a new Passat Estate
is the easy bit.
The hard part is
choosing from the
vast range of engines
THERE ARE MANY versions of the Passat Estate to choose from they are available with FSI direct injection, with petrol and TDI diesel engines in sizes ranging from a 1.6 to a 3.2-litre V6, with five- and six-speed manual, automatic tiptronic and DSG transmissions, with front-wheel drive as well as VW's 4Motion four-wheel drive and in S, SE, Sport and SEL trim levels. Prices currently range from £16,440 to £26,455. And there are still more models yet to be added…
The new and appreciably larger sixth generation Passat is clearly set to become a big player in the company car and user-chooser markets. The fact that the new generation Passats are significantly bigger and have more road presence than their predecessors will make them popular with customers who do not want to go down the path of buying the less desirable-to-own Vauxhall Vectra or Ford Mondeo estates. It will also compete healthily with estates from the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Peugeot 407 and Volvo V70 ranges.
There's no doubt that the new Passat is a quality product with a more exclusive image. Immediately noticeable is the thrusting boldly-chromed V-shaped grille Volkswagen's new corporate 'face'. Shapely, eye-catching lights at each corner inject a strong but not brash touch of 'look at me'. In fact, the Passat now looks much closer to the Audi brand than perhaps even Audi might like to admit.
Volkswagen expect to sell 32,000 Passats in the UK this year and 13,000 of them destined to be Estates. Diesel engines will be the stronger sales models, and the best-selling single model is expected to be the 2.0-litre TDI SE with 140bhp and a six-speed manual 'box.
It is certainly the model I would go for, priced as it is at £19,860 that's only marginally more than the lack-lustre 1.9-litre SE TDI I recently drove and the 2.0-litre's performance is much better.
However, my test model had the 1.9-litre TDI engine with only 105bhp of power and 184lb ft of torque and a 5-speed transmission. To put it bluntly, it was no ball of fire. Its acceleration felt sluggish and it was prone to stalling when pulling away from standstill unless it was given more than the usual amount of engine revs usually needed for a diesel (a very good reason to go for the 140bhp 2.0-litre engine every time). In fairness to the 1.9, its 0-62mph time is 12.5 seconds. It did, however, return 45.4mpg so it's not all bad news. Unfortunately, the lack of driving enjoyment took the edge off the overall enjoyment of living with the Passat Estate for a week.
That said, if driving performance is not your thing and if you like to use less fuel and pay lower levels of company car tax and less road fund licence, then the 1.9 is fine. From both the outside and inside it looks an expensive, upmarket car it is just this particular engine option which lets it down.
The new Passat is bigger longer, taller and wider than the range
it has replaced. This means a more substantial road presence plus there's significantly more interior passenger space both front and rear, making it a full five-seater. And there's lots of storage space for all the paraphernalia of family life, be it bottles or buggies. Hey, there's even
a slot for an umbrella in the driver's door! The load bay dimensions have increased slightly, although they do not quite match up to the latest Vectra estates. With the Passat's rear seats in use there is 513 litres of luggage space. But fold down the 60/40 spilt rear seats and this more than triples the carrying capacity to a huge 1,641 litres.
The new car is also stronger, with improved rigidity and a stiffer chassis. Add to this the use of a new multi-link rear suspension and the handling is better, showing 'big car' levels of refinement in the way it absorbs the worst potholes and copes with poor roads surfaces. The semi-electric power steering offered good feedback and, despite the Passat's size remember, it is a 4.7-metre family estate the Passat proved to be neat and nimble to drive. At the risk of labouring the point, so much so that the lack of performance from the 1.9-litre engine proved even more frustrating.
Neither is the Passat Estate short of new technologies. An electronic stability programme is fitted as standard to all models, as is anti-lock braking. There are also front, side and curtain airbags and active front head restraints, along with fast-acting LED rear lights all good safety features which we have come to expect these days on all quality cars.
The interior specification has moved up market as well. Initially, the interior looks a tad uninteresting unless you opt for the two-tone finish. Get behind the wheel and take in the shapely facia and logical dash layout and you quickly appreciate that VW has lost none of its knack for making a driver feel truly at ease and in control. For its price, the Passat really does lack for nothing (there's now an electronic parking brake with an optional 'auto-hold' function that can keep the car and an attached trailer stationary on a hill). Apart from the under-powered performance from the 105bhp 1.9-litre engine, 'my' Passat grew on me with every mile I drove it. It's very comfortable, and even after a long drive I didn't feel the least bit tired.
The biggest plus points for this classy estate car are its build quality, stylish on-road presence, undoubted driving refinement and, of course, its roominess. Just choose one of the more powerful engines I cannot recommend the 1.9-litre diesel engine when the 2.0-litre TDI is so markedly better and you'll be more than satisfied. Residual values should be good, too, so although it costs more than the Vectra estate the Passat should, in the long term, prove to be much better value.
Do watch the options list, though specify a 'winter pack' (including heated front seats), a satellite navigation system, some 'must-have' parking sensors plus a few other goodies and you can kiss goodbye to a further £2,500. David Miles
Volkswagen Passat Estate 1.9 TDI SE | £18,555
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 12.4 seconds
Test MPG: 45.4mpg | Power: 105bhp | Torque: 184lb ft
Visit Volkswagen's website