Volkswagen Passat: First Drive Review
Volkswagen’s Passat has been a capable but little-loved machine. Does the new generation change the equation?
If you are looking for a luxurious full-size sedan around the forty lakh rupee mark, then Skoda’s Superb, Toyota’s Camry, Honda’s Accord and Volkswagen’s Passat have been the options to pick from. Our focus here is the new generation Volkswagen Passat. The Passat has always been a package the embodies German traits of quality and capability but was a little low on charisma. Launched in 2017, the all-new Passat from Volkswagen is trying harder as it vies for your attention. So, what is it like now?
Straight up, the new Passat is definitely more appealing to look at. It looks the most striking when viewed from the front. It seems to look sleek and wide, almost a bit spotting from this angle. The flat bonnet with wide-set ridges, the flowing horizontal lines on the grille and the slim headlamps emphasise this sensation. The 12mm increase in width and the 14mm reduction in height aren’t huge, but it all helps. View it from the side and you might wonder if this is really a new car.
But, by Volkswagen’s standards the changes are a revolution. For a stronger look, the crease called the “Tornado Line” that runs through the door handles is much sharper now. The light-catcher at the bottom of the doors is more prominent too. While the Passat is about the same length nose to tail as the outgoing car, the wheelbase is longer by a whopping 74mm. The top-of-the-line Highline variant, the one you see in pictures here, wears 215/55 R17 tyres for the stronger stance.
There’s some sleekness as the roof flows a bit more graciously into the boot. Also, the boot overhang seems less bulky. The sharply cut tail lamps have a net-like effect that is surrounded by a smooth band of fused-LEDs. Overall, if you are looking for a head turner, the Passat won’t cut it. But, if you want to be discreet, this would be right up your alley as the design is still rooted in an understated and self-assured handsomeness.
Like the exterior, the cabin feels impressive, if familiar. Some bits, like the instrument cluster design, the layout for the controls on the centre console, and the steering wheel are typical of VWs, or Skodas for that matter. However, the striking bit about the Passat is a theme that seems to have been borrowed off Audis - the air-con vents. The actual vents flow into faux vents to create a band of black and silver horizontal lines that run across the dashboard. The metallic button for the engine start feels rich and of high quality. The brown wood trim and the soft-touch dash are pleasing to the eye too.
The front seats will be comfortable even for larger frames, even on long journeys. In terms of space, even 6-footers won’t have reason to complain. The front seats are electrically adjustable and are heated too. However, there is no cooling functionality on offer. A big miss for our Indian conditions. The driver’s seat gets two memory settings and a massage function. The massage was thoroughly enjoyable. While the Passat maybe thought of as a chauffeur-driven car, the rear seats are not equipped with a massage function. However, the three-zone air-conditioning system makes sure that you set the temperature and air flow according to your preferences. Also, the manually operated sunblinds on the doors and the electrically operated sunblind for the rear windscreen cocoon you further.
Using the rear bench behind a tall boy is possible too. In terms of knee room or the sense of space, despite the increase in wheelbase, the Passat won’t be as large as the Superb. Also, some people might find the seat back angle a little upright, and sitting three abreast will be tiresome for the passenger in the middle as the seat-back protrudes into the lower back and the cushioning is firm as the armrest is tucked away there. For two occupants, however, the rear bench will be ample. However, because of the low roofline and the all-black cabin, the cabin feels cosy, not lavish.
In terms of boot space, the Passat has 586-litres to offer, and it tackled four overnighter suitcases and some camera equipment with ease. This can be expanded to 1152-litres by flipping the 60:40 split second row down.
The Passat is undoubtedly well equipped. For starters, the top-end Highline variant packs 9 airbags, Hill Start Assist and Stability Control. Apart from active LED headlights, the Passat also has a special reflector that lights up the inside of the corner prominently, making even hairpin bends safer. In terms of convenience, the auto-hold function holds the brakes while allowing you to get your foot off the brake at stop lights. The brake is released only when you tap the accelerator. Self-parking functionality is offered once again. A big highlight in our books is the two-pin 230v socket. Like a wall socket at home, you can just plug in your charger to juice up your phone rapidly. That aside, there are 12v sockets and two USB ports as well.
The 8-speaker audio setup is pleasing and it comes paired with a crisp touchscreen display. Intuitively, a proximity sensor makes the onscreen menus pop up when it senses a hand reaching closer. The performance display shows three meters for the G-force, turbo boost pressure and the power used! The screen also doubles up as the display for the reversing camera and you also have a 360-degree view that makes manoeuvring into tight spots safer and easier. That’s not all, the outside rear view mirrors (ORVMs) also tilt and adjust while reversing to give you the best view out. The boot can be closed at the press of a button, which is very convenient. However, the easy-opening systems that require you to wave a leg to get the boot to pop open still seem a bit pointless to us.
Get on the road and you will have Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) to explore. This allows you to adjust the suspension stiffness to suit the road conditions. There are three modes - Comfort, Normal and Sport. These presets are also used to customise the drive modes. The drive modes include Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual. Under this, you can customise the steering, the gearbox, and the suspension to suit your needs.
Engine & Performance
Unruffled, that’s how the Passat performs. Be it the city or the highway, the Passat’s diesel engine doesn’t feel out of place. A light rumble from the diesel engine can be heard inside the cabin, and even when you rev it hard, it has a muted tone. Get going and you realise that there is adequate torque from idle, although the real rush comes in from 1800rpm. This being a diesel, it doesn’t like to be revved hard, but even if you rev it to the 5000rpm limiter there is enough punch to complete an overtake. Driving becomes all the more easier as the 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox is lightning quick and very smooth, which makes sure you get the right amount of shove whenever you want. While cruising on the highway, the Passat feels almost magical. The 177PS engine is unstressed, the cabin is well insulated and serene. Even overtaking requires little more than a whim. Don’t think of the Passat as an exciting drive, but Sport mode brings in some added pep as the gearbox becomes a bit more aggressive and sensitive to throttle inputs.
Ride & Handling
Confident and comfortable, that’s how the Passat feels like to drive and to be driven around in. Steering it around fast bends, it always surprised with its composure. No doubt the electronic differential lock helps it keep a neat line. The steering, although on the lighter side in all modes other than Sport, gives you the confidence to wriggle through traffic or carve up ghats. In Comfort mode, the Passat will gobble up poor roads, and as it isn’t overly soft, you can use this mode for almost all conditions. Body control remains well in check here too. Sport mode of the DCC firms up the suspension significantly and it is best reserved for smooth highways.
There really isn’t anything to fault the Passat on. Its shortcomings are by way of comparisons. For instance, its very own sibling, the bigger and more lavish Skoda Superb, will be the default option for many car buyers because of its sharper design and larger cabin. In its own right, the Passat is undoubtedly enjoyable, irrespective of where you are in the cabin. Its immense maturity is matched by its ability, and that means this car that may not wow you at first, will surely grow on you. This Passat feels ever more convincing, as it brings in a greater sense of luxury and appeal to match its ability and Germanic solidity. So, if restraint is your preferred persona, then the new Passat won’t disappoint as a luxury sedan.
Words: Kartikeya Singhee
Photography: Vikrant Date