So far this year, Volkswagen has already registered 5,373 units of the Passat. Only the Insignia is keeping pace with it (5,175), with the premium trio of A4, 3 Series and C-Class following (A4, 3 Series and C-Class). 508 and Mondeo are already far behind, with half as many registrations as the Volkswagen car, while Citroën's C5 has barely 600 units registered this year, being a shadow of what it came to mean in our market.
So while the segment is in danger in our market (none of its representatives is in the top 20 best-selling cars), sales continue to support the Passat, which took the baton of command years ago to not let go.
Curiously, the Passat, despite already having its years on top, maintained its position of dominance until the end of the useful life of the previous generation, to be renewed for this year with a new platform and a lot of new features that place it as a sensible alternative to the "aspirational" cars. But apart from taking it for granted that it's an excellent transport tool, does it offer anything else? We spent a week with it to find out, before Dani tells you about a long-distance driving experience with it in a separate feature.
Expecting great aesthetic novelties in the Passat was like expecting to see Pablo Alboran doing a remix with Pit Bull while David Guetta does the chords: Improbable.
The team from Wolfsburg has taken the same path already known in the company: to create a car that is instantly recognizable as a Volkswagen, as a Passat to be more specific, giving value to the "fine" work of detail, the care for the fit and the game with small ornaments.
So following this starting point, the car starts with a front end marked by the horizontality of its lines, dominated by a grille that goes into the headlights. That set of extra width is combined with the proportions of the car (marginally shorter than before, but wider and lower) to "throw it more to the ground" and give a sense of "more power".
The side line is typically Passat. It has a front wing marked with the muscle that hugs the wheel, from which a line of ascending style that runs along the entire body just at the height of the door handles. This line plays with an excellent sheet metal work: the part that is above it, which makes the shoulder, is concave, reflecting light, while the bottom creates a strong shadow.
Particularly remarkable is the radius of this style line. Without wanting to get into Volkswagen's game of paying too much attention to these details (because in the end it is the whole that really matters), the truth is that even the less trained eye will notice that the radius is curious, which is one of the lowest seen in the industry, demonstrating the worked and controlled production process of the car, and that gives it that touch of "I do not know why, but it gives me the feeling of well done, of quality".
The C-pillar is thinner than before. The cut of the rear door window follows the typical shapes of the Passat, and is unmistakable, but the fall of the roof, the height of the same and the thickness of the aforementioned C-pillar make the car has an extra dynamic touch. Curious is also how the arches of the wheel arches are concave, and not straight, as is typical in any car, playing with light and wanting to mark more the position of the wheels.
Without much more history or ornament we come to the rear, where the tailgate and headlights play smoothed style released by the Phaeton quite a few years ago, and where horizontal lines again dominate, even in the graphics of the rear lights, to return to emphasize width and feeling of "lying on the road.
All in all, it's not a daring, shocking or captivating car. It doesn't make you turn your head, which is not helped by the serious colour scheme chosen. It is clear that the typical customer of these cars is not looking for that, so we think this is a sensible choice. In addition, the fit between panels, the set of spokes in the different parts (see how the styling rib is born in the front wing, for example, or how this is aligned with micrometric adjustment between tailgate, rear wing and headlight), make you have that feeling, as I said above, of "well executed car in the styling plan".
While well executed, it's not a car that will make you turn your head to look at it twice as you drive away.
Anyway, no matter how well made it is, it's still a car "no one will dislike", but I doubt anyone will buy it for its looks. In that respect, the Insignia, the second pupil of the D-segment class, even though it's been on the market for years, I think it still beats it for being bold, daring, different, dynamic...
And if on the outside the Passat "is still a Passat", inside it's something similar. The interior design master plan is the same as in the last generation, conveniently updated to the new technologies.
The two biggest new features on this front come from the new visual trim element, in the form of a faux air vent connecting the two air vents in front of the passenger, which serves as a visual break between the top and bottom of the dashboard, and the new all-digital instrument cluster, which continues to spread across every new VAG product that appears, and will eventually colonise all segments.
There's room for a classic analogue clock in the centre of the dashboard, but otherwise, there's nothing surprising in execution or design, retaining the functionalist touch that dominates Volkswagen in all aspects of life.
