testdrive The new Volkswagen Passat is a fuss-free car that is loaded with features, says Kartikeya Singhee
V W wants nothing short of supremacy in the Rs. 25 lakh category and is offering its new saloon with a modern design, greater comfort and a higher level of luxury than before. The old car's curves and circular lights have been replaced by crisp lines and more simplicity, the kind we've seen on all recent VWs. There's also a clear visual link to the Phaeton, VW's flagship saloon, to give the Passat a more upmarket image than before.
The prominent horizontal chrome strips in the grille make the Passat appear wider than it is and the VW badge that sits proudly is also distinctive. The thick bumper separates the grille from the air dam below and tucked away in the lower sides is a slim, rectangular fog lamp cluster which houses two lamps.
When viewed from the front, the Passat looks quite attractive, if not striking. It's when you look at it from the side that it feels familiar but the bolder creases running across the length of the car and on the bonnet makes the Passat look more sculpted than before.
Between the wheels, the car has grown a mere three millimetres while overall length has gone up by just 4mm but the Passat manages to look substantially bigger.
What makes the Passat stand roof and fenders above its rivals is the sheer tech that's packed into it. The Passat's best party trick is VW's Park Assist system which is quite an amazing driving experience. Other bits of tech include Dynamic Light Assist that lets you use the high-beam continuously by masking the full beam to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic. Attention Assist to alert drowsy drivers is another feature to debut in this class of car. The new Passat also comes with VW's BlueMotion technology, which is essentially a collection of eco-saving tricks and tech to lower emissions and improve efficiency.
The changes to Passat's interiors are less dramatic. Hence, the car feels quite familiar. The clarity of the dashboard's layout is just as good as before and the black top jutting over the mock wood horizontal band is similar to the older car. The door trim is completely new as well. The top-of-the-line Highline version we tested comes with a keyless entry and gets a starter button next to the gear lever. That's where you'll now find the switch for the electronic parking brake too. Plastic quality is better and the materials feel rich though some shiny bits are not up to the mark. However, for sheer craftsmanship, the Passat sets a new standard for its class.
The rear seats with their high seating position feel very supportive and offer ample legroom and under-thigh support. The central tunnel, however, will get in the way to some degree.
In terms of equipment, the Passat is packed to its gills. Dual-zone climate control is standard and if you want some fresh air, there's a sunroof as well. Thankfully, VW has given the new Passat better media connectivity with an aux-in and USB jack. The USB plug though is a little inconveniently located in a little pull-down pocket in the glovebox. A reversing camera is tucked away under the badge on the bootlid and flips out when you slot reverse. The display unit for the camera also doubles up as the touchscreen for the music system.
Engine and performance
The new Passat for the moment is offered with only one engine option — the VW's Group's ubiquitous 2.0-litre common-rail motor but in 170bhp form, which is a healthy 32bhp up from the previous Passat.
VW group diesel engines aren't the quietest around and the Passat's motor is no exception. While this engine feels much more muted than in the previous Passat, you can still hear that distinct clatter at idle and at max revs it feels a bit gruff too. However at moderate revs, the engine is incredibly refined and you'll hardly hear it all. And often or not, the stop-start system shuts the engine off when at a standstill.
Mated to a six-speed twin-clutch or DSG auto transmission, the motor has enough grunt to propel the Passat with adequate verve. Flex your right foot, wait as the smooth gearbox pauses slightly to pick the right ratio, and then sit back as the car shoots forward with great rapidity. From a standstill, the Passat hits 100kph in a remarkable 8.73 seconds and goes on to cross 160kph in 23.22sec which is three seconds quicker than the previous Passat.
For sporty driving, the Passat offers steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters but while gear changes are reasonably quick and smooth, you don't get the satisfaction of driving a manual. VW is offering a manual transmission only on the base Trendline variant.
Ride and handling
The real sense of luxury in the Passat comes from its suspension set-up. Changes to the suspension have left the German saloon supple yet well-controlled, and with a surprisingly good level of crash-free bump absorption, you don't feel most imperfections. The firm edge of the previous Passat has been completely ironed out. Be it craters, broken tarmac or unfinished stretches of road, the new Passat is more than a match for varied Indian road conditions.
At town speeds, the Passat excels thanks to its amazing low speed ride, delivered to some extent by the 215/55-R16 Pirelli Cinturatos. The car also does an excellent job of cutting out road noise, but at higher speeds you do get a bit of wind noise around the A-pillars.
The new Passat feels quite composed at high speeds but it doesn't have the same rock-solid demeanour of the previous Passat. That's because VW has softened the suspension in the interest of comfort and the big nose tends to bob gently on an uneven road. There is a fair bit of torque steer and you have to hold onto the wheel, especially on uneven surfaces. The Passat changes direction eagerly but, it isn't particularly engaging to drive. The steering is smooth and accurate but is merely a tool for pointing the front wheels, not gaining any kind of feel for the tyre / road interface.
Any doubts that the Passat's BlueMotion technology is just a gimmick and doesn't really work were instantly dispelled after our test. The Passat gives an astonishing 10.8kpl in the city and 15.2kpl on the highway. The new model is more frugal than several smaller saloons.
Though the Passat isn't poles apart from the previous model, it still is a quite a leap forward. For those who want the Passat for its fuss-free nature, it does the job brilliantly. And Volkswagen has loaded the Passat with features to command a higher price.