Volkswagen Passat saloon performance
The 1.6-litre diesel is adequate even at a high-speed cruise, although you do have to work it quite hard if you want decent acceleration. This is even truer of the longer-geared Bluemotion version of the 1.6 TDI (confusingly, the standard engine is badged Bluemotion Tech). You’ll be changing down a gear regularly, and it’s also quite easy to accidentally stall, so that's why we favour the marginally less efficient but more enjoyable standard 1.6 if fuel economy is your priority.
We’d recommend the gutsier 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, though. It’s punchy enough to offer satisfying pace and easy overtaking, and it pulls willingly from low revs, so it’s not worth paying the extra for the 188bhp version of this engine unless you really value strong acceleration.
There’s also the range-topping 236bhp twin-turbo 2.0 BiTDI, which feels genuinely fast, helped by a quick-shifting automatic gearbox, while four-wheel drive means traction is superb.
If you prefer petrol power, there are four options: a 1.4 with 123bhp or 148bhp, a 1.8 with 178bhp and a 2.0 with 217bhp. The 148bhp 1.4 isn’t outright fast, but it is deliciously smooth, transmitting almost no vibrations back into the car. It's also quiet, which is handy since it needs to be revved fairly hard to get you up to speed. With that in mind, we’d avoid the lower-powered version of that same engine.
The 1.8 feels significantly more muscular, pulling strongly from low engine speeds. Rev the engine harder and the Passat feels quite brisk; we doubt it would struggle even with five people on board. While it’s also smooth and quiet, it is quite a bit thirstier and sits in a higher company car tax bracket.
Finally, there’s the 2.0 petrol; if you’re looking for something quick but also effortless, this engine, with its strong, linear power delivery, will satisfy you.
All Passats bar the Bluemotion model can be had with an automatic gearbox – a six or seven-speed depending on the engine. The the top-end diesel gets a seven-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
Volkswagen Passat saloon ride
The Passat is softly sprung as standard, making it a comfortable motorway cruiser. It isn't quite so good on scruffy urban roads, but it’s never jarring or uncomfortable. While large flashy wheels may look good, they don’t do the ride any favours.
Most versions we’ve tried have been fitted with optional adaptive shock absorbers, which have three modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport. Even Comfort doesn’t quite iron out the unsettled ride over crumbling town roads, but it does keep things smooth and suitably 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 BiTDI model is heavier than other Passats and comes with large wheels, so you get a bit more thump over bumps. A slightly lowered ride height on the Bluemotion model also results in it being firmer over expansion joints and potholes than the standard car, although generally any Passat makes for a settled, easygoing motorway cruiser.
Volkswagen Passat saloon handling
All models from SE Business trim upwards have driving modes that alter the weight of the steering and the responsiveness of the accelerator and, if fitted, the adaptive shock absorbers and the automatic gearbox. Regardless of the setting, the Passat’s steering is consistently weighted and accurate, and there’s lots of front-end grip.
On the standard non-adjustable suspension, the Passat is most definitely geared towards comfort. Grip levels are high but it never feels agile or involving. Optional adaptive dampers are available but you’ll still notice a fair bit of pitch and dive from the body in Comfort mode, whereas Normal keeps things taut enough. The Sport setting simply makes the car more uncomfortable rather than more entertaining.
We wouldn’t bother with the optional variable-ratio steering rack. Although it means you have to turn the wheel less in tight corners, it doesn’t really bring any great benefit over the effective standard set-up.
The inexpensive optional XDS electronic differential on front-wheel-drive models is worth a look, though. It helps to prevent the car from washing wide in corners, making it feel a bit more responsive on country roads.
However, even the 236bhp four-wheel-drive model leans more towards feeling stable than genuinely sporty; no Passat is really invigorating to drive, and you’ll have more fun in a Ford Mondeo, BMW 3 Series or Audi A3 saloon.
Volkswagen Passat saloon refinement
The 2.0-litre diesel engines are a little gruff at low revs, and the twin-turbo unit is noisier than the lower-powered versions when revved hard, but otherwise the Passat is refined, especially with one of the smooth petrol engines under the bonnet. Engine, wind and road noise all fade into the background at motorway speeds, leaving you nicely cocooned from the outside world. True, models on 18in and larger wheels generate some road noise over rough surfaces, but it’s not bad enough to seriously disturb you.
There’s not too much mechanical vibration, while versions with a manual gearbox have a light and precise gearshift and clutch action. Opt for one of the automatics and you’ll find it smooth on the move but occasionally jerky in stop-start traffic and when manoeuvring.