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The new 2017 Volkswagen Passat 206TSI R-Line range-topper is about to launch in Australia, giving the company the flagship mid-sized car it should have been offering already.
But, better late than never. This new hotted-up Volkswagen Passat derivative gives the company’s Australian arm a spiritual successor to the almost-iconic R36 Passat of two generations ago, though that car's voluble V6 is replaced here by something a little smaller.
Under the bonnet of this Passat sedan or wagon (your choice) is a version of the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine familiar from the Skoda Superb 206TSI and the VW Golf R, as well as the latest 4Motion on-demand all-wheel drive system.
In German spec and Australian spec alike, this variant offers 206kW of power and 350Nm of torque, promising a zero to 100km/h sprint time of as little as 5.5 seconds (5.7sec for the heavier wagon). Standard-fit is a high-torque six-speed DSG with paddles. Fuel use drops to 7.1L/100km, compared to 10.7L/100km for the R36.
Befitting the extra torque and grip on offer, you also get the company’s adaptive chassis control as standard, giving you various driving modes from comfort through to sport, that not only change the steering, throttle and DSG tune, but also the damper force.
Thus, Volkswagen’s talented but staid mid-sizer gets the sort of proper performance derivative its ‘Premium for the People’ branding demands, and opens the model up to the sort of buyers that would otherwise eschew one of its best-known badges.
Naturally, we’re already well familiar with this drivetrain from its other uses (our Superb 206TSI long-termer being one reason why), as well as other Passat derivatives, so driving a similar car in Europe over the past few days served up few surprises.
But that’s a good thing, because for this car to be anything other than a supremely confident, swift and comfortable executive express would be a shock and a failure. Luckily, in this instance, Volkswagen hasn’t dropped the ball.
We took an opportunity while in Europe this week to drive a Passat 206TSI wagon with 4Motion, albeit one on smaller 18-inch wheels (ours will get 19s), sans R-Line styling package. That car is the brown one pictured. We've also used images of an Australian-market blue 140TDI with R-Line package (see more in the gallery), because it best resembles the 206TSI version we'll get.
There could be few better places to test the Passat 206TSI than its native country, sitting in the left lane of a derestricted Autobahn at 246km/h in relative quietude, enjoying a reassuring sense of stability while the rolling green hills fly by at a rate of knots.
That boating analogy might be a poor one, because this Passat also handles. While lacking the Golf R’s razor-like turn-in, the Passat offers fine levels of body control through sweepers, and the AWD offers ample traction.
As a prestige offering with swiftness and dexterity, this Passat 206TSI ticks the requisite boxes, capable of the sort of ride comfort (rounding off sharp edges) the regular car offers, but also settling faster after undulations and feeling flatter under heavy cornering forces.
The Australian version that will come with adaptive dampers should be a very agreeable package, giving the VW a point of difference from the Superb 206TSI, and hopefully offsetting the larger 19-inch wheels our version will get compared to the brown car we drove.
But the story isn’t perfect. There’s a good chance anyone reading this review closely has some affinity with the R36 of two generations ago, and will remember well the guttural rumble and crisp exhaust note from its 3.6-litre V6/DSG combinations.
Despite a good deal of obvious trying, Volkswagen’s downsized engine can’t offer the same theatre, though the fact that peak torque is ready between 1700 and 5600rpm (earlier than the 220kW V6 managed) means it feels as muscular through the mid-range as an engine with more cylinders.
As mentioned, Australian versions of the Passat 206TSI are going to come as standard with the R-Line package, bringing a sporting body kit and 19-inch alloy wheels. It’ll also get LED headlights.
The result is a car that will look menacing in an understated way, though alas not finished in that signature R36 electric blue paint. This is a Volkswagen after all, and low-key menace is a brand specialty.
Inside the cabin will be leather-trimmed R-Line seats, a flat-bottom multi-function sports steering wheel and alloy pedals. You also get the Audi-style Active Info Display digital instruments as standard, which let you view the maps or infotainment before your eyes.
Other features will be Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, the 8.0-inch touchscreen iteration with Discover Pro multimedia and satellite-navigation, keyless access, three-zone climate control, AEB, lane assist and an automatic boot.
The cabin is familiar from other Passat models in most ways, meaning an austere and pared-back design with high levels of quality and good switchgear, though R36 fans might miss that car’s suave leather and suede bucket seats.
Rear seat space is vast, and the cargo area in the wagon version is a voluminous 1780 litres with the back row forward, with a loading floor length in excess of two-metres. All models get full-length cabin airbags and ISOFIX anchors.
As Volkswagen has already announced, the Passat 206TSI R-Line will be priced from $57,990 in sedan form and $59,990 for the wagon, both excluding on-road costs. Metallic paint can be added for $700, and a panoramic glass sunroof is available for $2000.
Elsewhere in the VW group, the even more practical Skoda Superb 206TSI begins at $50,690 for the sedan and $52,690 for the wagon. That said, the Skoda misses standard Adaptive Chassis Control, offered instead as part of the $3400 Tech Pack, and the novel digital instrument cluster as well.
You get the sense that Volkswagen was a little galled that its little Skoda subsidiary so thoroughly knocked the Superb 206TSI’s development out of the park, and was compelled to step in and beat the Czechs at their own game.
Therefore the Passat’s value equations stacks up well, especially when you also factor in that the Passat 140TDI wagon with R-Line pack is $52,690. Additionally, consider that the much-loved 220kW/350Nm 3.6-litre six-cylinder Passat R36 sold until 2010 with a price as high as $66,990.
Clearly, then, the Passat 206TSI R-Line is every bit as swift and competent as you’d imagine. A finer semi-premium executive car you couldn’t hope to find. All that’s missing is some of the old R36’s heart and soul. We await our local drive in a few months.