Who doesn’t love a ‘sleeper’ wagon, those seemingly staid and conservative family haulers that provide little hint of the performance lurking under the bonnet?
Volkswagen’s take on the formula is the Passat 206TSI R-Line, the top-of-the-range, hottish wagon from Wolfsburg – designed to carry the family and all their gear in comfort, while also providing mum or dad behind the wheel with plenty of thrills, should they desire.
The lineage of Volkswagen’s hot wagon dates back to 1984 with the first mildly warm Passat estate, the Variant Syncro GT which featured a 2.0-litre, inline five-cylinder petrol engine and all-wheel drive underpinnings pilfered from the Audi 80 Quattro. Its performance didn’t exactly set the world on fire, with 0-100km/h achieved in a glacial-by-today’s-standards 11.1 seconds. But, it provided the blueprint for the car we have on test here.
It’s a welcome return for the ‘sports wagon’, jumping to the top of the queue as the most powerful Passat in the line-up. And there’s no Passat sedan equivalent, so if you want Golf R performance from your Passat, then this is it. A Golf R for grown-ups, then.
Volkswagen doesn’t shy away from underlining the Passat 206TSI R-Line’s performance credentials. That ‘206’ in the nameplate refers to the 206kW the 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder turbo petrol pumps out. Throw in 350Nm and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission transmitting those numbers to all four wheels and you can see why VW is rightly spruiking the Passat 206TSI as a ‘sports wagon’.
|2021 Volkswagen Passat 206TSI R-Line Wagon|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||206kW @ 5600-6500rpm, 350Nm @ 1700–5600rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed dual-clutch auto (DSG)|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||8.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.9L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||650L / 1780L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (tested 2015)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi A4 Avant, Skoda Superb, Peugeot 508 GT Sportwagon|
|Price as tested||$64,590 plus on-road costs|
The price for this performance, allied with dollops of wagon-like practicality, is a healthy $63,790 plus on-road costs.
That compares reasonably against the most recent Golf R available in Australia, the Mk7.5 Final Edition which asked for $57,990 in hatchback form, or the same sticker price in non-Final wagon form. Bear in mind, there’s a new Golf R Wagon due in Australia in 2022, price still to be confirmed.
Rivals for the Passat 206TSI Wagon include Czech stablemate Skoda Superb 206 TSI Sportline wagon at $62,090 and, keeping it in the family, the Audi A4 45 TFSI Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) priced from $71,000 (plus on-roads). Buyers might also consider the Peugeot 508 GT Sportwagon at a lion’s whisker under $60k.
It’s a small but healthy subset of the new car landscape, wagons long ago consigned to the box marked ‘niche’ while SUVs of all shapes and sizes proliferate on our highways and byways like rabbits in mating season.
To lure buyers away from the generic world of SUVs, even its own increasing flotilla of high-riding soft-roaders, Volkswagen has crammed the range-topping 206TSI R-Line with plenty of standard equipment.
Highlights include 19-inch ‘Pretoria’ alloys finished in matte graphite, a design unique to the specification. They look sensational against the Lapiz Blue metallic paint, a colour only available on the 206TSI R-Line and part of a six-colour palette where only Pure White is a no-cost hue, the rest commanding an $800 premium.
Other standard kit highlights include matrix LED headlights with dynamic cornering lights and integrated LED daytime running lights, premium LED taillights, keyless entry and push-button start, three-zone climate control, nappa leather seat trim, LED ambient lighting customisable in 30 different colours, a premium Harman Kardon sound system, a 9.2-inch colour touchscreen running Volkswagen’s Discover Pro software including satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rear-view camera as well as a 360-degree bird’s eye view camera and VW’s 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro driver display.
Outside, the R-Line pack brings some visual enhancements including a roof-mounted spoiler and R-Line front and rear bumpers, while inside, the pack adds stainless steel pedals, R-Line scuff plates, and a flat-bottom sports steering wheel with paddle-shifters as well as ‘R’ logos embossed on the front seat backrests.
There’s certainly plenty of premium-feeling touches for your money. Inside, the well-resolved cabin feels as a German car should. The materials used throughout are top-notch, with plenty of yielding surfaces and some contrasting flourishes such as the ‘Silver Rise’ aluminium trims on the dash and door panels.
The nappa leather seats are nicely supportive and electrically adjustable, and also heated, although not ventilated, with Volkswagen stating the nappa leather isn’t conducive to seat cooling.
Everything is laid out nicely, with most functions within easy arm’s reach. The climate controls are touch-sensitive, meaning you control temperature and fan speed with the slide of a finger or a light touch.
The rear-view camera is as good as any we’ve seen, with crisp and clear resolution while the bird-s eye view camera makes parking in those tight spots a cinch.
Storage and convenience options include a pair of USB-C points up front for charging devices and if your smartphone is of the older variety, you’ll need a converter as there is no wireless charging option. Similarly, as pleasant as the Harman Kardon sound system is, there’s no digital radio, the Passat, even in its highest trim level, only equipped with AM/FM.
There’s a cubby capable of holding your phone ahead of the gear lever while a handy little slot for your key lives to the side of a pair of cupholders. Everything, it seems, has its place. Nice.
