First drive: 2016 Volkswagen Passat in the UAE
The Americanised Volkswagen Passat has been around since 2012, when it caused a few ripples by separating from the smaller European Passat and transforming into a larger car with class-leading space for a midsize sedan. Since then, it’s been a bit muted in public minds, but this timely facelift for 2016 should see it garnering some interest again, with some new features.
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.
Inside, the 2016 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 new infotainment system that features a capacitive touchscreen with swipe functionality, USB and Bluetooth as standard equipment. 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 hard plastic panels. As for space, it still feels like there’s more volume in the back seat than any other midsizer, aside from a massive boot.
Aside from the usual set of front/side/curtain airbags, ABS and ESP, available safety features now include the “Automatic Post-Collision Braking System” that hits the brakes on a car 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.
The base Passat S comes with 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, cruise control, manual a/c, and front-rear parking sensors. The Passat SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps with static cornering lights, leather wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror and rearview camera. The Passat SEL includes dual-zone auto a/c, Fender sound system with subwoofer, and LED headlights and taillights. The Passat Sport has 18-inch alloys, leather sport seats, navigation and a feature to keylessly open the boot by moving your foot under the bumper.
We last drove the VW Passat in Jordan more than three years ago. 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 is none of VW’s usual complicated DSG automanuals or manic turbo engines here, so it drives without any quirkiness.
Acceleration is fairly adequate from an engine that has a rather unique baritone note at high revs. The gearbox is never confused, and always in the right gear. There is no real need for the “sport” mode in the shifter in regular driving.
The highway ride is smooth for the most part, soaking up speed bumps and potholes with ease, yet not ever feeling floaty. It is about as quiet as the others in this class of cars. In fact, it’s about as smooth as a Jaguar XJ, except that the VW does it without using any adaptive suspension gimmickry.
The handling is pretty good for a car with no sporting pretensions. Our SEL test car rode on 17-inchers wrapped in 235-width rubber, so grip is very good, as we found out in a little handling course set up for us in a parking lot. 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.
The brakes are good too, with good pedal feel. The steering was oddly heavy at parking speeds, lightening up to a good weight only once the car got moving, although with minimal feedback on offer.
Overall, the VW Passat is a very competent offering 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.
For prices and specs, visit the Volkswagen Passat buyer guide.