The diesel addition to Volkswagen’s Passat range makes an even more compelling alternative to the German trio…
The Volkswagen Passat has had a stellar career. In the 40 years that the model has been around, VW has sold over 22 million examples, and there’s no question that this latest, eighth generation, underpinned by the largest version of the group’s acclaimed MQB platform, is the best yet.
Shortly after its launch in 2015, this Passat was voted the European Car of the Year and in our first test of the current generation – a 1,8 TSI turbopetrol in our February 2016 issue – we called it “the finest family sedan in the market”. Despite all this, however, VW South Africa sold only about 400 examples in 2016. There are two obvious reasons: one, SUVs and crossovers have become our market’s family cars of choice (Hyundai shifted over 6 000 Tucsons last year); and if South Africans are choosing sedans, it’s the luxury Germans they’re going for, with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class leading the way, boasting sales of over 8 000 last year.
What to do, then, if you are VW South Africa?
With the launch of the diesel derivatives in November last year, the range was rejigged and spec levels bumped up with more features offered as standard. Rather than trying to tempt people out of their SUVs, VW has clearly set its sights on the 3 Series, C-Class and A4, with this derivative – the top-spec 2,0-litre turbodiesel – spearheading the offensive.
Offering 130 kW and 350 N.m, it is the most powerful version of the single-turbo 2,0 TDI available in a VW in our market and there are two models: the R493 900 Luxury and the R522 400 Executive. Mated to a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission as standard, the 2,0 TDI unit offers a broad spread of torque, delivering its full complement of Newton metres from 1 500 to 3 500 r/min through the front wheels. Although, as all our testers noted, it takes a while to clear its throat at start-up, once warm that clatter dissipates somewhat.
It’s also punchy, delivering strong pace and easy overtaking at low and highway speeds. Our testing returned a respectable 8,43 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint, while the in-gear acceleration runs of 2,3 seconds between 60 and 80 km/h and 4,07 seconds from 120 to 140 km/h confirmed our sentiments. A downside of all that torque in a front-wheel-drive car is a degree of axle tramp when pulling away at speed. Our fuel run, as we had anticipated from this frugal engine, returned an impressive 5,5 L/100 km.
Although you can add a little hustle by choosing sport mode thanks to the standard Adaptive Chassis Control, the gearing feels quite long, with the Passat’s ECU opting to engage the next ratio at a relaxed and sensible tempo. “Relaxed” and “sensible” are adjectives that describe the ride and handling as well. Engaging it is not – no 3 Series will lose sleep – but, that said, you do get a sense this chassis could handle more power. The electromechanical, speed-sensitive steering, while lacking somewhat in feel, is very accurate, making it easy to confidently place the Passat though a corner with a high degree of grip and traction to get on the gas early should you be so inclined. As mentioned earlier, there is a sport mode that weighs up the steering, but again the handling feels well sorted rather than razor sharp.
This Passat presents a refined ride that, even shod with 18-inch Marseille alloys as standard, remains composed and supple, easily shrugging off speed bumps and remaining unflustered on the highway. It’s only high-frequency road imperfections that penetrate to the cabin but, to be fair, only sedans costing considerably more than this VW are able to successfully dampen these irritations.
The Passat’s interior remains a CAR favourite, with a host of soft-touch materials and plastics that would embarrass more expensive cars, with brushed chrome inserts and piano-black trim adding to the high-quality feel. Much like a well-tailored suit, the interior chooses classic lines over flair, with a design that sees the straight lines of the facia reflected in the similarly horizontal quilting of the seat squabs and backs.
Standard in the Executive spec are seat inserts, bolsters and the centre armrest covered in Nappa leather. Our test unit’s front seats were electrically adjustable, but this was part of a R24 050 Luxury Package option that includes foldable mirrors, a DynAudio sound system and an ambient light package. Front headrests that can be adjusted not just for height but longitudinally as well are, however, standard. The dashboard focuses on a well-positioned, central 6,5-inch touchscreen that houses the controls for an infotainment system that includes USB connectors with iPhone interface, Bluetooth, an SD card interface and VW’s proprietary Car-Net App-Connect that allows you to select smartphone apps right from your dash.
If we all bought family cars based on sensible, pragmatic choices, Volkswagen would be selling more Passats than it could make. Its interior dimensions offer vast amounts of space both for its passengers and their luggage, its looks may lack flair but they convey upmarket styling, and it offers a comfortable and refined ride.
Underpinning it all, of course, remains Volkswagen’s solid, fuss-free engineering, a quality that, despite the recent diesel emissions scandal, remains part of the brand’s DNA.
We’ve said this before, but can now restate it with more conviction than ever: with the addition of the punchy, fuel-efficient diesel derivatives and the improved standard spec on offer, the Passat range’s quality and refinement make Volkswagen’s most compelling case yet to look beyond BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi’s badge appeal, and recognise the excellent value for money this roomy sedan offers.
*From the March 2017 issue of CAR magazine