Things we like
- Excellent handling, generous space and comfort, value for money
Not so much
- Diesel lacks petrol engine’s polish
- R-Line’s ride is too firm
What stands out?The Volkswagen Passat is an impressively refined medium car that transcends its price bracket with luxury-brand levels of comfort, finish, appearance and features. It’s very roomy, in the cabin and in the boot, and yet it feels small and sporty to drive. Auto emergency braking is standard.
What might bug me?Audiophiles might lament the absence of a high-end stereo system. While all the hardware is there, the sound quality is lacking.
Drivers born and bred on traditional automatic gearboxes may need to approach the Passat’s DSG dual-clutch gearbox with an open mind. The DSG transmission is essentially an automated manual gearbox – albeit a highly sophisticated one – and sometimes it won’t match the smoothness of a conventional automatic when starting from rest.
What body styles are there?A four-door sedan and a five-door wagon.
(The Passat Alltrack, an all-wheel drive wagon that rides high on taller suspension, is not covered in this review.)
The Volkswagen Passat is front-wheel drive and is classed as a medium-sized car, lower priced.
What features do all Passats have?Cruise control, and a leather-rimmed steering wheel. Satellite navigation, which is displayed on a colour touchscreen (6.5-inch on the least costly Passat, the 132 TSI, and 8.0-inch on the others).
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. (If you connect your Apple or Android phone via a USB plug in the centre console, many of its apps – including mapping and music – are mirrored on the touchscreen and can be controlled from there.)
Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming. A CD player, two SD card slots and eight speakers.
A driver’s seat that’s power adjustable at least for backrest angle and lower-back support. (On the least costly Passat, the 132 TSI, the seat is manually adjustable for cushion tilt, depth and height).
Three-zone climate control, which allows the driver, front-seat passenger and rear passengers to set temperatures independently. Dedicated vents for rear passengers. Windows tinted to reduce sun penetration. A chillable glovebox.
Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, and washers with heated jets. Headlamps that switch on automatically when it’s dark. Daytime running lights, which help other drivers see you, and long-lasting LED tail-lights.
A rear-view camera with multi-angle views, and parking sensors front and rear.
Aluminium alloy wheels (17-inch diameter on the 132 TSI), with a full-size alloy spare wheel.
Electronic stability control, which can help you maintain control on a slippery surface. All new cars must have this feature.
Nine airbags. Automatic emergency braking in the form of Volkswagen’s Front Assist with City EB. A fatigue alert. (For the placement of airbags, and for more on the Passat’s safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
The Passat is covered by Volkswagen’s three-year, unlimited-distance warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel in the Passat 140TDI uses least fuel, consuming just 4.8 litres/100km in the official government economy test (city and country combined).
There are two main reasons why you wouldn’t choose it. First, it’s offered only in Passats at the most expensive, Highline, trim level.
Second, the diesel engine feels less refined than the alternative engine in a Passat, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol that powers the 132TSI models. The diesel sounds gravelly and brings a much less sporting flavour if you push it.
Despite using a bit more fuel – 6.0 litres/100km on the official test – the petrol is a much sweeter engine. It’s quieter, and much more pleasant to listen to, and it accelerates almost as hard.
Each engine has an idle-stop system that switches off and restarts the engine automatically when you are stopped in traffic, to save fuel.
Both engines come only with dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmissions. The diesel has a six-speed unit, and the petrol a seven-speed. DSG benefits, compared with conventional autos, include faster shift times and lower fuel use.
What key features do I get if I spend more?Move from the least costly Passat, the 132TSI, and pay more for a 132TSI Comfortline and you get leather upholstery, and fully power-adjustable front seats that also hold you in place better around corners. The driver’s seat and exterior mirrors remember your settings (so that it is easy to restore them after a companion has driven the car). There is a bigger, 8.0-inch, touchscreen and a DVD drive. Wagon versions get a power-operated tailgate.
The Comfortline also brings you Driver Profile Selection (with Eco, Normal, Sport and customisable Individual modes). This allows you to adjust, in concert, how several controls feel and operate. For example, switching from Normal to Sport makes the steering weightier, the accelerator pedal more sensitive, and the auto transmission more responsive, among other changes.
And there is some more driver-assistance, namely Adaptive cruise control, Lane Assist, and a rear cross-traffic alert.
Pay more again for a Passat 140TDI Highline and you gain in addition softer Nappa leather upholstery, piano-black and brushed aluminium highlights and trims, and voice control for the navigation and phone. Wheels are an inch bigger in diameter at 18-inches, and they carry tyres of a lower profile (which improves steering response marginally and looks sportier).
