Big, very comfortable, luxuriously equipped and seriously capable, the Passat is a car that has been getting progressively more successful with every generation. The new, eighth-generation Passat is likley to be one of the most successful Volkswagens around and is a car that is even more luxurious than the one it replaces.
It isn't very successful in India yet, primarily because of the mismatch between the asking price and the amount of respect the brand commands from luxury car buyers, but VW is hoping to change all that with this car.
So what have they got that will excite you on the new Passat? Well, for a start, it's a really attractive looking sedan that looks expensive and attractive enough to pass muster as a luxury car. The chin is hung low, the neat looking grille is really wide and the long headlights that wrap around the nose look very upmarket. There's also an air of sophistication on this car not present on the earlier Passat. Although the rear of the car is quite derived, there are some interesting details like the scooped out ledge between the boot lid and bumper.
Built around VW's new MQB platform, the new car is around 85kg lighter and more efficient than the car it replaces. The new car also has a longer wheelbase, despite being shorter in overall length and lower slung. Still, cabin length is up by 33mm, there's more rear headroom and the boot is bigger too.
The car now feels as spacious as a Mercedes E-class and, as ever, it feels nicely put together; well appointed and meticulously finished. From the climate control knobs to the trip computer and multimedia buttons, every rotor and switch feels solid and intuitively placed. Chrome is tastefully deployed and every single above-the-knee moulding is soft and and luxurious. Even the quality of the door shut has been improved quite a bit and they now close with a satisfying thunk, adding greatly to perceived build quality levels.
The boldest design feature on the inside are the radiator-like slats that run from one side of the cabin to the other, merging the air-con vents into one styling theme. All versions come as standard with conventional instruments, but VW will also offer a 12.3-inch Active Info Display as an option. This very high-definition screen can be configured in a dozen ways, to display almost anything.
There's plenty of new tech as well, such as app-mirroring for Android smartphones, and Google Earth functionality. But despite all these updates, the cabin still doesn't feel as luxurious as that of an E-class or an Audi A6; though now, it's much closer than it's ever been. Where this car can compete is on comfort levels. There's not much to choose between the seats of this car and the Audi A6's and the nicely angled and supportive rear bench is also almost as good as an E-class.
The diesel engine that's most likely to make it to India is the 187bhp 2.0 TDI. The brand new 237bhp twin-turbo diesel could come at a later date, but currently seems a bit too expensive for where VW is planning to place the car. This is a shame because this engine is a real gem. Much smoother than Mercedes' twin-turbo and even more free-revving, the really strong mid range of this engine provides plenty of punch.
We also drove the 148bhp diesel, which is similar to the engine that VW plans to get here. Refinement levels have clearly taken a step forward from the earlier car and the motor feels much smoother and more responsive. This makes driving the Passat in a relaxed manner much nicer. Power flows quite effortlessly and cruising around is really no sweat either. Pull the car hard, however, and you don't get as much performance as you want. The 187bhp engine will be much nicer in this respect for sure.
The Passat's ride and handling balance hasn't changed much from that of the earlier car. Ride, as ever, is a priority and the MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension are a mix between those of the new Golf and updated parts from the earlier car. The end result is perfectly satisfactory, and more refined and pliant than the earlier car. It rides surprisingly well over rough patches and only gets caught out by sharp edged bumps that cause the wheel to travel a fair bit. As with most large VW cars, straight line stability is also right up there, despite the soft set-up.
The Passat initially doesn't feel like it will enjoy being cornered. The steering provides almost no feel, and this makes it appear like there is very little grip up front. Drive the car harder, however, and the ease with which it takes corners gives you some confidence back. And you can even enjoy a road that twists and turns. Don't expect any feedback from the steering though.
VW’s intent with the Passat is clear; to deliver a genuine alternative to full-fledged premium-luxury cars like the Mercedes C-class and the BMW 3-series. Larger and more comfortable on the inside and almost as luxurious, it may not have the driving manners or the flashy presence of the competition but look at things objectively and suddenly the Passat starts to make its presence felt. Yes, many buyers in the segment will find it difficult to look past the fancy badges of the competition and in comparison, even this new Passat may appear to be a bit dull. But if you are looking for genuine ability and loads and loads of quality and refinement, make sure you take a good, hard look at VW's segment-buster. Expected to be in Indian showrooms next year at a starting price of around Rs 35 lakh, the new VW Passat is the luxury car to buy if you let your head do the thinking.