First Drive: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI GT 5dr DSG
Typical. You wait ages for a new big family car and then two come along at once...
Doesn't it look rather like the old one?
You can definitely see it's a Passat. Funny, when Ford does an evolutionary design, people tend to say it's a sign of a lack of confidence and imagination. But when VW does the same, people say it's a sign of strong self-confidence and a consistent direction.
So what's changed?
Almost everything is new. This is the eighth generation Passat, and a bigger step than there's ever been.
Do I see the letters M, Q and B hoving into view?
Very much so. Like pretty much everything that's new and transverse-engined in the VW Group, this Passat rests on that MQB components set. Which, for a start, has a beneficial effect on the proportions.
In what way?
It's actually a fraction shorter than the old Passat, but about 80mm longer in the wheelbase. Most of that extra length has gone into moving the front wheels further forward, an MQB trademark. That helps the looks by cutting overhang, and it's good for agility. The remainder of the wheelbase stretch is in the cabin, so there's more room than before. The Passat always gave room to stretch, but now there's just masses of space in the back. Better still, certain versions are 80kg lighter than before. Even so, the 150bhp manual saloon I've been tooling around in is 1400kg.
If it's MQB, how does it differ from a Golf?
It's bigger, duh. Wider in track, longer in wheelbase. Also in places the new Passat uses more expensive parts - for instance the front suspension subframe is aluminium, where it's steel in the Golf. And even though some suspension parts might look like the Golf ones and mount the same way, they're stronger for this bigger car. Which means you can't say the Passat and Golf 'share a platform' in the way VW Group cars once did. There's much more freedom.
And there's more technology than a Golf. For instance, the options list includes a graphical instrument pack, rather like the Audi TT's. There are better-connected infotainment systems. And more driver aids, including optional Traffic Jam Assist. This means in slow-moving traffic the Passat will self-steer, self-brake and self-accelerate.
What about the engines?
All diesel in the UK at the start. A 1.6-litre 120bhp does as little as 103g/km. Then then there's a 2.0 with 150bhp or 190bhp. Of those, only the DSG-equipped cars stray over 110g/km. Finally, a twin-turbo TDi with a stout 240bhp and a new seven-speed DSG, driving all four wheels.
Next year they'll launch a plug-in hybrid called GTE, with a 1.4 TSI petrol engine plus electric motor.
How does it feel to drive?
Solid. Because the cabin is so beautifully made out of such lush materials, your mind is predisposed to perceiving it as a precise, high-quality drive. The driving position and seats are spot-on too. You feel well looked after. But in fact it's not perfect. The 150bhp diesel isn't quiet by the best modern standards, and occasionally issues an old-school oil-burner rattle. Also there's a bit of thumping noise from the suspension, at least on the 18-inch wheels, and wind whistle too.
Performance from the 150 TDI is OK. It very soon overcomes its sub-2000rpm lag and pulls hard to nearly 4000. The manual gearshift is nicely oiled. VW claims 8.7sec from 0-62mph.
The 240bhp unit, thanks to turbo tech that includes sequential operation and variable vanes for the small unit, is pretty well without lag low-down, and goes on delivering all the way to its 5,000rpm red-line. OK, the inertia of the four-wheel-drive system slightly dulls the response at times, but it's an effortlessly quick car, making 62mph in 6.3 sec. And the handling is ultra-reliable. Not playful but completely predictable and stable.
The Passat has a slightly tauter suspension than the Mondeo, which means better body control in most bends. But you get slightly less feel for what's going on. They're close, and I'd have to drive them down the same road to be sure, but I fancy the Mondeo is both more fun in corners, and rides better too.
What about on the inside?
The Passat's materials and execution are terrific, and so are the ergonomics. It all just works. It feels like a class above the Ford. You don't really need the digi-dash: the standard clocks are nice bits of jewellery and very clear, and between the speedo and rev-counter is a digital display of good resolution. But if you want to impress people in the company car park, a 12.5-inch 1440x540 display with fast hi-res graphics and animations is certainly going to do the job. Especially as it's paired with another high-res touch screen in the console.
Does all that tech make it expensive?
Not especially. Passat prices closely mirror the Mondeo. The SE Business trim, including navigation and adaptive cruise control, is £25,135. The estate, which will outsell the saloon here, is another £1530. That's probably the archetypal Passat.
So Passat or Mondeo, then?
Can't say just yet. We'd have to get them side by side. Initial impressions say the Passat is the nicer thing to sit in by some margin, but the Ford goes down the road more sweetly.