First drive: 2012 Volkswagen Passat in Jordan
The all-new Passat is a big car for Volkswagen. And by ‘big’, we mean both importance as well as size. The larger 2012 Passat is now shipped in from their new United States factory, and we were shipped to Jordan for a test-drive as well as a mini-vacation at a Dead Sea resort.
The all-expenses-paid trip saw us taking a business-class flight to Amman, where we were transferred to a hotel lot next door and put into a fleet of 2012 VW Passat sedans. There were several variants, but they all looked largely the same. Not that the Passat is a looker anyway, but there is nothing to point at and complain either. It was designed to be inoffensive.
The real big news is the interior. VW claims their American Passat’s cabin volume is class-leading, and we aren’t going to argue. It is massive on the inside. It is at least as spacious as the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, if not more. With VW’s new cost-cutting initiative, the trim materials didn’t suffer much either. While there are now more hard plastics than the European version, it is still cushier than the Camry, with a soft-touch dash and upper door sills, as well as padded door inserts and armrests, both front and back, with lots of pockets and enough cup-holders.
We drove off towards the Kempinski Dead Sea Resort, left to fend for ourselves with an iPad map and the comfort that most road signs were in English. The way there consisted of hilly town roads, mostly free-flowing with not much traffic and few signals. The weather in the morning was on the warm side, but our a/c was coping well.
The 170 hp 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine is fairly adequate for its class. Mated to a 6-speed automatic, it never feels particularly fast, but casual driving was handled without having to rev the nuts off it all the time, even on the steeper inclines. Speed limits are a ridiculous 60 kph on most roads, rising to 90 kph at most on rural roads. Speed enforcement is unusually strict, with speed cameras spread all over the place, cops flagging you down on the road, making you pay up on the spot, and police cars waiting to chase you if you run. In fact, we actually got pulled over once for doing a little over 100 kph rolling down a hill, but we talked ourselves out of it by acting like ignorant tourists who didn’t understand what the policeman was saying.
On Jordan’s uneven roads, the ride was occasionally a little bumpy but we had nothing to complain about most of the time. Wind and road noise never reached annoying levels, but then again, we barely ever cracked 100 kph for obvious reasons.
After crossing a police checkpoint to get into the coastal area, we eventually hit some serious mountain roads, well-paved and going up and down very steeply, where we go to explore the handling limits of the Passat. The limits aren’t particularly high, but perfectly adequate. Long before the tyres get into serious squealing in turns, the stability control kicks in and slows you down. Body roll is moderate, but never floaty. But sudden steering-wheel inputs seem to induce understeer rather that swinging the tail, hinting that the car was intentionally tuned for safe handling rather than precision movements. It is very different from VW’s usual European fare.
The Passat managed the surprisingly steep slopes without much of a struggle, albeit slowly but steadily, and we were rewarded by stunning views of the Dead Sea and the troubled lands on the other side of the water. As a car, this VW doesn’t really have any obvious flaws that we could point out, considering the kind of people it is aimed at.
And that really sums up the 2012 Volkswagen Passat. It hits all the right notes to compete with the segment stalwarts, and is priced to match. The VW Jetta was the carmaker’s first attack on a mainstream segment, although we weren’t too convinced by their compact attempt, but the Passat is a much more credible entry to do battle in the midsize market.