Volkswagen has taken its time getting the Passat to India, but you can kind of see why. Executive sedans aren’t exactly setting the sales charts afire, with buyers gravitating towards SUVs. But finally, a good three years after its international debut, VW has launched the eighth-generation Passat in India. Built on the group’s modular MQB platform, the Passat is essentially a sister car to the Skoda Superb and the Audi A3. And therein lies the challenge; segment sales may not be large but there’s capable competition in the form of the limo-like Superb as well as the Toyota Camry hybrid. So to give the Passat a fighting chance, it's been loaded with features and priced on par with the rest.
Depending on which way you look at it, you’ll either find the Passat elegantly understated or just ordinary. But either way, it doesn’t really have any bad angles. At the front, the headlights and grille are styled into a single panel running across the width of the car. There isn’t much by way of design flair but the full LED headlights with DRLs at the bottom edge look sharp. And lending a bit of a sporty touch is the lower edge of the bumper that’s tapered inwards; this treatment is given to the sides and rear bumper too. The profile of the Passat is characterised by a strong coupé roofline and a prominent, deep shoulder line. LED tail-lamps complete the rear. On the whole, the Passat looks classy but it lacks any sort of flair or panache.
Things on the inside are in the same vein. The interior colour scheme is dark and is livened by the exquisitely finished wood panel on the dash and doors that brings in a subdued richness. Like the headlight-grille mono panel, the dashboard too has a single panel housing the AC vents, broken in the centre by an analogue clock. The steering wheel is the familiar VW unit from the Polo, while the controls like the HVAC unit, door handles and window switches are from the Jetta and Tiguan.
The wood inserts, Nappa leather upholstery and the soft-touch areas on the dash all feel like they belong on a more expensive car. All around, the feel of the cabin, or ‘haptics’ as VW prefers to call it, is simply top-notch and high on quality.
Even if the styling doesn’t impress you, the comfort certainly should. The cabin is comfortable with very supportive seats. The front seats get power adjust and are heated, while the driver’s seat, additionally, comes with a memory and massage function. However, the seats miss out on a cooling function that is now part of lesser cars like the Hyundai Elantra and Verna. It just shows how difficult it is for VW to re-engineer a European car for the Indian market.
At the back, the seats are supportive, with the backrest at an angle that’s comfortable enough to relax and upright enough to read. While not as ample as the Superb, there’s enough space to stretch out your feet. The flip-down armrest is also nice and at a natural height to rest your elbow on. With the sloping roofline, I expected headroom to be tight, but space was sufficient enough for my 5ft 8in frame, with a three-finger gap to spare. Shoulder room is also adequate for three, though the middle passenger will have a narrow seat and a large central tunnel to contend with.
There’s enough space in the Passat for your possessions too, with storage areas around the cabin and a large 586-litre boot that can be opened via a button on the remote or a simple wave of your foot below the bumper. We tried this out and it did work quite easily, though it did need a few extra waves of the foot at times. Should, for some reason, you need more space, the 60:40 split rear seats can be tipped forward from the boot itself.
In terms of the feature list, the Passat is equipped with a three-zone climate control system, automatic parking, tyre pressure monitoring, an electric rear sunshade and, of course, since we can’t get enough solar rays, a sunroof too. Entertainment duties are handled by a touchscreen unit that gets you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, aside from the regular USB, Aux and Bluetooth options. The system also has handy buttons for easy access to frequently used functions, and a proximity sensor that throws up commands as soon as you reach for the screen. In addition to the car’s setup, the screen displays the 360-degree camera and self-parking functions, all in very good resolution.
There’s also a full complement of safety kit in the form of nine airbags, including one for the driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, and VW’s drag reduction that prevents the front wheels from locking in case
of a rapid downshift.
BALANCE OF POWER
In India, the Passat gets only one powertrain option – the 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine mated to a six-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG). The engine does duty in the Skoda Superb and puts out an identical 177hp and 350Nm of torque in the Passat. Power comes in from around 1,500rpm and builds rapidly all the way to the 5,400rpm redline. Along with a downshift from the quick-shifting gearbox, delivery can be quite spiky. Shifts are quick as expected and can also be called up via the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. The only downside here is that the engine note is a wee bit harsh and fairly audible both outside and in. In most scenarios, the DSG is superb at reading your pedal inputs and responding accordingly. But, even in traffic, in the off chance that you catch it out with a sudden twist of your right ankle, it can cause a bit of a hiccup in power delivery, accompanied by a slight jerk as a cog is swapped up or down. These instances are few and far between, though, and for the most part, the Passat just rolls on seamlessly.
VW claims a fuel efficiency of 17.42kpl and helping you achieve this is the onboard Think Blue Trainer that gives you prompts to improve your driving efficiency.
Power delivery can also be tweaked via the car’s drive modes that alter engine, gearbox, steering and, in a first for this class, damper properties too. The ride is typically European, giving you good high-speed confidence with a planted and reassuring feel, if slightly stiff for our road conditions. The wheels tend to skip over speed breakers and crash down on the other side; of course, you can tweak this with the adjustable dampers. The ride is quite comfortable for most purposes; it’s just that the sound of the suspension at work is far louder than it should be. Also, sharp edges catch out the suspension which seems to have a firm rebound setting on the dampers even in Normal mode. The steering has a good amount of weight and gets firmer in Sport mode. At times, the weight can swiftly increase mid-corner though.
IF THE SUIT FITS
VW describe this car as the quite, confident guy, one who doesn’t show off. And if that appeals to you then the Passat is simply perfect. Its negatives like the audible suspension and engine can be overlooked in the face of its many talents. The Passat is well equipped, spacious, rides well and is adequately powered, and it doesn’t command an unnecessary premium. Trouble, however, is, while it ticks all the right boxes, most people buy cars with their hearts instead of checklists and that’s where the Passat lacks the sense of occasion. Many won’t find it to be exciting; it basically comes down to tuxedos and suits. If you prefer the flair of a tux then look elsewhere, but if it’s the simple elegance of a suit that you like, the Passat is your perfect bet.