2015 Volkswagen Passat review
We were seriously impressed by the new Passat Estate, but what's the saloon like? A smarter cabin, frugal engines and sharp dynamics could make it a real class contender...
For the last few years ‘executive saloon’ has become shorthand for anything with four doors and a premium badge, usually from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Now, though, VW is confident that despite its more humble origins, the all-new Passat can smoothly manage the upgrade to business class, and muscle its way onto the wishlists of company car buyers, who – at the moment at least – tend to lust after something a bit more aspirational.
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.
From launch there will be four different diesel engines to choose from, with varying degrees of power, ranging from a 1.6 with 118bhp right up to a four-wheel-drive, 235bhp twin-turbo 2.0 with a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and a 0-62mph time of just 6.1 seconds.
Aside from the barn-storming range-topper, every manual version of the Passat emits 110g/km or less of carbon dioxide, making it a compelling choice for tax-conscious company car buyers.
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.
The 148bhp version of the 2.0 TDI is predicted to make up the vast bulk of saloon sales, and it manages a very respectable official economy of 67.3mpg, and emits just 106g/km – almost exactly the same figure as the Audi A3 saloon, which is a fair bit smaller.
Does the Passat have what it takes to compete with its premium rivals, and justify the price gap between itself and traditional blue-collar competition like the new Ford Mondeo? We drove it to find out.
What's the 2015 Volkswagen Passat like to drive?
Business as usual. The Passat has never been particularly compelling to drive, but the new model capitalises on its previous strengths, and refinement and ride comfort are really top notch.
However, this new model is arguably the best-handling yet, adding a new string to its bow, and it shares most of its mechanical components with the Golf, so the two cars now drive in a similar fashion. The steering is consistently weighted, accurate and precise, there's lots of front-end grip from the tyres, and excellent body control, which all make the Passat feel very nimble for a car of this size and shape.
It rarely encourages you to hustle it along and make the most of its newfound dynamic abilities, but when you do indulge yourself, its superb composure when tackling challenging roads is really remarkable.
Cruising along at motorway speeds, engine, wind and road noise all fade away into the background, and leave the occupants inside in a hushed, calm environment, nicely cocooned from the outside world.
The cars we tested were on larger 18-inch alloys, which do generate some tyre roar over rough surfaces and occasionally thud over sharp ridges or deep potholes, but we’d expect that the standard 17s fitted on SE models will be better suited to typically crumbly UK roads.
We drove two of the four diesels available, starting with the 148bhp 2.0-litre that is likely to be the most popular choice with UK buyers. This engine is really smooth, with a broad spread of pulling power that makes it feel really flexible in-gear, and throttle response is crisp, even at quite low revs.
Slotting between the ratios in the six-speed manual gearbox is no chore, as the shift action is light and precise, and unlike some diesel engines, there is no need to constantly switch gears to keep the car in its power band, which means the Passat is very relaxing to drive.
The 2.0-litre twin-turbo is a bit less refined, especially at high revs, as the highly tuned engine is under more stress, but with 369lb ft of torque, it feels really strong in gear. It comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which does a decent job of keeping you in the right ratio, so it doesn't hold onto gears too long, and delivers smooth changes at low speeds around town.
Despite a price difference of over £10,000 between this and the entry-level 2.0-litre, it doesn't actually feel that much faster. The extra 245kg from the auto 'box and standard 4Motion four-wheel-drive system blunt some of that added performance.
What's the 2015 Volkswagen Passat like inside?
In a word: plush. There is nothing groundbreaking about the interior of the new Passat. In fact, quite the opposite; the analogue clock in the centre of the dash is about as conservative as car design gets.
Still, the attention to detail is what counts, and the incredible level of fit and finish, sumptuous high-quality materials, and new hi-tech gadgets all make the Passat feel competitive with the best premium saloons.
There are almost no cheap plastics anywhere in the cabin, the doors all close with a satisfyingly weighty 'whump' and the deep door pockets are flock lined to stop loose items rattling around on the move. Those in the front get thickly bolstered seats, and a wide range of adjustment to ensure a comfortable journey.
A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, which includes Bluetooth and DAB digital radio, and it's very simple to use, with sharp responses, and bright, clear graphics. There's the option to add Mirrorlink technology, so you can wire up your Android smartphone to use as a sat-nav, or even a 'Car Net' feature that uses your data roaming allowance to get the latest traffic and weather reports.
For £750 you can choose to replace the conventional dials with a huge TFT screen, which displays a wide variety of information, from current fuel consumption to navigation instructions and distance travelled, and toggle between various different aircraft-style instruments. It looks great – but the standard clocks are fine, and that money is probably better spent on the adaptive suspension, which softens up the ride.
In the back, there is more legroom than in the previous Passat, and plenty of room to stretch your legs. However, tall passengers will find their heads brushing the roof lining – which is not a problem we noticed in the Estate model – and things are even more cramped if you are unlucky enough to get the middle seat.
The boot has grown, but only marginally, and the Passat now has 586 litres of space behind the rear seat backs. SE models and above have 40:20:40 split-folding seats, and there are a pair of plastic levers to drop them down to expand the carrying capacity further.
Five-door hatchbacks like the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb can both carry larger items of luggage than the Passat though, as its fixed boot means the opening is quite narrow, and the load bay gets narrower at the back, with a noticeable step in the luggage area. Still, it will definitely swallow more bags and suitcases than compact executives like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A3 saloon.
Mid-spec SE models come better equipped than those rivals though, with front and rear parking sensors, electric windows all-round, adaptive cruise control, automatic lights and wipers and 17-inch wheels. The only noteworthy exception is climate control – standard on GT models, but £590 on SE versions.
Should I buy one?
If you're in the market for an executive saloon then the new Passat deserves serious consideration. Those with a budget that can stretch only to entry-level versions of the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class will be delighted by the performance, efficiency and high level of equipment on offer in the VW.
It now drives really well, too, with assured handling, a comfortable ride, and refined diesel engines, all assets that will be highly prized by prospective buyers likely to cover thousands of motorway miles.
The new Ford Mondeo is around £1500 cheaper, similarly relaxing to drive, and a bit better equipped spec-for-spec. It is more practical thanks to its hatchback design, but the beautifully finished and classy interior of the Volkswagen makes it the more pleasant place to spend time.
So while the saloon is not quite as convincing an all-rounder as the Passat Estate, it still feels like a real class contender, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best the premium brands can muster.
What Car? says...
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI manual
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £23,340
Torque 251lb ft
0-62mph 8.7 seconds
Top speed 137mph
Fuel economy 67.3mpg
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 BiTDI DSG auto
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £34,510
Torque 369lb ft
0-62mph 6.1 seconds
Top speed 149mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg