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Volkswagen Passat Test Drive

autos Updated: Jan 19, 2013 15:34 IST
Autocar India
Highlight Story

Though the Passat isn’t very different than the previous model, it still is a quite a leap forward.

Although Volkswagen refers to the new Passat as the seventh-generation model, it’s more accurate to describe it as a comprehensive refresh of the previous-generation Passat, rather than an all-new car. This explains why the new model looks rather similar to the previous one but yet the cosmetic changes are far reaching because every exterior panel, except for the roof, is new. The visual alterations bring the new Passat in line with VW’s latest corporate look which debuted with the Scirocco in 2008. The old car’s curves and circular lights have been replaced by crisp lines and more simplicity, the kind we’ve seen on all recent VWs. There’s also a clear visual link to the Phaeton, VW’s flagship saloon, to give the Passat a more upmarket image than before.

The prominent horizontal chrome strips in the grille make the Passat appear wider than it is and the VW badge which sits proudly is also distinctive. The thick bumper separates the grille from the air dam below and tucked away in the lower sides is a slim, rectangular fog lamp cluster which houses two lamps. A nice touch is the way the chrome bit that frames the fog lamps and the strips on the air dam comes together to mimic the front wing of a racing car.

The angular headlamps house bi-Xenon projector units and a string of LEDs to give the Passat a distinctive light signature and, when viewed from the front, the Passat looks quite attractive, if not striking. It’s when you look at the Passat from the side that it feels familiar but the bolder creases running across the length of the car and on the bonnet make the Passat look more sculpted than before.

The defining feature on the flanks is the sharp belt-line that starts at the headlamp, zips over the wheel arch, and cuts above the door handles all the way to the tail-lamp, never softening or slowing. The door aperture is the same as before but the sheet metal has been redesigned. This means the kink in the rear windows is retained and the silver strip surrounding the windows sets it off perfectly. Between the wheels, the car has grown a mere three millimetres while overall length has gone up by just 4mm but the Passat manages to look substantially bigger.

The smart-looking rearview mirrors have a sweptback design with built-in turn-signals. The rear has lost the rounded organic look of the previous Passat and the new wraparound design with a string of LEDs is another reference to the Phaeton. Two chrome strips — one on the boot lid lip and one lower down on the bumper — add some opulence to the design.

To improve refinement, VW has used special lamination on the front and rear windscreens that reduce noise. New engine mounts and sound deadening have been used to isolate the cabin further. However, what makes the Passat stand roof and fenders above its rivals is the sheer tech that’s packed into it. The Passat’s best party trick is VW’s Park Assist system which is quite an amazing driving experience. Activated by pressing a button on the centre console to specify either parallel or perpendicular, the Park Assist system detects a suitable space and then takes over the steering. All you have to do is take your hands off the wheel and operate the accelerator and brakes. It does take the hassle out of parking but it’s not entirely fool-proof and only works if you’ve lined up the car properly for the system to take over. Given the way other cars are parked and haphazard parking lots (seen in Delhi’s Connaught Place during office hours), you don’t always have the luxury of a perfect approach into a parking slot.

Other bits of tech include Dynamic Light Assist which lets you use the high-beam continuously by masking the full beam to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic. Attention Assist to alert drowsy drivers is another feature to debut in this class of car but we couldn’t quite fool it to get it to work.

The new Passat also comes with VW’s BlueMotion technology, which is essentially a collection of eco-saving tricks and tech to lower emissions and improve efficiency

Interior

The changes to Passat’s interiors are less dramatic and hence feel quite familiar. The clarity of the dashboard’s layout is just as good as before and the black top jutting over the mock wood horizontal band is similar to the older car. The instrumentation is easier to read and an analogue clock takes pride of place at the top of a redesigned centre console. The door trim is completely new as well. The top-of-the-line Highline version we tested comes with a keyless entry and gets a starter button next to the gear lever. That’s where you’ll now find the switch for the electronic parking brake too which has moved from the fiddly, dashboard-mounted location of the earlier car. Plastic quality is even better than before and the materials feel rich though some shiny bits are not upto the mark. However, for sheer craftsmanship, the Passat sets a new standard for its class.

The Highline variant comes with 12-way motorised adjustment, so it’s easy to find a comfortable seating position. Pampering the driver even more are seats that can be cooled or heated. However, unlike the previous Passat, the new model’s front seats are not as well contoured and are a touch flat, especially for enthusiastic driving. There’s minimal side bolstering and the seat cushions feel a bit firm on first acquaintance.

The rear seats with their high seating position feel very supportive and offer ample legroom and under-thigh support. An armrest with pop-out cupholders folds out of the centre seat backrest but stows away neatly to not bother the middle passenger. The central tunnel, however, will get in the way to some degree.

In terms of equipment, the Passat is packed to its gills. Dual-zone climate control is standard and if you want some fresh air, there’s a sunroof as well. Thankfully, VW has given the new Passat better media connectivity with an aux-in and USB jack. The USB plug though is a little inconveniently located in a little pull-down pocket in the glovebox. A reversing camera is tucked away under the badge on the bootlid and flips out when you slot reverse. The display unit for the camera also doubles up as the touchscreen for the music system.


Performance & Economy

The new Passat for the moment is offered with only one engine option – the VW’s Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre common-rail motor but in 170bhp form, which is a healthy 32bhp up from the previous Passat. Volkswagen has managed to offer this engine without a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) to avoid potential problems with our fuel and yet it meets the latest emission standards.

VW Group diesel engines aren’t the quietest around and the Passat’s motor is no exception. While this engine feels much more muted than in the previous Passat, you can still hear that distinct clatter at idle and at max revs it feels a bit gruff too. However at moderate revs, the engine is incredibly refined and you’ll hardly hear it all. And often or not, the stop-start system shuts the engine off when at a standstill (depending on the electrical demands of other systems).

Mated to a six-speed twin-clutch or DSG auto transmission, the motor has enough grunt to propel the Passat with adequate verve. Apart from an initial bit of hesitation or lack of immediate response that is so typical of a twin-clutch unit, the Passat accelerates in a way that belies its benign character.

Flex your right foot, wait as the smooth gearbox pauses slightly to pick the right ratio, and then sit back as the car shoots forward with great rapidity. From a standstill, the Passat hits 100kph in a remarkable 8.73 seconds and goes onto cross 160kph in 23.22sec which is three seconds quicker than the previous Passat. Overtaking too is a breeze, be it in the city or on the highway with the dash from 20-80kph in a mere 5.66 seconds.

The fairly flat torque curve and surge of power that kicks in well below 2000rpm makes the Passat quite effortless to drive. Even at a crawl, the Passat ambles along quite easily and left in D the gearbox shifts up early and seamlessly in the interest of fuel economy and and also adds to the Passat’s relaxed demeanour. In fact, you rarely need to dig deep into the reserves of this engine. It will cruise quite effortlessly and the well-chosen ratios, which make the most of the torque, don’t necessitate frequent visits to the redline unless you are in a serious hurry.

For sporty driving, the Passat offers steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters but while gear changes are reasonably quick and smooth, you don’t get the satisfaction of driving a manual. VW is offering a manual transmission only on the base Trendline variant.

Any doubts that the Passat’s BlueMotion technology is just a gimmick and doesn’t really work were instantly dispelled after our test. Despite being more powerful and a bit heavier than the outgoing model, the new Passat gave an astonishing 10.8kpl in the city and 15.2kpl on the highway. Not only is that 0.8kpl and 1.4kpl better than the previous Passat’s figures but the new model is more frugal than several smaller saloons.

Ride & Handling

The real sense of luxury in the Passat comes from its suspension setup. Changes to the suspension have left the German saloon supple yet well controlled, and with a surprisingly good level of crash-free bump absorption, you don’t feel most imperfections. The firm edge of the previous Passat has been completely ironed out. Be it craters, broken tarmac or unfinished stretches of road, the new Passat is more than a match for varied Indian road conditions.

At town speeds the Passat simply excels thanks to its amazing low speed ride, delivered to some extent by the 215/55-R16 Pirelli Cinturatos. The car also does an excellent job of cutting out road noise, but at higher speeds you do get a bit of wind noise around the A-pillars.

The new Passat feels quite composed at high speeds but it doesn’t have the same rock-solid demeanour of the previous Passat. That’s because VW has softened the suspension in the interest of comfort and the big nose tends to bob gently on an uneven road. There is a fair bit of torque steer and you have to hold onto the wheel, especially on uneven surfaces. The Passat changes direction eagerly but, it isn’t particularly engaging to drive. The steering is smooth and accurate but is merely a tool for pointing the front wheels, not gaining any kind of feel for the tyre / road interface.

The all-round solid disc brakes provide strong stopping power and the pedal has superb feel and is well modulated. All in all, the chassis proves capable at stopping, going
and turning and does it all without any drama.

Verdict

Though the Passat isn’t very different than the previous model, it still is a quite a leap forward. The well designed interiors, the hushed cabin and phenomenal ride make this an extremely comfortable car in which you would gladly cover long distances. The uprated diesel engine blends strong performance with great fuel economy and feels more refined than before. The driving experience though isn’t particularly engaging, which may disappoint enthusiasts as will the absence of a TSi petrol engine. However, for most owners who want the Passat for its fuss-free nature, it does the job brilliantly. While the entry level Trendline variant is aggressively priced at Rs 20.80 lakh, the top-end Highline, at Rs 26.65 lakh, is on the expensive side of the segment. Volkswagen has loaded the Passat with features to command a higher price. It’s the Passat’s bolder look and genuine luxury car experience that makes it worth the extra cash.

Technical Specs

Fact File

What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi) 170bhpRs 20.80-26.65 lakh
Warranty 24 months/unlimited km

Engine

Fuel Diesel
Installation Front, transverse
Bore/stroke 81.0/95.5mm
Compression ratio 16.5:1
Valve gear 4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Power 170bhp at 4200rpm
Torque 35.69kgm at 1750-2500rpm
Power to weight 105.91bhp per tonne
Torque to weight 22.23kgm per tonne

Transmission

Type Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 6-speed DSG

Chassis & Body

Construction Monocoque, four-door, saloon
Weight 1605kg
Wheels 7J x 16 ET45
Tyres 215/55 R16
Spare Full size

Suspension

Front Independent, MacPherson struts
Rear Independent, multi-link, stabiliser bar

Steering

Type Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Electric
Turning circle 10.7m

Brakes

Front Ventilated discs
Rear Ventilated discs
Anti-lock Yes

Performance

0-20 1.18
0-40 2.25
0-60 3.84
0-80 6.11
0-100 8.73
0-120 12.46
0-140 16.77
0-160 23.22

Economy

City 10.8kpl
Highway 15.2kpl
Tank size 70litres

Range at a glance - Engines

Diesel 2.0TDI 170bhp Rs 20.80-26.65 lakh

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