The Volkswagen Passat turned 40 years old in 2013, so it seems perfect timing for assessing the current-generation version of the big German sedan.
Passat is now in its seventh iteration – and good to the tune of more than 15m million sales – since debuting in 1973.
The current model introduced in late 2010 was more of a heavy makeover over the sixth-generation, and an all-new VW Passat – sitting on the company’s new modular MQB platform – is expected in 2014.
For now, though, the diesel version of the Passat received a little birthday gift in April when the 125TDI variant turned into the 130TDI.
The number change represented a small hike in the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine’s power output from 125 to 130kW. Torque also increased – by 30Nm to 380Nm.
Fuel economy was also improved – to 5.4L/100km (-0.3L/100km) for the wagon and to 5.6L/100km for the sedan (down 0.1L/100km).
They’re worthy tweaks for a good engine that is pleasantly torquey and smooth to rev.
There is some partial turbo lag below 1500rpm, most noticeable in stop-start traffic or out of corners, but the engine pulls well from just above 1000rpm – which is just as well considering the six-speed dual-clutch auto’s desire to upshift into higher gears as early as possible.
You can flick the auto into Sport mode to make the engine feel quite lively for a diesel, though there’s little point taking it to the 5000rpm redline.
We tested the VW Passat 130TDI in wagon form, which officially is two-tenths slower in the 0-100km/h acceleration run than the sedan – 8.6 v 8.4 seconds.
That’s good performance for a diesel wagon in the segment, beating rivals such as the Peugeot 508 Touring (9.5 seconds) and the sister Skoda Superb 125TDI Wagon (8.8 seconds).
The suspension feels a touch overdamped at slower speeds, bringing a firmness to urban bumps, though generally the Passat offers a decently comfortable ride.
And at faster speeds, over big-dipper-style country roads, there’s excellent composure.
The Passat is not as satisfying on curving roads as a Mazda 6, Honda Accord Euro or Ford Mondeo, though there’s strong front-end grip generated by the tyres and VW’s biggest passenger car doesn’t get flustered in corners.
The steering is also smooth and accurate – covering key basics that can’t be taken for granted in the medium-size segment.
The Alfa-esque ribbed-leather seats (pictured above in the Alltrack variant) of our test car would benefit from more side support but the long, angled cushions of the front seats are ideal for long journeys.
There are some other classic VW touches of quality, too. The doors close with a satisfyingly dull thud, large door pockets are carpeted, and the centre console cupholders and tray are rubber-lined.
Soft materials also embellish the upper dashboard and upper door trim, and the beige and dark brown of our test car’s cabin created a smart duo-tone look. A $300 walnut wood and aluminium trim was a fitted option on our test car.
The Passat’s overall dash design, however, looks a generation old compared with fresher VWs such as the Golf – and effectively it is because the German car maker barely touched the cabin styling in the jump from generations six to seven.
The metallic-style centre stack looks a touch bland and the central chunk of the dash is a hard, scratchy plastic that only partly redeems itself by the texture design that tries to disguise the lower cost of the material used.
So medium cars is a rare segment where Volkswagen loses for perception of quality, now outclassed by the newer Mazda 6.
Jump into the rear and the Passat puts its 4.9-metre length and 2.7m wheelbase to good effective by providing plenty of clearance for heads and knees.
The centre rear seat includes an armrest with a concealed tray and push-out cupholders, as well as hiding the useful ski port. There are also rear vents.
Rear seats up, the Passat wagon’s boot has a cargo volume of 603 litres compared to the sedan’s 565L. Fold the 60/40 split seats down – via levers on top of the seats or handy levers in the boot – and capacity expands to 1730 litres, with a flattish floor.
Comparing load space with wagon rivals, the VW Passat is ahead of the likes of the Hyundai i40 Tourer (506L/1672L) and Mazda 6 Touring (451L/1593L), similar to the Peugeot 5008 Touring (612L/1817L), short of the Skoda Superb Wagon (633L/1865L), and well behind the cavernous Ford Mondeo wagon (816L/1919L).
An automatic tailgate has been standard on all VW Passat wagons since September 2012, and opening it reveals a handy low loading lip despite the presence of a full-size spare wheel.
There are also side sections for storage and a cargo blind.
Satellite navigation with a 30GB hard drive is also standard on all Passats as part of the minor 2012 update that also brought small price increases.
The 130TDI costs from $44,490 as a sedan and from $46,490 as a wagon, and forms a third of the local regular VW Passat line-up. (There are also a CC four-door ‘coupe’ and higher-riding Alltrack variants.)
Alternative regular Passat models are the entry-level 118TSI, from $38,990, which is powered by a 118kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo petrol, and the $56,490-plus V6 FSI that offers 220kW and 350Nm from its 3.6-litre V6.
The 118TSI petrol is teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘DSG’ auto, where the diesel and V6 petrol are mated with a six-speed version that can handle greater torque outputs.
The V6 FSI, which is all-wheel-drive where the other models are front-drive, is the quickest but also the thirstiest model.
It sprints from 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds (sedan; 5.7 wagon), where the 118TSI takes another three seconds and the 130TDI another 2.9sec.
Opt for the diesel 130TDI, however, and you’ll save more than four litres of extra fuel every 100km compared with the V6 – 5.4-5.6L/100km versus 9.5-9.7L/100km. The 118TSI sits in between with official consumption of 7.2-7.5L/100km depending on body style.
Standard equipment is largely shared between the models, with the biggest differences coming in the quality of trim on offer or the occasional big-ticket item such as adaptive chassis control that is standard only on the V6 FSI.
Main inclusions for the VW Passat are an electronic park brake, rain-sensing wipers, rear view camera, front and rear sensors with optical parking guide, eight airbags (including rear side as well as side curtain), 17-inch alloy wheels (18s for V6), dual-zone climate control, cruise, driver fatigue monitor, heated front seats, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and driver’s seat with electric backrest and lumbar adjust.
The 130TDI’s gains over the 118TSI include foglights and an electronic front diff lock that aims to quell understeer. The V6 FSI is the only model to offer paddleshift levers for pseudo-manual gearchanges.
Metallic paint ($700) is among a list of options that also include semi-automatic parking ($900), premium audio ($2000), integrated child booster seats ($850) and a Sport package ($2300 for the 130TDI) that brings 18-inch alloys, paddleshifts, dark tinted rear windows and front sports seats.
The Volkswagen Passat isn’t the most exciting choice in the medium car segment, and it isn’t the best value if you compare it with a competitor such as the Hyundai i40 Tourer Elite that’s nearly $5000 cheaper, offers a five-year warranty and isn’t far behind on spec.
But the Passat is a car that is thoroughly competent in so many areas.