What does represent an evolution is the materials section. Not because they were bad before, but now there is more room for soft plastics in much of the dashboard (only the center console is spared in its lower part). There are fewer buttons scattered around the car, and the new infotainment system, which we debuted in the Golf 7 years ago, continues to evolve for the better. It's tactile (although the voice command system works really well), has hardly any glare from the sun, and doesn't get lost even if you touch it extensively.
The interior follows the typical Volkswagen design, executed with good materials and integrating the sensational digital instrument panel.
The front seats are a joy. In the test unit we had ergonomic ones that are optional in other trims, with heating, ventilation and massage. I can't think of a better place to spend long hours of work on the road, as they hold the body well, are "just" hard enough not to fatigue you, and they pick you up in the ideal position. The ventilation, especially these summer days, is great to avoid back sweating. The massage, however, is not very successful, acting only with the inflatable cushion of the lumbar support system, inflating it to the top and deflating it, which does not seem to me the best way to take care of my back. I tried it a couple of times and didn't repeat.
Front space and driving position are perfect, as is the visibility, there's nothing more to say here. The clock display? It looks great. VAG says the one in the Passat is a cheaper variant than the one used in Lamborghini's Huracán and used in the Audi TT as well. You can't see the difference in quality (in my opinion), and I think it's a great idea because of the amount of information that can be seen. The browser, in its traditional position, is somewhat low, so being able to have it repeated behind the steering wheel is very good. Of course, you have to learn all the options well and have the menus under control, instead of playing with the box on the road, or you'll get lost. It's easy to learn, it's all very intuitive, and in two days you'll have it in your hand, but I repeat: you learn while standing still, not driving...
Forgetting about the front seats, we move on to the rear seats to find a pleasant surprise. The Passat has grown in wheelbase considerably, which gives it the most generous rear seats in the segment. Here it beats the three premium cars and Opel's Insignia. The headroom, although this "falls" by the external design of the car, is still respectable, playing among the best in the category, and you can only miss some width if you ride three adults, which is not typical.
Things as they are: If you are going to assiduously use the rear seats, especially with adults, this is the D-segment to buy, if you are looking for comfort back there. The fact that it also has independent air conditioning for the rear area, with its dedicated air diffusers, only adds one more point in its favour.
Rear seats and trunk place it as a leader in its segment, although access to the trunk is complicated, and I would bet before the Variant than the sedan for it.
Trunk? With 586 liters available, it's the largest in the segment. It's cavernous like few others, and you'll rarely need more space than it offers. The fundamental problem is the load opening. It's the way it is: Three-body sedans have an intrinsic advantage: they're more rigid in their chassis than a hatchback. The sheet metal that joins the sides of the body just behind the headrests makes the monocoque considerably more solid. But it does complicate life if you're going to stuff bulky objects in the back.
Although there is room to stop a regiment, I tried to do the weekly shopping with the dwarf at home. Getting the stroller "in there" presented a considerable challenge, especially dragging it all the way to the back to make room for the other stuff I wanted to carry, which meant dragging it out when we got home.
On that note, if you're "one of me" who's going to load big stuff into the car, and you want easy access to the boot, to get things in "upright", I'd strongly recommend you opt for the family variant. The boot is marginally bigger (650 litres), but the advantage is not in the space (I really doubt anyone needs that much as normal), but the ease of loading and unloading things without straining your back. Is the body less torsionally rigid? Probably, but you're not going to go to the Col de Turini to set the fastest time of the special stage in the Passat and beat Ogier, are you?
The car's platform is the VAG Group's familiar MQB modular platform, ubiquitous in all its new front-engine transverse models.
The Passat makes its debut on VAG's modular front-transverse engine platform, the MQB. Yes, it's related to the Golf, but it pulls modularity to create a completely different car in proportions, much bigger.
In the test unit we had the engine that is to become the star of the current range, the two-litre, 150bhp TDI, paired with the six-speed DSG gearbox and front-wheel drive only, although all-wheel drive can be ordered on request.
The chassis has McPherson struts at the front axle, with a multi-link rear. The springs are coil springs "of all life", but optionally, in the test unit, you can have magnetorheological damping that changes its properties depending on a selector in the cabin.
The car is lighter than before, more rigid, safer... Everything you can expect from the evolution of the species with the generational change, and integrates (or can integrate, depending on options) a thousand and one technological extras to make life more comfortable. From intelligent LED headlights that follow the curves to automatic lane keeping assist, active cruise control, automated parking system or automated boot lid.
