Volkswagen has unveiled the latest generation of Passat saloon and estate, ahead of a public debut at the Paris motor show this autumn. The latest generation of VW's Mondeo and Insignia rival promises gains in efficiency achieved through a new line-up of engines and a switch to the same set of chassis components that already underpins the Audi A3, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf.
The new model is actually slightly shorter than the car it replaces (by a couple of millimetres), and it is significantly lighter. In fact it weighs up to 85kg less, thanks to a lighter body structure, greater use of high-tensile steel, a new chassis, a different dashboard (this saves 4kg alone) and the new powertrains. Volkswagen claims the weight loss helps to secure gains in fuel economy of up to 20% over the outgoing model's figures.
VW says that less than 1% of Passats sold in the UK have petrol engines, so there will be no purely petrol-powered version offered. The core of the range will be 2.0-litre turbodiesels, with 148bhp and 187bhp, but the entry-level model will be a 1.6 diesel with 118bhp. The standard transmission will be a six-speed manual, but a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox will be offered, too.
The 148bhp diesel will return 108g/km in continental European spec, but VW UK has yet to confirm that figure for the British-spec models.
Soon after launch, there will be a cleaner, Bluemotion, model powered by a 109bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine (with six-speed manual gearbox). It will emit less than 100g/km of CO2.
From launch there will also be a new range-topping diesel. It'll be a twin-turbocharged four-cylinder unit producing 238bhp and 369lb ft from 1750rpm, and it will be available only with 4Motion four-wheel drive and the seven-speed auto transmission.
The one petrol engine will be offered in conjunction with an electric motor as part of a plug-in hybrid model. This edition will be able to travel up to 31 miles on battery power alone, and will have a total range of around 600 miles; it will be the cleanest Passat in the line-up, with CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km.
There's fractionally more passenger space because, despite the small reduction in external dimensions, the wheelbase is actually 8cm longer than the old car's. VW claims increased leg- and headroom for all passengers, as well as more boot space; there's 586 litres of capacity in the saloon (1152 litres with the rear seats lowered), and 650 litres in the estate (1780 with the seats lowered).
The most radical new feature in the cabin is what VW calls the Active Info Display. In effect, it's a fully digital instrument panel, like the one that's being introduced in the latest generation of Audi TT.
It has no physical dials, relying instead on a 12.3in display, and the system can shrink or enlarge elements depending on which task it is performing. Activate navigation, for example, and the system will shrink the rev-counter and speedometer dials and move them to each side, allowing the central area to display the map and route instructions.
The Passat is the first VW to get the system, but it will be a cost option; a regular instrument panel will be fitted as standard. A head-up display will be another optional feature.
The rest of the dashboard looks neat and functional, albeit quite conservative. All editions of the car will still get a colour screen in the middle of the fascia, although it will not have navigation as standard on lower trim levels.
Other new features on the Passat will include Trailer Assist, which is said to make it easier to reverse with a trailer or caravan attached, and a wireless network that can allow rear-seat passengers to connect their iPads to the infotainment system more effectively.
The line-up will include three basic trim levels: S, SE and GT. All models will get at least manual air-conditioning, Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard, while SE upwards are likely to feature adaptive cruise control, VW's City Emergency Braking system and some form of climate control.
Volkswagen is also said to be considering a specific version targeted at company car choosers (in a similar way to many editions of the Vauxhall Insignia). It will probably be based on SE, with the addition of a few key extras, such as satellite-navigation. It will also have a lower list price, and so greater appeal on Benefit In Kind tax, than the range-topping GT spec.
VW will also offered a four-wheel-drive Alltrack edition of the estate, with raised ride height; it's likely that this and the twin-turbodiesel versions will be the only versions available with 4Motion.
The CC (the four-door coupe version of the existing Passat) will soldier on in its existing form for some time yet; it is unlikely to be replaced in the UK until late 2016 at the earliest.
Prices are expected to start at around £22,000 when the Passat goes on sale in October (deliveries start early in 2015). That figure is similar to the existing model, but it will mean that the Passat is still more expensive than the Skoda Octavia and, most likely, the next generation of Ford Mondeo that's also due at the end of this year.