– Limo-like cabin space
– Safe ride and handling
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Pricey high-trim models
– Heavy low-speed steering
– Some hard cabin plastics
The Volkswagen Passat got its last full redesign in 2012. However, that year marked the division between the European and American offerings bearing the same name, as the latter became a larger car with class-leading space for a midsize sedan, but also less sophisticated in terms of execution and features. The GCC market gets this American one. A minor facelift came in 2016, bringing with it some new features that were sorely lacking in the previous iteration.
The latest Passat gets several new pieces up front and in the back, with new headlights, optional LED headlights and tail lights, front fenders, bumpers, bonnet and boot lid. The overall look is still familiar and conservative, even with the 18-inch alloys on our “Sport” model. Lower-spec models get 16-inch steelies with covers and 17-inch alloys. An even higher-spec R-Line trim adds a body kit and fancier wheels.
Inside, the Passat has a mildly refreshed interior that includes a new steering wheel and a frameless rearview mirror as well as some faux-wood and metallic trim panels, aside from a less-cluttered new infotainment system. There are soft-touch surfaces on the dash-top, upper window sills and inserts, just about enough to keep it within class standards and to break up the numerous hard plastic panels. The headliner cloth extends all the way down the front A-pillars, which is a rarity in this price bracket.
In terms of space, it feels like there’s more volume in the back seat than any other midsizer. It feels even more airy with the beige leather upholstery in our tester. The Sport’s front seats are moderately bolstered, power-adjustable for the driver, while the rear bench split-folds to increase cargo room. Even the boot is massive, with bag hooks on the sides. There are several cover-less cup-holders and covered cubbies inside, as well as oddly-shaped door pockets that reduce their usefulness.
The base Passat S comes with cruise control, manual a/c, and front-rear parking sensors (the latter missing on all pre-facelift Passats). The Passat SE adds front fog lamps with static cornering lights, auto-dimming mirror and rearview camera, among other visual upgrades. The Passat SEL includes a decent dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents, a good Fender sound system with subwoofer, and LED headlights and taillights. Our Passat Sport also has navigation and a feature to keylessly open the boot by moving your foot under the bumper.
The new infotainment system features a responsive capacitive touchscreen with swipe functionality, USB and Bluetooth as standard equipment. More options pop up on the screen by just moving your hand near it. The graphics and monochrome interface harks back to decade-old VW systems though. There are two USB ports up front and one in the back. And there are enough physical buttons to not have to depend solely on the touchscreen for basic functions.
Aside from the usual set of front/side/curtain airbags, ABS and ESP as standard, available safety features now include the “Automatic Post-Collision Braking System” that hits the brakes and cuts off fuel in the event of an airbags-deployed accident to minimise the risk of rolling away after the initial impact, as well as a feature that pops open the boot automatically if you leave your key in there by mistake.
Still powered by a 170 hp 2.5-litre 5-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic and sending power to the front wheels, there are none of VW’s usual complicated DSG automanuals or manic turbo engines here, so it drives without any of the quirkiness found in European-built Golfs. Despite our 0-100 kph test time of 9.5 seconds with ESP on during our December afternoon test, acceleration feels fairly adequate from a responsive engine that has a rather unique baritone exhaust note at high revs. Low-end kick is decent, with short initial gear ratios. The gearbox is never confused, always in the right gear. There is no real need for the transmission’s “sport” mode in regular driving, but even that is pretty good at holding gears. Fuel consumption is above average, at 11.8 litres/100 km during our test.
The highway ride is comfortable for the most part, soaking up speed bumps and potholes with ease, yet not ever feeling floaty. In fact, it’s about as smooth as certain second-tier luxury cars such as those from Jaguar and Lexus, except that the VW does it without using any adaptive suspension gimmickry. With some road noise creeping in at 120 kph, it is about as quiet as others in its class such as the Camry and the Altima, but not as quiet as the Fusion and the Malibu.
The handling is pretty good for a car with no sporting pretensions. Our Sport came with 235/45 tyres on its 18-inch wheels (incidentally, 17-inchers also come with 235-width rubber), so grip is very good, with good body control and no floatiness. Body roll is minimal in moderately-quick driving, and while there is understeer at the limit when pushed, that limit is high enough for most typical buyers to never reach. However, there is no playfulness in the chassis tuning at all, so don’t expect to have fun like you would with the rotatable Mazda 6.
The brakes are good, with good pedal feel. But the steering is oddly heavy at parking speeds, lightening up to a good weight only once the car gets moving, with minimal feedback on offer. It’s an odd oversight in an otherwise-casual cruiser.
Overall, the VW Passat is a very competent if uninspiring entry in this segment. As long as you find the clean styling attractive, everything else is as good as its common Japanese rivals, bettering them in many cases, with a price that’s aimed directly at them. Prices increase exponentially once you option for the higher trim levels, so it is best to stick to the entry-level versions, as you get the same engine, space, comfort and basic safety features.
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