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 more true of the longer-geared Bluemotion version of the 1.6 TDI (confusingly, the standard engine is also badged Bluemotion Tech). You’ll be changing down a gear regularly, and it’s also quite easy to accidentally stall, which is why we favour the marginally less efficient but more enjoyable standard 1.6 if economy or company car tax is your priority.
We’d recommend the gutsier 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel. 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.
If you prefer petrol power, there are three options: a 1.4-litre with 123bhp or 148bhp, a 1.8-litre with 178bhp and a 2.0-litre 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 as it needs to be revved fairly hard to get you up to speed. With that in mind, we’d avoid the lower-powered version.
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. We have yet to try the 2.0.
All Passats bar the Bluemotion can be had with an automatic gearbox – a six or seven-speeder depending on the engine. The range-topping 236bhp twin-turbo 2.0 BiTDI gets a seven-speed automatic gearbox as standard. This top-end diesel version feels genuinely fast, helped by the quick-shifting gearbox, while four-wheel drive means traction is superb.