Cruising in the new Volkswagen Passat

I sat and drummed my fingers on the smooth, leather-bound steering wheel while waiting for the infotainment system to boot up, which Volkswagen has installed with faster processors that optimise boot times and make faster route calculations. In the real world, though – and in comparison with my family’s Golf Mk 7’s system – the new Passat’s Discover Pro system’s proclaimed speed advantage was marginal.

The wait gave me time to look around at the interior, which is very well appointed and assembled. The steering wheel and controls are very similar to our family car’s, helping to cut my learning curve significantly for this Easter weekend’s review. There are still significant differences though, starting with the analogue clock in the middle of the dashboard, flanked by a consistent horizontal structure on both sides that extend into the front doors, punctuated only by the instrument panel.

Across most surfaces, the interior is upholstered in St Tropez, an off-white colour that reminds me of the Volkswagen Jetta I reviewed last year, except that in this new Passat, it was pretty much a single-tone colour scheme. Order your Passat in this colour if you’re the type of person who fancies wearing white pants or jackets and takes great care of maintaining the pristine condition of your belongings, but I’ll stick with something of a darker shade, like the Marrakesh that we have in our Golf – the occasional dark-coloured marks on parts of the glove box and door panels of this test car would very likely appear on mine if I ordered a set of wheels in this trim.

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Front electric seats are standard, with 14-way adjustable ergoComfort driver’s seat and a basic massage feature for the person behind the wheel. I gave it a go and found it rather entertaining – perhaps a quinquagenarian might appreciate the feature more.

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Rear passengers also get air vents and the ability to control their own temperature

There’s ample leg room for everyone seated inside – the car is clearly designed to transport people in unhurried comfort, as the leisurely loading time of the infotainment system would suggest.

Having entered my destination into the navigation system, I gently coaxed the 178 bhp from Wolfsburg’s new 1.8 TSI engine. Volkswagen claims fuel consumption from the new drivetrain is reduced by as much as 17 per cent, thanks in part to the stop-start system and a regenerative braking mode; the 85-kg weight saving over its predecessor must have been a factor in achieving that economy, too.

On the road, the new Passat is composed and dignified, ferrying occupants in a mobile cocoon while insulating against much of the external wind and road noise. The ride quality was a little on the firm side (perhaps smaller wheels would have helped to address that), but it’s a very acceptable trade-off for confident handling and minimal body roll around sharp bends.

The company will have you believe that the new Passat will hit 100 km/h from a standstill in 7.9 seconds; I had no interest to verify this on local roads, but occasionally when I floored the accelerator, the drivetrain seemed to take a second to drop gears and pile on the revs, as if asking me “Playing the hooligan now, are we?” before reluctantly obliging with a sigh and proverbial shake of the head. Perhaps it’s a suggestion of how one should drive in an unhurried manner when at the wheel of this car.

 

And that brings me to the car’s exterior design. The new Passat’s lower body (-14 mm), wider track (+12 mm), longer wheelbase (+79 mm) but shorter body (-2 mm), and larger wheels all contribute to the car’s more dynamic appearance.

Painted in Tungsten Silver Metallic, the exterior’s precisely drawn edges and creases create a sculpted meld of light-reflecting surfaces that add style to the sedan. The side profile is equally striking, with a character line that runs across the door handles and carves a distinctive and athletic shoulder section. Walking around to the rear, then, presents a bit of a disappointment; I felt a little more dynamism in the boot lid’s appearance would have been the perfect complement to an otherwise promising all-around exterior. The current expression is akin to a flat-bottomed Bar Rafaeli – you’d still have done better than the average bloke, but you know you’re stuck with a bit of a compromise.

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You could fit two adults in the trunk.. probably

In exchange, however, Volkswagen’s offered a capacious 586 litres of storage space and standard all-LED rear lights with a unique brake light signature. Chrome-tipped exhausts would have been a nice addition too.

At the time of writing, the only other brand new cars in the S$140,000 – 150,000 price bracket based on a quick search on sgCarMart.com are the entry-level Audi A3 sedan and higher-spec 2.5 litre Toyota Camry, but identifying the Passat’s competitors based on price alone would make one guilty of taking a rather narrow-minded view. The more discerning would argue that this eighth-generation Passat, being the Volkswagen Group’s number one seller with nearly 23 million units sold since 1973, is now closer to competing against the junior executive sedans manufactured by its German counterparts – the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes C Class. It’s arguably not there yet in terms of luxury and refinement, but it’s definitely left behind the rivals from the likes of Ford, Opel and Renault.

So if you’ve always driven one of the latter cars, aspire towards the big three German luxury brands but have to face a protesting bank account or domestic CFO/MOH (read: wife), or are just looking for something European to trade up from the ubiquitous Camry, there’s one more option for your consideration now.

Special thanks to Volkswagen Singapore for this opportunity.

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