First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Passat

First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen’s Passat has always been a well poised, spacious and technically advanced sedan. Alas, it has never quite captured the attention of an executive audience such as, say, the Teutonic trio that is the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It is quite a quandary for many a manufacturer to upset the premium compact sedan apple cart and many have tried but admittedly with a low success rate, if at all. In my view, the sub-premium sedan segment continues to offer a great deal of car at the price, even though image and perception remains the main Achilles heel of the segment. Now in its eighth generation, the new Passat has been given the one thing that was bereft in its predecessors — sharper styling.

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We ran the previous generation of the model in our long-term test fleet and found that it offered a great deal of car at the price. It had most of the hallmarks of a well-sorted family sedan: space, extensive standard equipment, thrifty yet lively engine and a slick seven-speed DSG transmission, and the refinement befitting a vehicle in this segment. During its test tenure, it turned out to be a competent and reliable companion with little in the way of glitches. However, it lacked that premium visage to complement the rest of the package. This has all changed with the latest model, which is now built on the company’s MQB platform, which underpins many of its medium-sized vehicles including the Golf, the Audi A3 and the forthcoming A4. This has resulted in an engine that is located much lower under the bonnet to enhance the centre of gravity.

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The vehicle is longer at 4,767mm and the wheelbase is 79mm longer at 2,791mm. It is 12mm wider at 1,832mm and 14mm lower at 1,456mm, yet has shorter overhangs than its forbear. Boot space is a family friendly 479l. Even with this increase in dimensions, the company says the vehicle is 85kg lighter than the outgoing car, thanks to the mixed metals used in the new platform. The result is a vehicle that is lighter on its feet and more alert to driver inputs, all the while returning decent fuel consumption figures. Moving into the cabin, it is obvious that the designers wanted to give the model a more premium look and feel, and they have done reasonably well.

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While the execution of the cabin is clean and flush, with easily legible switchgear, it is the digital instrument cluster dubbed Active Info Display (optional) and similar to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit that highlights the cabin’s ambience. It not only beams to the driver vital information such as fuel, oil temperature and the like, it also has the navigation system that is easily legible while the customisable view lets you minimise the virtual dials to maximise the eight-inch display screen. Three petrol models are available from launch in the form of the 1.4 TSI (110kW and 250Nm); 1.8 TSI (132kW and 250Nm); and 2.0 TSI (169kW and 350Nm). The 1.4 TSI is available with a six-speed manual (seven-speed DSG optional), while the 1.8TSI comes standard with the seven-speed DSG transmission and the 2.0 TSI with a six-speed DSG. According to the company, the line-up will next year be joined by a 2.0 TDI with 130kW and 400Nm. The two 1.4 TSI models come standard with Comfortline specification, and the 1.8 TSI comes in Highline form. The 2.0 TSI is equipped with the R-Line package that adds visual venom such as 19-inch alloy wheels, a model specific grille, front and rear valances and side skirts.

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The R-Line package can be specified on the 1.4 and 1.8 TSI variants at an additional cost of R15,000 and R18,000 respectively, but are offered with an 18-inch wheel instead of the 19-inch specified on the flagship model. Driving the new models in the Eastern Cape exposed a vehicle that is resolutely comfortable and refined, even with the 19- inch wheels and DCC (adaptive chassis control) set to its sportiest setting. Power from the 2.0 TSI matches that of the Golf GTI and while the steering does tend to tug slightly in one’s hands when the full bout of throttle is used, the XDS+ (electronic differential) does a great job of keeping the front wheels pointing in the desired direction of travel. The model also comes with a customisable driving profile function with eco, normal, sport and individual settings, which gives access to engine parameters and ancillaries such as turbo-boost pressure, engine temperature, and even a g-force meter for added measure. These are a tad gimmicky in a vehicle of this nature, but it makes for interesting visuals nonetheless. Much like its predecessor, the model is competitively priced from R378,800 for the 1.4 TSI, rising to R476,800 for the flagship 2.0 TSI.

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According to Dirk Nesseuns, project leader of the new Passat who was present at the vehicle’s media launch, his team’s design proviso was to match what he deems the benchmark of the segment — the Merc C-Class. In my view, the Passat seems to be on a par with the Merc in many regards, although I am inclined to say that the Volkswagen felt a bit more polished where it matters most, something that I took away from the new Audi A4, too. The new Passat is every bit a premium product and the onus sits on the buying public to give it a second glance.

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