Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Diesels are still a popular choice for large family estate cars, and there’s a choice of four for the Passat Estate. The 1.6-litre diesel produces 119bhp, but doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It’s an adequate performer, but you often need to swap through the six-speed manual gearbox’s ratios to get the best from it.
There’s also an all-new 2.0-litre with 148bhp. It features Volkswagen’s ‘EVO’ cylinder deactivation technology which shuts down two of the cylinders in low-load conditions to save fuel. We haven’t tested this engine yet but it should offer a good combination of power and fuel economy. There’s also a more powerful 187bhp variant that is worth opting for if you really value every last scintilla of acceleration. Top of the range R-Line (and the limited-edition R-Line Edition) models get the option of a 237bhp engine teamed with four-wheel drive, and put simply, it goes like stink.
Moving on to petrols, the range starts with a 1.5-litre TSI with 148bhp that also gets the EVO Active Cylinder Shutdown tech, but again we’re yet to test this variant. The 178bhp 2.0-litre should be significantly more muscular, pulling strongly from low engine speeds with enough clout to haul five people and their luggage around. Finally, there’s the top-spec 268bhp 2.0 petrol; if you’re looking for something quick but also effortless, this engine, with its strong, linear power delivery, will satisfy you. It’s only available on the limited-edition R-Line Edition trim level, though.
Suspension and ride comfort
First, it’s best to avoid the larger wheel options to get the best ride quality. The standard passive dampers give a decent ride, but around town tend to thud over potholes.
The optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) offers three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Even Comfort doesn’t quite iron out crumbly town roads, but it does keep things smooth and wafty over bigger bumps and at higher speeds. The ride is still mostly comfortable in Normal, although Sport is the firmest and is best reserved for the smoothest roads.
The four-wheel-drive Alltrack and BiTDI models are heavier, so you get a bit more thump on initial bump absorption – particularly in the BiTDI, with bigger alloys fitted as standard. It’s still a settled cruiser, though, whatever model you choose.
Whichever model you choose, the Passat Estate feels composed along B-roads and light and easy when tootling around town. However, for something rather more entertaining, we’d suggest looking at the BMW 3 Series Touring.
The optional adaptive dampers allow a fair bit of pitch and dive from the body in Comfort mode, but Normal keeps things taut enough. The Sport setting makes the car more uncomfortable rather than entertaining, though.
To really put the power down, you need the four-wheel-drive models, which are much more tractable, stable and relaxing to drive in tricky conditions. However, it’s best described as helping the car to feel secure and planted than genuinely sporty or fun.
Noise and vibration
The 1.6 TDI and 2.0 BiTDI are noisier than the other diesels, but otherwise the engines, especially the petrols, sound pretty muted.
And once you get up to motorway speeds, the engines fade into the background and wind noise isn’t a nuisance. True, models on 18in wheels generate some road noise over rough surfaces, but it’s not bad enough to become really intrusive.
The manual gearshift and clutch pedal are light and precise, and there’s not too much mechanical vibration, despite the engines being a touch gruff at low revs. The automatic gearboxes are smooth on the move, but can be a bit jerky in stop-start traffic and parking situations.