At any other time, a Volkswagen with a 2.0-litre diesel engine would barely raise an eyebrow in the CarAdvice offices. But with the emissions-cheating scandal still unfolding and new models still to be driven, we took delivery of the new 2016 Volkswagen Passat wagon with the aim of seeing how it stacks up over a week of to-ing and fro-ing.
The specific model we had was the 2016 Volkswagen Passat wagon 140TDI Highline, with the addition of the sporty R-Line package.
To kick things off, this model is priced at $47,990 plus on-road costs for the stock-standard bit of kit, but our ride has been pimped by Volkswagen Australia’s press team. As such, it has metallic paint (that blue hue costs $700 – worth it!), and the Luxury Pack, which is a $3500 box to tick. This adds LED headlights for high and low beam, LED daytime running lights, panoramic sunroof, LED interior ambient lighting, electric folding side mirrors, and a semi-autonomous parking system with parallel and nose-to-kerb (90-degree angle) functions.
The reason it looks sportier than the average Passat is because it also has the R-Line pack. This includes a range of extras, including 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile (235/40) tyres, lowered sports suspension (dropped approximately 15mm), some styling changes (such as a rear roof spoiler), R-Line front bumper with larger air intakes, sill skirts, a sportier rear bumper with trapezoidal exhaust surrounds and a number of R-Line badges.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine – which isn’t one of those affected in the ‘dieselgate’ controversy – is a four-cylinder unit producing 140kW of power from 3500-4000rpm, while its 400Nm of torque hits from 1750-3000rpm.
All Passat models currently available are front-wheel drive, and unlike the petrol model (which has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission) the diesel model comes with a six-speed dual-clutch DSG.
With so much torque being transmitted to the tarmac via the front wheels, it’s not uncommon to experience some wheel-spin at the traffic lights. Actually, "some" is a massive understatement – it’s almost a regular occurrence, such is the poor calibration of the throttle, the evident lag from the diesel engine and the sluggish reaction of the transmission.
At low speeds, driving this diesel Passat is nothing short of annoying. There’s a lurchy nature to the drivetrain, and on hills the sluggish reaction times of the transmission and engine combined can make for some moments where it feels like this: lag, lag, lag, lurch. It’s worse when you’re reversing up and out of a sloped driveway, with our car exhibiting a vibration through the chassis, along with plenty of that lagging, too.
Further, the engine’s stop-start system exacerbates these issues even more, which isn't particularly helped by the noisy engine, especially compared to some quieter European competitors.
Most of those issues fade away somewhat when you hit the open road.
The engine settles into its groove at speeds above 80km/h and freeway driving is easy, which is to be expected given that this thing is the staple choice for German travelling executives. Having driven 600km on the freeway with this car, I can certainly say that cruising is a breeze.
But you can also hear a lot of the breeze, because as with many of Volkswagen’s latest offerings, there’s not as much sound insulation as you may want. Some wind, road and tyre noise is prevalent, mostly on coarse-chip surfaces.
While it isn’t the benchmark setter in terms of vehicle dynamics in the segment – that honour falls to the Mazda 6 – the Passat doesn’t disappoint in the twisty stuff. It sticks to the road well (19s with good tyres and lowered suspension certainly help in that regard) and the Progressive Steering system of the R-Line pack ensures that the tiller’s responsiveness through turns is quick and easy to control.
There are drive modes for Highline models, including 'Normal', 'Sport', 'Comfort', 'Eco' and 'Individual'. These adjust the way the throttle, transmission, steering and ventilation behave, and we found that Individual – a mix of both Normal and Sport settings – proved the pick.
The sports suspension does the ride no favours around town. It rides hard over bumps but never crashes, and while that may be totally fine for some, the team all commented on the sharpness of the suspension on Sydney’s scarred back streets. The suspension does settle considerably with more people and luggage on board, though.
After all that driving, we registered a fuel consumption readout of just 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is a touch above the claimed usage of 4.8L/100km but still extremely respectable for a car of this size.
After so many miles, I can say the Passat is a very nice place to sit. The Passat R-Line model has sports front seats finished in Carbon Nappa leather trim with R-Line embossing. There’s also a flat-bottom steering wheel, paddle shifters, aluminium pedals, gloss black interior trims and black headlining. It feels sporty inside, but in a typically understated German way.
Also, in another typically German way, the practicality of the Passat is almost unparalleled in this class. There is excellent storage in the front, featuring big door pockets with bottle holders, cup holders, and storage bins for odds and ends. In the rear it’s almost as good, with map pockets on both seatbacks, bins in each door, plus a fold-down arm-rest with cup holders.
The boot rates at 650 litres with all the seats in place, and 1780L with the rears folded flat. Through the 60:40 arrangement, the bootspace is easily enough for a family’s worth of suitcases and sundries for a weekend away.
It’s worth noting that by choosing the R-Line pack, which fits a different bumper, buyers miss out on the 'Easy Open' boot of the Passat wagon, which allows you to kick under the rear bumper to open the boot if your hands are full. But all Passats come with a full-size spare wheel, which is a bonus.
However, it was a bit of a surprise to be sat in a car nearing $50k that doesn't have full electric seat adjustment. No Passats have that tech, while many rivals do, particularly in top-end specification. Thankfully, the multiple adjustment options of the 'ergoComfort' driver's seat include seat cushion tilt, cushion depth, electric back-rest adjustment, four-way lumbar and pump action height adjustment. That means that it’s simple to find a comfortable position, even if it’s a bit of work to alter it for other bodies.
It comfortably fits five adults, with enough head, leg and toe room to comfortably have two six-footers sitting tandem to one another. ISOFIX child seat anchors are present for outboard seats (plus three top-tether attachments), and airbag coverage includes a driver’s knee bag, dual front, front side, rear side and full-length curtain airbags, for a total of nine.
Further safety bits include a reverse-view camera as standard, along with front and rear parking sensors with optical readout. In this specification (as well as Comfortline) there’s rear cross-traffic alert system, city emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance. Adaptive cruise control with speed limiting is another nicety, too.
That back-up camera displays through the new 8.0-inch media screen, which includes standard satellite navigation (without live traffic updates, unfortunately), and the media controls are simple to use and easy to learn. This is aided by the predictive menus which pop up when you move your hand close to the screen, and the system also features the pinch and swipe functions for the mapping software.
Further, the Passat is one of the plethora of Volkswagen models to adopt Apple CarPlay, which makes smartphone interaction simple by using Siri to read out text messages, allowing you to reply and also offer quick commands.
Volkswagen offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and the same coverage for its roadside assistance program. A six-year/90,000km capped-price servicing is offered on all models in the range, and the Passat diesel averages out at $533 per visit.
As Trent found, the petrol version was a peach in terms of its drivability, and while the diesel will appeal to long-haul drivers, it wouldn’t be our pick if the car was mainly to be used for urban duties. This is particularly the case with the R-Line pack, which impacts the overall score of this model due to its hard ride.
As such, it can’t manage as high a score as the petrol sedan Trent drove recently, but it’s still an impressive wagon in the right circumstances and the right specification.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Volkswagen Passat Wagon images by Mitchell Oke.