Nothing is missing on this front, and it really has nothing to envy in these extras to the equipment of premium sedans, which is where they used to play with the advantage and the difference.
And we come to the fateful aspect when it comes to assessing a car: how it drives. We have already seen on paper that "it has everything" to be the ultimate transport appliance for workers who spend many hours on the road or executives who also want to use the car for their family life.
Starting the car gives way to a very quiet diesel engine that barely disturbs the cabin, although there are quieter and smoother cars with a cold engine (remember the other day I told you that the Cherokee surprised by its soundproofing? well, it would beat the Passat on that front).
Despite its size, in the city you feel comfortable with it.
Despite being almost 4.8 metres long, driving in the street is no problem with the new Passat, which in the city, accompanied by the DSG gearbox and a very successful Start&Stop, is a perfect companion, which also barely shows any thirst for diesel (we averaged 6.5 litres per 100 km in the city, compared to the 5.3 promised by the manufacturer). You do notice that the DSG gearbox plays a bit strangely from time to time. There is the occasional jerk from a standstill that surprised us markedly, accustomed to the extreme smoothness of the Passat.
The reason behind this problem is that the TDI engine has very concentrated torque from almost 2,000 revs per minute, so the horsepower comes in droves when you go from standstill to a certain speed, so the throttle response is not linear or progressive, but the car pushes a little bit first to push a lot more all at once. The petrol is smoother in that respect, and can give you an advantage there.
But it's not in the city that Passats tend to spend their useful life, it's on the open road. In that environment, with the suspension in "comfort" mode and all other settings set to the same setting on the mode selector to the left of the gear lever, the Passat becomes a magic carpet, passing bumps and potholes without flinching. The wheels follow the profile of the road while the body is perfectly suspended and our body is not fatigued at all.
With the active cruise control, the lane following assistant and good music you can spend half your life like this without accumulated fatigue. The only downside we've found here is the car's stubbornness when, after overtaking a car, you want to return to your lane, as the blind spot detector wants you to leave many (but many) metres in front of the car you've just overtaken, and tries to avoid moving the steering wheel to prevent you from returning "to your place". Yes, you can deactivate the lane assist to avoid this problem, but it would be enough to tweak the settings a bit, because it's not about going 300 meters in the opposite lane in every overtaking to leave two truckloads of safety distance to the car you've overtaken.
On the open road, in comfort mode, it's like a flying carpet over the bumps, filtering everything out without breaking up the trajectory or bothering your kidneys.
In this kind of driving and circumstances you can get around five litres and some consumption, with a gearbox that works very smoothly, and an engine that, accompanied by the DSG, is always ready to back you up on overtakes, with an 80-120 "foot to the floor" of seven and a half seconds. In our scoring system, this measure, coupled with 0-60 in 8.7 seconds, gives it 24 points for performance, a respectable figure for a family car that has our approval for overtaking and merging. Seeing the results with this engine, we will tell you that we think it has the right power and torque for this type of car, and that opting for a less powerful one would condition that ease when overtaking that had the test unit, so I would establish as a basis this 150 horses to assess the purchase of a Passat.
And if we start going fast? Here things get complicated. The car, yes, had the "Sport trim," but that doesn't mean it's a sports car, as it quickly proved. We'd always found our previous experience with MQB platform cars to be satisfactory, with noses always keen to get into corners and chassis behaviour that was neutral and exemplary, if perhaps a little uncommunicative.
We knew that with the Passat and its generous wheelbase things would be a little different, but perhaps a little too different, in my opinion at least.
We switched to "sport" mode on the car's "personality" selector. The dampers become more restrictive in their movements, the steering gains too much stiffness (excessive by all accounts), but not an iota of available grip information is gained, the gearbox is put into sport mode, and the throttle response becomes more forceful, less linear: slight ankle movements achieve big throttle load changes.
It's clear that the car doesn't lack engine, but the first braking on our test pass (very fast, with good asphalt), makes us notice that the weight transfer to the nose is slowed down. We put the steering wheel in and we notice that the steering is too heavy, as I said above. The car goes to the apex, but again it's slow in its progression towards the support. Giving gas is child's play, as there's more than enough power.