There’s plenty of room in the second row for passengers, the back seats are as comfortable as any we’ve experienced. Sumptuous is a word that springs to mind. Separate climate controls and air vents keep back seat occupants ambiently comfortable while the large standard-fit panoramic roof adds light and airiness to the cabin.
Back seat passengers also get a single USB-C point to squabble over, or a 12-volt outlet for those using old-school adapters to keep devices juiced up.
For those with little ones, there are ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outboard seats while sunshades on the tinted rear side windows ensure the harshest rays are kept at bay.
The back seats fold almost flat in 40:20:40 fashion, liberating a cargo area that measures in at a generous 1780 litres. Even with the back seats in use, there’s still a decent 650 litres to work with. And a load length of 2018mm is more than capable of eating up flatpack furniture. Unusually in this day and age, a full-size 19-inch alloy spare lives under the boot floor. Kudos to VW.
The biggest kudos through, must be saved for the Passat 206TSI’s powertrain, at once a willing and engaging, if not characterful, engine and transmission combination.
The 2.0-litre turbo four makes 206kW (at 5600-6500rpm) and 350Nm (at a broad 1700-5600rpm) and it’s at once plenty powerful for most needs.
It’s married to a six-speed DSG (double-clutch auto) helping to send drive to Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. It’s a peach of a transmission too, the days of VW’s DSG calibration being let’s say, questionable, long consigned to the history books.
There’s no lag, and no rollback; instead the DSG works away seamlessly and imperceptibly to ensure the right ratio is in play at any given point.
Around town, on general duties, the Passat 206TSI behaves impeccably, light and nimble on its wheels when you need it to be, yet capable of pulling away from standstill briskly. How briskly? Volkswagen isn’t saying, but the previous model with the same power and torque outputs managed it in 5.7 seconds. Expect similar.
That push of acceleration comes into its own on the motorway, the Passat wagon surging ahead with surprising alacrity. There’s no commensurate soundtrack, however, the 206TSI remaining quietly spoken at all times.
And that’s part of its appeal, certainly for some, where engine noise with pops, crackles and burbles speak to a different demographic. Not this one, the Passat every bit the sleeper.
There’s a commendable quality to the way the Passat 206TSI holds the road. VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system provides plenty of grip as needed, continually shuffling drive and torque between the front and rear axles as required. The system can deliver drive exclusively to the front wheels (its default position) but then as grip levels and driving style demand, can deliver 100 per cent torque to the rear axle. And anywhere in between.
Then result is an assuredly planted station wagon.
The ride too is commendable, thanks to VW’s adaptive damper set-up. There is, of course, the usual Comfort, Normal and Sport modes (which also add heft to the steering wheel as well as recalibrating engine and transmission responsiveness). But, you can also change the calibration of the adaptive dampers with up to 43 different settings using the Dynamic Chassis Control slider lurking within the vehicle’s settings.
We didn’t try all 43 settings, but we did play around with several settings including the extremes beyond Comfort and Sport, or as VW calls them, 'comfier' and 'sportier', although not labelled as such in the slider.
Comfort is certainly comfortable, but taking the slider two steps beyond adds even more plushness to the Passat’s ride which simply glides over bumps and lumps with barely a ripple felt in the cabin.
Similarly, while Sport is firm, ‘sportier’ adds some hard edges to the experience. It’s not harsh or brittle, however, but you are aware of the dampers tautening up a touch to provide some extra road-holding ability and tactility should you choose to hustle your Passat 206TSI through some corners. We didn’t, sadly, Sydney’s latest lockdown restrictions inhibiting our sphere of action to within urban and suburban confines.
We left the DCC setting in ‘comfier’, if only to bathe in its softness around Sydney’s scrappy and crappy roads. It’s good, a guilty pleasure.
And it underscores the Passat 206TSI’s place in the pecking order. Yes, Volkswagen continues to be a mainstream brand but it also continues to give the premium envelope a nudge with its thoughtful design and touches.
The Volkswagen Passat range wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating awarded when this generation first launched in 2015. All Passats are equipped with VW’s full suite of advanced safety tech, called IQ Drive – adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot assist, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree camera are highlights.
The Passat 206TSI R-Line Wagon is covered by VW’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty while servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km whichever comes first. VW had yet to announce service pricing at the 206TSI’s launch.
Volkswagen claims the Passat 206TSI will use 8.1L/100km of premium 98RON unleaded. Our launch drive saw an indicated 8.9L, skewed towards urban, which isn’t too bad against the brand’s claim.
It’s hard to find too many faults with the Passat 206TSI R-Line, at once an accomplished family lugger and reasonably hot performance car. You could argue its lack of noise cools the ardour of what a ‘sports wagon’ is supposed to be, but then there’s an argument that this might suit buyers. Not everyone wants throttle blips on downshifts accompanied by burbling exhaust pipes and a soundtrack signalling your approach from three blocks away.
If you value performance, but equally, if you place a premium on going about your driving with little fanfare, the 2021 Volkswagen Passat 206TSI R-Line Wagon will go a long way to sating your needs.
It’s mature and it’s understated, with a blend of performance and practicality that lives up to Volkswagen’s ‘the sports wagon is back’ philosophy.