The Volkswagen Passat is an impressive car released at an inopportune time for the brand globally. The engine troubles afflicting the German brand shouldn't detract from the inherent quality of this sedan.
As Mike noted in his first drive at the overseas launch, the Volkswagen Passat is the German brand’s biggest-selling model globally. Its sales numbers aren't that vast here, but this new 2016 Volkswagen Passat 132TSI is an impressive medium sedan that deserves a lot more attention than it gets in Australia.
The only shame for the 2016 Volkswagen Passat is the timing. It's truly an impressive vehicle – especially in sedan/petrol-engine form - but it has been released at what can only be described as a shocking time for Volkswagen globally. That’s despite the diesel variant not being part of the ‘dieselgate’ saga, but regardless of that, the Passat still has a steep mountain to climb.
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat, especially in 132TSI guise, presents an attractive proposition as far as practical, affordable, medium-sized sedans go. Critics who call the Passat bland or boring obviously haven’t taken much of a look into the rest of its competitors in the segment. You couldn’t call the Toyota Camry, Subaru Liberty, Skoda Octavia, Renault Latitude, Peugeot 508, Nissan Altima or Honda Accord devastatingly exciting either.
The Mazda 6 has become something of a style leader, and there’s a quirky sense of design attraction to the Ford Mondeo. Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are currently the ‘safe’ choices in the segment, although the Optima has always been considered stylish, design wise. Regardless, this segment is often more about function than form, especially if you’re a sales rep or family buyer who needs to log plenty of kilometres each year. Let’s assess the Passat’s strong points then.
Despite a crisp and handsome exterior design, the price is possibly the understated Passat’s most imminently attractive feature. It’s a simple, two-engine variant range in either sedan or wagon body style, and this 132TSI is available as either entry or mid-grade Comfortline specification as driven here. As tested, pricing starts from $39,990 plus on-road costs. Our test Passat is also optioned with metallic paint ($700) and the Luxury Pack ($3500) taking the starting price up to $44,190.
The Luxury Pack sounds a little on the expensive size, but brings with it a slather of extra kit. It includes LED headlights for high and low beam, with dynamic cornering lights and integrated LED DRLs, automatic self-leveling, and headlight cleaning system with low washer fluid warning. Also included is a panoramic glass sunroof, LED ambient lighting in driver and passenger front footwells, front door decorative inlays, door openers and handles. Rounding out the package is electrically folding exterior mirrors, driving profile selection, park assist, parking bay and parallel parking assistance.
The 132TSI petrol engine is enthusiastic without being so highly strung that it’s no fun to use day-to-day. Displacing 1.8 litres, it generates 132kW between 5100-6200rpm and 250Nm between 1250-5000rpm. As you’d expect, that broad spread of torque (especially from so low down in the rev range) makes for a punchy experience around town. There’s a seven-speed DSG, which is as smooth an example of the transmission as we’ve tested recently, especially at peak-hour traffic speed.
The ADR combined fuel claim for the 132TSI engine is a relatively efficient 6.0L/100km and, while we couldn’t quite match that around town, we did manage to eke out 8.0L/100km. That figure is pretty damn good for a sedan of this size and quality.
The engine and gearbox are an incredibly smooth – and quiet – combination. A few times at stoplights I had to check if I had actually switched the stop/start system off, as the idle is so quiet. On the subject of stop/start, it works well enough, and isn’t too tardy to fire back into life, but I just prefer to drive with it deactivated. The gearbox shifts crisply at any speed and there’s none of the low speed shunting and discomfort you’ll experience with some DSGs. The cabin experience for driver and passengers alike is as premium as you'd expect from Volkswagen and perhaps even more premium than the pricing might indicate.
While the exterior styling is more muscular with a little more purpose than the model it replaces, the interior is beautiful in its simplicity. Some might view the lack of buttons and switchgear as a sign of lesser quality, but that couldn’t be less accurate. The simple, effective way the interior has been designed ensures the Passat is always pleasurable to drive.
The seats are sculpted to perfection, comfortable and supple enough without being too soft and featuring quality leather trim. You can imagine spending long drives behind the wheel without ever feeling fatigued – another reason the Passat makes a lot of sense as a repmobile. Another feature reps will love is Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is standard across the range. As an iPhone owner, I spent plenty of time messing with the CarPlay system and found it to be genuinely useful, especially on the go.
Having looked at the CarPlay system in the Hyundai Tucson a few months ago, getting the hang of it over a week in the Passat highlighted its strong points. It’s one factor that contributes to the reduction in switchgear thanks to its simplicity and touchscreen integration. The connection is rock solid as you’d expect, unlike Bluetooth, which can drop in and out occasionally. Callers reported crystal clear reception on the phone and the system never froze or stopped working. I found the voice command to be a little more responsive on the Hyundai system, but listening to text messages and responding to them by speaking worked really well in the Passat.
It might be an obvious point to make, but this is a far safer system than having driver’s fiddling with their phones on the move, that’s for sure. The screen graphics are effective as well and we liked the appearance of Apple Maps through the car’s infotainment screen. The other aspect of CarPlay that worked seamlessly for us was music streaming from the library on the phone – it’s especially intuitive.
The Passat has a near-perfect ride around town, which numerous CarAdvice testers noted over the course of their time with the car. Incidentally, this was not the case with the diesel wagon Matt tested recently, but bear in mind that vehicle was riding on 19-inch wheels and sports suspension, which lowers the ride height by around 15mm and stiffens things up by some measure. The harsher ride in that particular car stands in stark difference to what is so impressive about this sedan.
17x7-inch rims and sensible 215/55/R17 tyres combine with the inherently clever suspension tune to deliver a ride and bump absorption that is as good as it gets in this class. Speed humps, potholes and uneven surfaces are no match for the composed suspension system, with ride quality as close to perfect as you’ll sample in the segment – indeed Passat is right up there with locally-tuned Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
My time with the Passat is a potent reminder that harsh suspension tunes for the sake of outright handling aren’t always the smart way for a manufacturer to go. If you spend most of your time driving normally and not thrashing your car, you’ll definitely appreciate a more comfortable ride. That’s a fact that is amplified around urban areas with poor road surfaces. However, when we wonder whether mums and dads need a track-capable car for day-to-day, we find the answer is a definitive no. However, the Passat delivers impressively around town.
The worry for Volkswagen long-term is actually highlighted by the inherent quality of this new Passat. The stress that its current issues will put on R&D especially means we might not see vehicles of this quality from the German manufacturer in the coming years. In the meantime, the Passat makes a strong case for consideration in a segment chock-full of vastly different options. It’s got everything going for it that makes a medium sedan a sensible choice. Underrate it to you detriment.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.