Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
From the Passat's wide range of petrol and diesel engines, many drivers will regard the entry-level, 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel as adequate; it has enough power to get you up to speed on the motorway quickly or away from traffic lights briskly. The next diesel up is a 2.0-litre (badged TDI EVO) that produces 148bhp. Its willingness to pull from low revs makes the Passat more relaxing to drive and it has more than enough power to keep you satisfied on twisting country roads and motorway jaunts alike. If you regularly plan on filling all five seats, its extra pulling power will be welcome.
There’s also a 187bhp version of the same engine that feels faster still, or, if you really want to get a move on, you can take things even further with the range-topping 237bhp twin-turbo 2.0 BiTDI diesel that’s available only with the top R-Line trim level. It makes the Passat exceedingly rapid and, thanks to the extra traction of the four-wheel drive system that comes with it, you can make use of all that power, even on slippery surfaces. In real-world conditions, though, we doubt most drivers, whether buying for business or personal use, will really need anything more than the mid-range 148bhp diesel.
Suspension and ride comfort
Optional adaptive suspension – dubbed Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) in Volkswagen-speak – is available and has four modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport and an Individual mode that you can configure yourself. Comfort mode does a decent job of ironing out all but the sharpest and nastiest ridges; it keeps things smooth and wafty over bigger bumps and is particularly impressive on patchy motorway surfaces. In Normal mode, the ride is still mostly agreeable, but Sport mode is rather firm and best reserved for the smoothest roads.
However, we don’t think the DCC is worth paying extra for; the standard fixed suspension strikes a reasonable balance between firmness and comfort, providing a supple ride on most surfaces. The Passat is a comfortable motorway cruiser and, while things get a bit lumpier on uneven urban roads, it’s never jarring or irritating. We recommend sticking to the smaller 17in wheels where possible, though; the larger wheels might look great, but they don’t do the Passat’s ride any favours, making potholes and larger bumps more pronounced.
With the regular non-adjustable suspension, grip levels are high, but the Passat never feels agile or involving. The optional adaptive suspension allows a fair bit of pitch and dive from the body when set in Comfort mode, but Normal keeps things taut enough. The Sport setting makes the car more uncomfortable rather than more entertaining, though.
The 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine can be chosen with 4Motion four-wheel drive (the top-spec 237bhp diesel engine gets it as standard). However, the system is better described as helping the car to feel secure and planted than genuinely sporty, so those looking for fun behind the wheel should consider a BMW 3 Series or Alfa Romeo Giulia instead. If it’s traction and agility on rough roads and rutted tracks that you’re after, though, the four-wheel-drive Passat Alltrack might be worth a look.
Noise and vibration
Compared with the Mazda 6, BMW 3 Series or Audi A4’s diesel engines, the Passat’s 1.6 TDI diesel engine is gruff. Although the bigger 2.0 TDI is better, it still sounds comparatively boomy and clattery at low revs – the powerful twin-turbo BiTDI unit more so. By comparison, the petrol engine makes much less of a fuss and only starts to sound strained when worked hard. There’s very little wind or road noise at higher speeds, but bear in mind that the bigger optional wheels produce more noticeable roar from the road.
Whichever engine you opt for, if it's hooked up to the dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it'll be frustratingly jerky in stop-start traffic or when you're nudging back and forth into a parking space. In these circumstances, the manual gearbox is much better, with its light shift action and well-defined clutch biting point. You can change gear manually with the automatic ’box, too, using the small paddles behind the steering wheel, but, while the gearbox responds obediently to your commands this way, using the paddles doesn’t really make it any smoother. You might also notice that the brake pedal feels a bit spongy. The brakes themselves work smoothly and efficiently, but you need a strong right leg to keep the pedal engaged when stuck in traffic.