Even if you choose the "Sport" mode, the springs are what they are, they are too soft, and although the shock absorbers slow down the body, the car takes a long time to lean or to attack the entrance of the corner with its nose.
The gearbox, in sport mode, makes "a mess", as they say, because it tries to take the engine in its good zone, but sometimes it gets stuck in the corners, leaving the engine low while you are traveling towards the apex to then suddenly remove many gears when you ask for gas to get out of the curve. In manual mode part of the problem is solved, although it is far from being that DSG of incredible speed, as the reductions are not always done when you command it, but sometimes it takes its time between asking for them and doing them (then the change, in itself, is fast, the time passes between hitting the cam and performing the operation).
Small bumps in the line make the car eat them but it's too dry with this damping setup. They won't move you off the line exaggeratedly, but it's like having too little suspension travel. It's not convincing.
But why this problem with the suspension? Well, for a technically logical reason. Volkswagen wanted to have a "magic carpet" suspension in comfort mode, so it has opted for relatively soft springs that are great when you're travelling quietly. When you want to go hard, play with mass transfer, attack corners, you can choose to restrict the movement of the dampers, but the springs remain the same, soft. By restricting the damping in "sport" mode what you do is slow down the speed at which the wheels can move, which avoids pitching and wobbling, but physics is what it is, and with that spring configuration (which is where the car ultimately rests), the Passat takes a while to reach the right support in a corner, or the "final" pitching under braking.
This conditions the driving pleasure. It would be necessary to test the car with standard suspension, as it may be more successful in these circumstances, since, in my opinion and taste, the combination in "sport mode" of such a soft spring with so restrictive damping is wrong, and gives the feeling of being badly tuned.
In any case, if you're not the kind of person who attacks the mountain passes "eagerly" expecting the car to go like a sharpshooter, leaning from left to right almost instantaneously, the Passat won't displease you in cornering either. It's not clumsy like a Citroën C5 might be, even if it's close to its comfort. In fact, of the generalists, only two cars strike me as more agile in corners: the Mazda6 (we'll bring you their test in a couple of weeks), and the Mondeo, both of which manage to make their body movements flow better in corners, albeit at the cost of losing a modicum of comfort.
Now it's time to draw conclusions. You may be left with a bad taste in your mouth by these last paragraphs, but don't let a small detail make you lose sight of the whole picture.
As a transport appliance from point A to point B, with cargo space and space in the back row of seats, with comfort, technological equipment and energy efficiency, the Passat is among the best in its class, without a doubt. If I have to judge it among the generalists and compare it, I will tell you that right now it is far ahead in everything or almost everything of the Insignia. With respect to the Mondeo, things get complicated, being two very even cars, the Passat is more comfortable, with an extra dynamic touch for the Mondeo (but not much, it's not a Fiesta ST). The Mazda6 offers the best body movement control in the segment, but in interior trim, infotainment equipment and pure comfort it's a step behind the one from Wolfsburg.
And as an alternative to a premium? That's where it gets complicated. When it comes to leasing for company cars, justifying a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz does not come from the attributes of the car itself, but from the lower devaluation that these three brands have compared to a Passat, which depreciates more, which means that at the same starting price, a "premium" is better financially.
But if we get the leasing issue out of the way, and we think with private money in our pockets, it is clear that for 35,000 euros more or less (the Passat of the test costs just under 37,000 euros), the Volkswagen comes much more equipped than a premium, since for that rate you could barely reach the entry-level model.
It's clear that a 3 Series offers superior dynamic behaviour (and somewhat less comfort), but in terms of boot, rear seats and the price/car ratio you get (in terms of equipment) the generalists have much more to say, like this Passat. That's why sometimes it seems strange to see so many "premium" of the most basic access model being sold (yes, it's the leasing that justifies them).
Would I buy one of these Passats? Well, no. It certainly "does well everything it needs to do well", and for the right customer it's probably the most rational solution. But it's that problem, the reasoning problem, that kills it. She is the typical model student in class, who gets all A's and B's in high school, who is pretty in the face, but always goes unnoticed. She doesn't have sex appeal, nor a magnetic character, nor is she "someone who gets on your nerves". In the end she doesn't end up stealing your heart, and that's what happens to me with this car. It lacks character, personality, "something to talk about". Something to fall in love with.