I know a lot of people who apparently enjoy driving hardcore cars on an everyday basis. And when I mean hardcore, brother, I mean hardcore. Think Porsche 996 GT3, Mini John Cooper Works GP; a BMW 135i boosted to infinite and juiced on nothing but the finest A-grade ethanol.
If these cars were human they would wear their shirts unbuttoned and be based on characters portrayed in films like Boogie Nights. Hardcore.
I totally get why these dudes like these machines. They get off on the speed and the handling and the acceleration they offer. Not to mention the image they portray. Ever since RJ Reynolds killed the Camel Man, nothing oozes latent masculinity more than a tyre-melting, fear-inducing hotrod designed more for the racetrack than the high street. “You manhandled that thing here in the rain?” Yep, he sure as hell did.
Perhaps it’s because I race every other weekend, but I no longer have much interest in driving something hardcore on a day-to-day basis. I used to wanderlust over a Lotus Elise but now the mere thought of one fogs my head with dread. Not because it’s a bad car, far from it, but because the idea of having to pilot one around our potholed and congested road networks is pretty much the stuff of nightmares.
That sweet fantasy of spontaneous trackday bliss is marred by the omnipresent reality that going anywhere in this city is a long and laborious game of chance: a cruel round of Russian roulette whose rogue bullet translates to cracked rims and shredded front spoilers. The sweat of your brow is not shed on exhilaration but rather the exacerbation of dealing with concrete suspension, manual gearboxes and seats that rearrange your vertebrae. I seriously couldn’t be arsed with this anymore.
I want comfort. I want this new Passat.
Okay, so technically it’s not new. It was launched last year — just not in a diesel. The only engine available then was the 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol. It was a surprisingly good motor, still is, but the one you want is the 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Why? Well simply because it better suits the Passat’s laidback demeanor. You see, despite laying claim to both a g-force meter and lap-timer (akin to putting a fridge inside a Nissan GT-R), this is a car that has no interest in ripping through the Greenside Esses.
And despite there being a Sport setting built into the Driving Mode Selection system, this is a car that will always turn down an invitation to an impromptu traffic light grand prix. The Passat cares not for the vulgarity of speed or the juvenile rush of acceleration. It is a steadfast cruiser, a gentleman of the road: a steely manifestation of a Rand Club lounger.
Which is why this low revving, high-torque and super frugal — I averaged 3.9l/100km driving from Johannesburg to Pretoria — TDI engine feels so good in it.
What also feels particularly good is the cabin. Especially if you equip the optional luxury package (R24 050) that throws in perhaps some of the most agreeable heated/ventilated/massaging seats you’ll ever encounter. Seriously, you could drive to the moon and back sat in these things without even the slightest twinge of stiffness.
And while you feel your body atrophy into the perforated leather, your ears will melt with joy to the 11-speaker, 700-watt Dynaudio sound system that’s loud but never harsh. Boosted by all sorts of noise-deadening trickery (you hear almost nothing of the outside world) this makes the Passat TDI an amazing thing to spend time in. I actually looked forward to getting into it at the end of a bad day, to luxuriate and zone-out to Steely Dan as I crawled like a viper through those suburban streets.
While the ride was deliciously fluid and interior space copious — both my drum kit and mountain bike were swallowed up on separate occasions, no problem — the exterior was nothing but forgettable. Especially in the dark shade of midnight blue my test car was painted. But, you know what, this is cool with me. As a weekend air-cooled Porsche owner, I’m getting tired of engaging in small talk every time I fill up with gas.
Sometimes, like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, I just want to fit in: to get from A to B in as an innocuous and inoffensive fashion as possible. And this is where this Volkswagen makes a case for itself. As a tool for negotiating the daily grind, the Passat TDI resides at the very sharp end of its game. It gives you nothing you don’t want and everything you need.
In a perfect world I might pick that 996, Mini John Cooper Works GP or ethanol-swigging BMW. But I live in Johannesburg, which is why this is the car for me. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Passat 2.0 TDI
Engine: 1968cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 130kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1500rpm
Transmission: six-speed DSG
0-100km/h: 8.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 228km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 6.3l/100km (achieved)
CO2: Not really applicable after Dieselgate
Price: From R522 400