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If you read many of our reviews here on-site, watch our videos or listen to any of the CarAdvice radio shows, you’ll know we spend a lot of time recommending buyers look at wagons instead of rushing out to buy SUVs. Do they listen? Not really, no. You can lead a horse to water…
All of which, surprise, surprise, makes this 2018 Volkswagen Passat 132TSI Comfortline a vehicle well worth considering when the time comes to look for a flexible, user-friendly, value-packed family conveyance. The price is only part of the Passat wagon story, though. The real story is in the driving – this Passat is much more enjoyable to drive than any comparably priced SUV you could think of.
Starting from $43,990 before on-road costs, the Passat 132TSI in Comfortline is the smart-money contender in the Passat Wagon range in our opinion. One step above the entry-grade $37,990 132TSI model, and below the $49,990 140TDI Highline and $60,490 TSI R-Line, the 132 TSI Comfortline as tested here is wedged smack-bang in the middle of the pricing spectrum of the medium SUV segment by way of comparison.
The only change for the MY18 update is the inclusion of Volkswagen’s excellent 9.2-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. I love the way the system doesn’t default to your smartphone mapping either, not unless you want it to anyway. VW’s proprietary system is excellent, and you’re not chewing through needless data either.
The Passat’s cabin is significantly more premium in both execution and experience than the pricing might indicate. Beautifully contoured seats, electric up front, with exceptional bolstering and padding ensure comfortable cruising regardless of how long your drive might be. It’s easy to get the seats where you want them too, and the steering wheel – adjustable for tilt and reach – makes matters even easier.
Visibility is excellent also, thin pillars not interrupting the view forward, while the expanse of glass behind you – thanks to the wagon body – makes rearward visibility as good as it can be, too. In fact, the Passat cabin has a light and airy feeling to it whether you’re in the front seats or in the second row. The lowish hip line and broad glasshouse combine to let plenty of light in and deliver a significantly better than average view out.
Once you’re comfortable in your driving position, the ergonomics are right up with the best in any segment too – the steering wheel switchgear isn’t overloaded with complicated buttons, the driver’s display is clear (two traditional gauges surround a central digital screen) and the infotainment screen is large and clear, positioned up at the leading edge of the dash. The only negative with the screen itself is the shiny finish that can (and will) show up fingerprints no matter how hard you try to keep it clean.
Operationally, the infotainment system is excellent. We tested both CarPlay and Android Auto, and both worked seamlessly, in every way. Spotify and Apple Music were both reliable and easy to use, call clarity was excellent and the voice-command system worked perfectly. VW may have been a little later to the party than some, but the smartphone integrated system it has delivered is excellent.
The small storage pocket ahead of the shifter will safely house a large smartphone, and there’s a USB socket there for the smartphone link as well. An extra 12V socket is positioned next to the cupholders, which themselves can be hidden beneath a sliding cover. The console bin is small and not especially useful for anything other than wallets, phones or sunglasses, but there is both a USB and AUX input socket for more charging and music if required.
As always, we love VW’s lined door pockets that keep items from rattling annoyingly almost all the time, and they are on the large size too, making them useful for more than just bottles. I tend to drop house keys, my wallet, and all manner of other loose items into VW door pockets, knowing they are lined and items won’t slide around and rattle. There’s a small coin storage pocket next to the steering wheel on the right-hand side, which will also come in handy.
The second row is a particular Passat strong point, given the fact that this vehicle sits firmly in the medium car segment. There’s more than enough leg- and headroom for two adults, even with taller occupants up front. Three adults across the second row is a stretch, but three teenage kids can be accommodated in comfort. There’s a 12V socket, the door pockets are large and lined like the front, and the window line is low enough to provide excellent visibility outward, helping to ensure the Passat cabin never feels cramped.
The second-row seats fold just about flat, with the 60:40 backrest making the transport of longer items easy and flexible. You need to slide the headrest up slightly to allow the second-row backrest to sit as flat as it can get, and with them down, I fitted a full-sized bicycle in the back of the Passat with both wheels attached – with some room to spare.
Into the luggage area and the two-piece luggage cover and net are both sturdy and high-quality units that clip into place and don’t rattle or move. The electric tailgate is fast, and crucially, tall enough for someone well over six-feet tall to stand underneath. The tailgate opens from inside the cabin, via the key fob or a button on the door, and you won’t be left getting drowned in the rain waiting for it to open.
The boot floor itself is flat with a full-size spare sitting beneath it, and there’s also a remote release for the seat backs to make dropping them easier from the rear of the wagon. There’s also a 12V socket for fridges and the like, two plastic bag hooks, and small bins either side of the floor behind the wheels.
Despite all the flexibility and real-world usefulness you’ve just read through in the description above, the Passat’s real forte reveals itself when you’re behind the wheel. The steering and brakes are excellent at any speed, the 132TSI engine is a surprising performer and the DSG almost faultless. The gearbox only illustrates the slightest hesitation at crawling speed – everywhere else, it’s smooth and snappy regardless of the engine load you’re sending through it.
While there’s plenty of attention directed at the flexibility of diesel engines, the petrol 132TSI is exceptional for the day-to-day grind. Churning out 132kW and 250Nm, it is effortless right up to redline, and uses only an ADR-claimed 6L/100km. On test, we averaged a still impressive 9.8L/100km – not at all unreasonable for a vehicle of this size.
Perhaps most impressive given the raft of stiffly sprung European vehicles we’ve tested of late is the Passat’s ride. In this specification, it rolls on chubby 215/55/17 tyres, which assist in the soaking up of even the worst surfaces with ease. Inside the cabin, it almost floats along, over speed humps and the like, without ever being unsettled.
Is the VW Passat the perfect family vehicle in 2018? It’s pretty damn close, that's for sure. It’s more comfortable, flexible and useful than any medium SUV, not to mention some SUVs in the large sector. The value for money is hard to argue with – especially for this model grade – and the driving experience backs that up too. Like I wrote at the outset, don’t just rush off to buy an SUV, you might find a Passat wagon is exactly what you need.
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