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Volkswagen Passat Estate VR5 Car Review | July 1, 1997

Driven July 1997

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Come a little bit closer and I'll let you in on a secret. This VW Passat Estate might look like nothing more than the big-booted version of a car we've already tested and acclaimed as pretty damn good, but in fact there's more to it than meets the eye. You see, under the bonnet of this particular estate lies Volkswagen's all-new VR5 engine. Not a lot of people know that, so keep it quiet and I'll tell you a bit more.

As its name suggests the VR5 engine is basically a version of VW's VR6 with one of its cylinders lopped off. At 150bhp, power is the same as the 1.8-litre turbo which will also be available; pricing, too, will be identical. What is different, however, is the way it delivers its performance. According to VW, the 2.3-litre VR5 is less about acceleration and more about providing the kind of smoothness you'd normally get with a six-cylinder car, only without the cost.

It lives up to expectations too. It's not super quiet at low revs, but it makes a pleasing thrum and provides loads of bottom-end pulling power. Where it does lose out to most sixes is at high revs. Start getting near the red line and its lazy, low down smoothness disappears as the engine takes on a four-cylinder harshness. Performance figures reflect the VR5's lazier, more laid-back approach. Where the 1.8 turbo does the 0-62mph sprint in 8.9 seconds, the VR5 is almost half a second slower. Top speed is a perfectly adequate 133mph, however.

It might not be the engine to please any would-be racer, but that makes it ideal for the comfort-oriented Passat estate. As with the saloon, the ride is first class, though its soft nature sends the back end squatting a little too easily under acceleration. Like the engine, the power-assisted steering requires the minimum of effort to twirl, though it could do with more weight at speed.

On the inside, back seat passengers will revel in the space they're given, while the Passat estate's boot will only disappoint the most ardent boot space anorak. Ready for the figures? With the seats up there's 495 litres of load space available which increases to 1,600 litres with the seats down. Those of you with long things to carry, such as hatstands, will also be pleased to know that the boot floor is 1.12m long and that the seats are no more difficult to fold than any other estate car.

Overall, both the Passat Estate and the new VR5 engine are fine and funky things. And, on top of that, when you put the two together you've got one of the most accomplished estate cars around. Like I said, though, keep it quiet - or everyone will want one.

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