to tolerate change.
Choose the right exterior colour and the Passat cuts an impressive figure. It isn’t exactly cheap, but it manages to look more expensive than it is thanks to the prominent grille with the VW badge, clean flanks and a high tail on the saloon model.
There’s stacks of room on the inside of a Passat. Your freakishly tall friends can be installed in the back seats and you won’t hear them complain about feeling cramped. The boot is properly huge, too, and if you need even more room, the estate version rivals space for space.
It takes care of you and your passengers, with low noise levels and a smart, if relatively plain cabin. Ride comfort is also pretty impressive, although do bear in mind that the Bluemotion models have slightly stiffer suspension.
Performance & handling
If you could sum up the Passat’s driving experience in one word, it would be “slick”. Even the least powerful engine on offer, the 1.6-litre TDI Bluemotion, is sufficiently brisk. The smallest petrol is a 1.4-litre TSI unit that punches well above its weight and does a good impression of a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol minus the big fuel bills.
If you’re after more serious performance, the Passat’s 2.0-litre TSI unit is largely the same as the one that appears in the Golf GTI. Here, it delivers a 142mph top speed and 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. Sadly the grunty R36 model has been dropped, but there is a high-power 2.0-litre diesel offering that almost cracks 140mph whilst still delivering decent economy.
The driving experience is as fuss-free and measured as you could wish for. You could argue it is borderline dull, as the steering, gearchange and pedals all operate with a predictably well-oiled efficiency and consistency, while the ride and handling sit perfectly in harmony; not too hard but not too floaty either.
Economy & environment
Given it is quite a sizeable car, the Passat can be relatively cheap to keep on the road. The bigger 1.8- and 2.0-litre petrols can only manage 40mpg at best, but even the quickest high-power diesel checks in at 53.3mpg and 139g/km. Volkswagen’s high-efficiency Bluemotion Technology tag appears on several Passats with several different engines, but it is the standalone Bluemotion model that represents the most efficient car in the range. And a remarkable job it does too; it may only be tugged along by a 1.6-litre diesel but 68.9mpg and 109g/km is not something to complain about, especially when it can still crack 120mph.
Equipment & value
The base 1.4 S sneaks in under the £20,000 barrier but wants for very little; electric windows all round, alloys, air con, Bluetooth and ESP are all standard. The only significant omissions are cruise control (£265) and climate (£495). Move up the range and you’re swarming with kit. SE models get ‘comfort’ electric seats, DAB radio, stainless steel interior trim and rain sensing wipers amongst others. Even the options that are available are well-priced, although the touch-screen sat-nav with voice control will make you wince at £2,135.
There’s reassuringly good news on the safety front. A five-star Euro NCAP rating straight out of the box is a good start, although the test was performed before the separate ratings for occupant, child and pedestrian protection were introduced. However it has ESP as standard across the range and the reassurance of Volkswagen’s sound engineering reputation.
No-one could blame you for taking the plunge and buying a Passat over its key rivals. It looks smart, drives very well indeed and, depending on which engine you choose, it shouldn’t be too expensive to run. It won’t lose as much money in depreciation as a Ford or Vauxhall either.
Speaking of which, the Mondeo and Insignia run the Passat very close in many areas. The Mondeo and the more expensive BMW 3-Series are probably the pick of the bunch in terms of driving experience, but as an overall package the Passat stands up very well — despite being one of the more senior cars in the sector.
Model tested: VW Passat Saloon Bluemotion
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 12.2 seconds
Top speed: 123mph
Emissions: 109g/km CO2