You can add to the luxe effect on Comfortline and Highline models by coughing up for a Luxury Package or an R-Line Package.
The Luxury Package includes a glass roof with sunroof, full LED headlights that shine into corners when you turn the wheel, and ambient cabin lighting (which generates a soft glow when driving at night).
The R-Line Package has a sporting focus. There is sports suspension, which lowers the car and firms up the ride, reducing how much the body leans in a corner. And there is Progressive Steering, which speeds up response as you turn the wheel, making it easier to negotiate a series of tight turns (for example).
R-Line brings bigger road wheels again, at 19-inches. Sports front seats are trimmed in Nappa leather with carbon-effect side bolsters, grey R-Line logos and decorative stitching. There is a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with gearshift paddles. Cosmetically, R-Line adds a unique front grille, a sports front bumper with bigger air intakes, and side skirts – among other styling tweaks.
Does any upgrade have a down side?While the 18-inch wheels (on the 140TDI Highline) and 19-inch wheels (in the R-Line package, and dealer-fit on other models) may look cool, they introduce ride harshness that isn’t there in the Passat 132TSI and Comfortline, which have 17-inch wheels.
Any Passat wearing 19-inch wheels will be expensive to re-tyre when the time comes.
Passats with the R-Line Package sometimes feel uncomfortable on poorly surfaced country roads, which undermines the model’s ability as a supreme cross-country car. And while the R-Line definitely feels sportier, neither engine is powerful enough to complement its dynamic improvement. You’re much better off sticking with the standard suspension because every Passat handles and steers with aplomb.
How comfortable is the Passat?Since the B5-generation Passat of 1996, Volkswagen has been renowned for the quality of its interiors. The latest B8 Passat is no different. Soft-touch plastics, conservative but beautifully cohesive design, pleasantly tactile buttons and switchgear – all contribute to the well-oiled feel of a modern Volkswagen cabin.
No matter what the trim level, a Passat’s seats are comfortable and supportive enough for hours of ache-free motoring. The cloth trim in the base car is serviceable and high-quality, while the pleated leather in the Comfortline and the soft-feel Nappa pleated leather in the Highline provide palpable steps up. The Nappa and carbon-fibre effect leather in the R-Line is particularly eye-catching and lovely to touch.
Adjustment of the front passenger seat on the 132TSI is manual: fore-aft via a convenient handle near the centre console, with plenty of fine steps between positions, and backrest rake via a rubberised, knurled dial beside the seat. There’s also crank-handle adjustment for height. The driver’s seat matches the passenger’s manual cushion adjustment but adds a small crank handle to the front right that adjusts cushion tilt. Unusually, it combines this with power adjustment for backrest rake and lower-back (lumbar) support.
Front seats in the more expensive Passats are power-adjustable in 14 dimensions, and the driver’s seat remembers your settings.
The ride quality of the Passat and Passat Comfortline on 17-inch wheels is very good, and quiet too. The surface can be raging below, yet the Passat maintains an aura of serenity, while still feeding back information to its driver.
Climbing up the range exemplifies the law of diminishing returns. The bigger the wheels and the sportier the suspension, the less refined and luxurious the Passat feels. And, in the case of the diesel, sounds. That trend is particularly evident in the handsome, firmly disciplined R-Line.
What about safety in a Volkswagen Passat?All Passats rate at least Excellent for safety on the WhichCar scale. Even the least costly model, the Passat 132 TSI, has stability control, nine airbags, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, daytime running lights, auto-on headlamps, a driver fatigue alert, a forward collision warning, and city-speed auto emergency braking.
Two of the airbags are placed directly ahead of the front-seat occupants, and a third protects the driver’s knees. Four protect the upper bodies of front and rear occupants from side impacts. A curtain airbag down each side of the car protects at head-level from side impacts.
The multi-view rear camera makes reversing and parking much safer, and you get audible indications of how close you are to obstacles front and rear.
The fatigue alert monitors your steering and warns if you are showing signs that you may fall asleep.
The forward collision warning and low-speed auto braking are called Front Assist and City EB. The radar-based collision warning works at city and highway speeds. It alerts you audibly and visually if it thinks you are closing too fast on an obstacle in front (typically another car). The auto braking works only at speeds up to 65km/h. It can apply full emergency braking, automatically, if it concludes a collision is imminent.
