There are three turbocharged petrol engines – the lively 120bhp 1.4 TSI, a muscular 158bhp 1.8 TSI and an even punchier 207bhp 2.0 TSI. The entry-level diesel is the 1.6 TDI, which has only 104bhp, but is impressively flexible and willing. Beyond that, there are two strong 2.0 TDI units, with either 138- or 168bhp, and the range gives buyers the choice of six-speed manual and six- or seven-speed DSG gearboxes.
The Passat is at its best on the motorway, where it’ll happily sit for hour after hour. It’s undemanding to drive everywhere else, with light steering and supple suspension. You still feel too many bumps, though, and the steering offers little feedback, so don’t expect to enjoy driving your Passat. Body control could be tighter, too, although it’s not worth spending the extra on the optional Adaptive Chassis Control system.
The Passat's diesel engines are smooth and quiet, while the four-cylinder petrol units are easy on the ear unless they're worked hard. Road noise is well contained at speed and, although some wind noise is noticeable, it’s not intrusive. Laminated side windows – for an even quieter cabin – are a cost option.
The Passat is pricier than some rivals, but every version has decent kit. Discounts are available, but they're not as generous as those on many big-name family cars. Resale values, however, are above average, while insurance and contract hire rates are par for the course and the economy and emissions of most versions are better than average.
Volkswagen has a reputation for quality and the Passat mostly lives up to this. It looks appealing and the switchgear operates with a precise action, but some hard plastics on the lower dash let the side down a bit. Volkswagen prides itself on its dependable reputation, and the Passat achieved an above average rating for reliability in the 2012 JD Power survey.
The Passat has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and every model has a full set of electronic systems to help you avoid a crash. Unlike many rivals, it has no driver's knee airbag, but there are front, side and curtain 'bags, while the front headrests have anti-whiplash protection. A key that fits into the dashboard offers a degree of theft protection, and keyless entry and starting is optional.
An extensive range of seat and wheel adjustment means almost anyone can get comfortable at the wheel, but the front seats could do with offering a bit more side support. The control layout is clear and logical, but the electronic parking brake and starter system seem like gimmicks and some drivers will find them rather fiddly.
The Passat can't match Ford's Mondeo for interior space, but it's still huge. There's ample leg-, shoulder- and headroom for four, although a hefty central tunnel does make life a little uncomfortable for a middle rear passenger. The 565-litre boot can easily cope with a family's holiday luggage.
Even entry-level S models have decent kit, including air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a USB port and four electric windows. However, we think it’s worth upgrading to Highline trim, which adds sat-nav, automatic headlights and wipers, climate and cruise controls, front and rear parking sensors and more chrome trim. Extras on Sport trim include sports front seats and lowered suspension.
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This is our favourite Passat, because it provides all the performance and kit you want while keeping purchase prices and running costs reasonable.