Diesels are still the biggest sellers in this market, despite the current debate about their environmental friendliness. Why? Well, a big car that can carry lots of people and paraphernalia needs a torquey motor; however, the 1.6-litre diesel 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. Even then, it leaves you wanting.
We’d recommend the more flexible 148bhp 2.0 diesel. It’s punchy enough to offer satisfying pace and easy overtaking when you want, and pulls willingly from low revs. So much so that it’s not worth paying extra for the more powerful 188bhp version, unless you really value every last scintilla of acceleration. Speaking of which, there’s the twin-turbo 2.0 diesel for that: with 237bhp and four-wheel drive, it goes like stink.
You’ve got four petrol options as well. The 1.4 with 123bhp is too gutless for such a small engine pulling a big car; the 148bhp 1.4 will hitch up its skirt if you rev it out and offer handy straight-line speed. It starts to struggle towing a caravan or climbing steep hills with a fully loaded car, so bear that in mind.
The 178bhp 1.8 feels significantly more muscular, pulling strongly from low engine speeds with enough clout to haul five people and their luggage around. Finally, there’s the 217bhp 2.0 petrol; if you’re looking for something quick but also effortless, then this engine, with its strong, linear power delivery, will satisfy you.
If you opt for one of the lower-powered engines, then you get a choice of manual or seven-speed automatic gearbox. Once you move up to the pokier models, the quick-shifting auto 'box comes as standard.
The off-road Alltrack models are available as a manual-only 2.0 TDI 150 or auto-only 2.0 TDI 190 engine. Both can tow 2.2 tonnes, as can the other four-wheel-drive Passats. Front-wheel drive 2.0 diesels will tow two tonnes, and other models less.