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19 Sep, 2019 12:45pm James Brodie
Have updates made the popular Volkswagen Passat better than ever? We hit the road to find out…
A small nip and tuck to the evergreen Passat isn’t really the biggest Volkswagen news of 2019, but it’s one that holds significance to British business buyers. This is a popular company car and motorway mile-muncher, and almost four out of every five Passats leaving UK Volkswagen forecourts are accounted for by fleet sales, not private customers.
That’s why there’s a heavily updated plug-in hybrid model with tiny company car tax, but it’s also a reason why the Passat retains a wide diesel line-up, ensuring a lot of choice for long-distance drivers. There’s an all-new 2.0-litre diesel with 148bhp and clever cylinder deactivation technology, while there’s also a hot 237bhp bi-turbo model. Somewhere in the middle resides this, the 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI.
Driven here in less popular saloon format (sales between estate and saloon Passats are split around 2:1), the design remains fairly restrained in a class becoming ever more obsessed with sporty looks, though a racier-looking R-Line trim exists and ought to be popular. Tweaked bumpers front and rear, a slightly retouched grille, new paint and alloy wheel choices, new tail-lights and new Passat lettering are all you’ll find on the outside, but these subtle differences add up, and it’s clear to see that this is a refreshed car.
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Changes on the inside major on trying to make the Passat feel more modern. There’s some new trim and finish, plus a new steering wheel, the analogue clock mounted on the dashboard has been removed, the infotainment has been updated with a sharp and slick eight-inch screen standard across all models, and an 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is now available across a wide slice of the range, though only through a costly option pack.
The additions are minor but regardless, the Passat still feels like a modern and meticulously bolted together car once you climb aboard. It climbs no further up the ladder from a quality perspective and it’s still not quite a match for an Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Jaguar XE or BMW 3 Series for luxury. But placed within the context of its true rivals, it feels on the money; perhaps only a nicely specced Mazda 6 can be considered plusher inside for the cash.
Space in the cabin can be considered good up front and par for the course in the rear, given that the large transmission tunnel cuts into the middle seat. However, those after the looks of the saloon won’t be too disheartened with the boot, given its healthy 586-litre size.
Much like the Golf, the Passat remains a car that’s easy to drive above all else. There’s plenty of adjustability in the seat and steering wheel, so getting comfortable is a doddle. The controls are nicely weighted, the steering itself is positive enough despite the absence of feedback, and the performance of the 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit goes without question. It’s capable of 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and few buyers will find they need more than this; indeed, many may prefer to save money with the 148bhp TDI option.
Summoning the 400Nm torque while on the move doesn’t happen quite as quickly as you’d like, though. The DSG transmission, while a smooth shifter, feels a little languid in its responsiveness, and it could be quicker to respond to kickdown. Telltale diesel clatter and road noise are there but they’re not overly intrusive, and wind noise is impressively quelled, making this an easy-going option for motorway monotony. A 66-litre fuel tank, paired with claimed mixed economy of 49.7mpg, means that in theory at least, the Passat is capable of 720 miles between fills. In real-world terms, expect around 600 miles between trips to the pumps.
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However, one less relaxing oddity about our test car was the ride quality. The Passat has never been a family saloon with a harsh edge, and even with plenty of rubber surrounding the standard 17-inch wheels on our SEL grade car, there was something amiss with the way the Passat handled the mixed road surfaces we drove it on. There was no crashiness, but it was keen to pick up vibrations, transmitted through the seat and up through the steering wheel, suggesting some damper work could be done.
What looks likely to pull buyers towards the Passat is the technology and new driver assistance features introduced on this Mk8 facelift. The big news is the addition of VW’s ‘Travel Assist’ semi-autonomous driver aid, which is standard kit across the line-up. It works with an updated adaptive cruise control system and lane assist to assist braking, acceleration and steering on motorway style roads, right up to speeds of 130mph. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto arrive too, while elsewhere, SEL cars feature pinpoint-sharp navigation, voice control, a three-year subscription to VW We Connect remote services and add luxuries such as leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Running costs will dictate a huge amount of Passat purchases though, not the trinkets, and while even this 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel won’t cost a lot to run the taxman won’t take it easy on company car buyers. 31 per cent BIK is steep, while the plug-in hybrid GTE saloon – which carries a £4,000 premium on list price – takes on a 16 per cent rate. It has more kit, more power and better economy, and depending on how much tax you pay in the first place, you could have it for the same outlay if the sums work in your favour.
3.5 The Volkswagen Passat will appeal to company car buyers keen on driver assistance technology and premium appeal, and it remains spacious, practical and easy to drive. However, you should do the maths to work out if diesel or plug-in petrol power is your best bet financially, because the two propulsion technologies have really hit a crossover point on buying costs and taxation bills. Some may find spending more initially on the plug-in GTE model works out cheaper in the long run.
- Model: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 190 PS SEL DSG
- Price: £32,270
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel
- Power/torque: 187bhp/400Nm
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
- 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
- Top speed: 147mph
- Economy/CO2: 49.7mpg/117g/km
- On sale: Now