On the more expensive Passats you also get Adaptive cruise control, which slows you automatically to the speed of a car in front. Lane Assist helps you avoid drifting into oncoming traffic, and a rear cross-traffic alert helps you avoid carpark bingles when reversing.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Passat its maximum five stars for crash safety, in October 2015.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Don’t be fooled by the Passat’s family-car size and appearance – it can be a very entertaining car to drive.
When you’re simply cruising and wafting about, the personality of the Passat 132TSI sinks unobtrusively into the background, and the car pampers you with its quietness and smoothness. But if you choose the twisty way home, its balance makes it a very easy car to drive quickly, with much greater reserves of handling than you would have assumed.
The 132TSI Passat wagon is a stunning mile-eater and one of the great family cars of our time. It’s quick, quiet, confident and unflappable.
With the optional R-Line Package, the Passat feels firmer, sharper, and sportier – which is exactly how many people like their cars. But it loses the smoothness and easy-going ride of the standard Passat.
R-Line works better when optioned on the 132TSI Comfortline than on the 140TDI diesel, because the turbo-petrol engine is better-suited to its sporting flavour. When pushed hard, the 1.8-litre turbo petrol relishes the challenge and sounds sweetly muscular, while remaining surprisingly economical.
How is life in the rear seats?Expansive. With vast amounts of leg room and toe room, respectable headroom and impressive vision out, the Passat sedan feels like a true luxury car – especially with a glass roof. The wagon has even more headroom.
While Passat is significantly wider than the Golf it is based on, a standard Golf is better equipped for seating three moderately sized teenagers or adults abreast at the rear. The Passat’s cushion and backrest are shaped for two, meaning excellent comfort if you’re in an outboard position but not so much if you’re plonked in the centre.
How is it for carrying stuff?Best in class. Volkswagen claims an enormous 586 litres of boot capacity for the sedan, which is better than just about any similar car.
The wagon elevates Passat’s cargo-carrying ability to another level, with 650 litres below the luggage cover – and an enormous 1780 litres with the rear seat folded flat. The wagon has a double-fold rear seat, where the base flips forward and then the backrest slots in behind. This gives you not only a flatter floor, but also a small barrier between the cargo and those sitting up front. The wagon’s tailgate raises electrically.
The rear-seat backrest in both body styles is split 60:40, so it’s quite adaptable for all sorts of longer loads while still carrying three or four people. Each load area offers shopping-bag hooks, load restraint hooks and a 12-volt outlet.
Where does Volkswagen make the Passat?All Australian delivered Passats are made at Volkswagen’s Emden plant in Germany.
What might I miss that similar cars have?Perhaps a manual gearbox. Anyone who enjoys changing gears has been alienated by the Passat for a decade now – it’s dual-clutch automatic (DSG in Volkswagen parlance) or nothing. That said, very few medium-sized cars still have manuals. One that does is BMW’s more expensive 3 Series.
Perhaps a more powerful engine. That is available from Volkswagen in the Passat 206TSI R-Line, which arrived in October 2016 with all-wheel drive and about half as much thrust again as a Passat 132.
And for some, a prestigious badge. Capable as it is, the Volkswagen Passat doesn’t quite have the driveway credibility, or snob value, of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
Among other medium cars worth considering are the Mazda 6, Subaru Liberty, Toyota Camry, Holden Malibu, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Peugeot 508, and Skoda Superb.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?Our pick would be a Passat 132TSI Comfortline, sedan or wagon, with optional Luxury Package. It’s an incredibly complete car, and also looks much more expensive than it is. Its turbo-petrol engine is spritely and tuneful, as well as smooth and efficient. And its vast amounts of superbly packaged space make the mid-sized SUVs it is priced against look like poor value.
Choose the wagon body and you’ll never go back to an SUV.
While the 140TDI Highline gains a more fuel-efficient turbo-diesel engine, unless you travel big motorway or country distances its value over the excellent turbo-petrol 132TSI is questionable.
Are there plans to update the Passat soon?The Volkswagen Passat range went through a complete generational change in October 2015, so don’t expect to see an all-new Passat over the rest of this decade.
Auto emergency braking was made standard on even the least costly Passat from September 2016, for the 2017 model year. The powerful all-wheel-drive Passat 206TSI R-Line arrived about October 2016 in sedan and wagon styles.
Things we like
- Excellent handling, generous space and comfort, value for money
Not so much
- Diesel lacks petrol engine’s polish
- R-Line’s ride is too firm
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