Volkswagen Passat saloon performance
The 1.6-litre diesel is what you might term adequate. It has enough guts to attain a motorway cruise or get you away from the lights effectively, but relatively steadily. You'll have to change down often and work it pretty hard to get up to speed with any great vigour, which is why we favour a bit more power.
The gutsier 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel provides just that. It’s punchy enough to offer satisfying pace and easier overtaking, plus its willingness to pull from low revs makes it more relaxing to drive. So much so that, unless you're a real speed demon, it’s not worth paying the extra for the 188bhp version.
You can go further if you want, of course, with the range-topping 236bhp twin-turbo 2.0 BiTDI diesel. This feels genuinely fast and, thanks its standard four-wheel drive’s added traction, even slippery surfaces don't curtail it greatly.
If you prefer petrol power, there's only one choice: a 1.5-litre with 148bhp. In most circumstances it provides all the performance you might need, revving out keenly and feeling sprightly. However, if you find yourself trying to overtake on a steep hill or pulling a car full of people and paraphernalia, then you'll rue not having the extra mid-range slug of a diesel.
Most Passats come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto 'box an option (or standard on the more powerful variants). The auto can dither slightly from a standing start but, once you're rolling, snaps eagerly up and down its gears and kicks down promptly.
Volkswagen Passat saloon ride
The Passat is softly sprung as standard making it a comfortable motorway cruiser. It's a bit lumpier on scruffy urban roads, but never jarring or uncomfortable. We recommend sticking to smaller 17in wheels where possible, though, because while the larger allots may look great, they don’t do the ride any favours.
Most versions we’ve tried have been fitted with optional adaptive dampers that have three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Comfort mode does a rather good job of ironing out all but the sharpest and nastiest ridges and keeping things smooth and wafty over bigger bumps; on patchy motorways it's also supreme. Even in Normal mode the ride is still mostly agreeable, but the firmest Sport mode is best reserved for the smoothest roads.
Volkswagen Passat saloon handling
All models from SE Business trim upwards have a drive mode button, using which you can alter the weight of the steering, the responsiveness of the accelerator and, if fitted, the behaviour of the adaptive dampers or automatic gearbox. In its default setting, the Passat’s steering is consistently weighted and accurate, giving you the confidence to exploit its prodigious front-end grip.
We wouldn’t bother with the optional variable-ratio steering rack. Although it means you don't have to turn the steering wheel as much at parking speeds – it's just two turns lock-to-lock – at higher speeds it's less natural-feeling in corners than the standard set-up.
On regular, non-adjustable suspension, the Passat is most definitely geared towards comfort. Grip levels are high but it never feels agile or involving. The optional adaptive dampers allow a fair bit of pitch and dive from the body in Comfort mode, while Normal keeps things taut enough. The Sport setting simply makes the car more uncomfortable rather than more entertaining.
Even the 236bhp four-wheel-drive model leans more towards feeling stable than genuinely sporty, so those looking for fun behind the wheel need to look towards a Ford Mondeo or BMW 3 Series instead.
The inexpensive optional XDS electronic differential on front-wheel-drive models is worth a look. It helps to prevent the car from washing wide under power out of corners, making it feel a bit more responsive on country roads.
Volkswagen Passat saloon refinement
Compared to a Mazda 6 or Audi A4 diesel, the Passat 1.6 TDI is gruff, and even though the 2.0 TDI is better, it still sounds comparatively boomy – the twin-turbo BiTDI unit more so – and clattery at low revs. As you might expect the petrol is much better. Whatever 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. The manual gearbox is much better, with a light change action and defined clutch bite point.
Elsewhere the Passat is very quiet. Any engine noise fades into the background at motorway speeds, where you'll also discover very little wind or road noise, making it feel more aligned to the premium competition than noisier cruisers from the mainstream, such as the Vauxhall Insignia. Bear in mind, however, that bigger wheels produce more tyre roar.