The new Passat estate has taken over from a model that was the motoring equivalent of a hessian sack. It was fantastically useful and durable, but it didn’t set drivers’ hearts alight.
The new one is an entirely different proposition and proves that a volume upper-medium car can be desirable.
‘Lifestyle’ estates are quite the thing around the shires, as an antidote to blobby but functional mini-MPVs, although the more desirable ones, such as Audi’s A4 Avant, the BMW 3-series Touring and Saab’s 9-3 SportWagon, are at the premium end of the scale.
The Passat is pitched to bridge the gap between premium and volume – as the Golf does so well a sector down – and it’s an approach evident from the first time you make contact with the car.
The estate retains those thickset sides, deep door pillars and bluff chrome nose that give the Passat a look of dependable solidity, but whereas the old model’s boot looked as though it was designed to hold the biggest, squarest box it could, this one is altogether more voluptuous.
The rear lights are pure class – shapely but beefy, with beautiful detail.
Along with the curved rear screen, deep bumpers and chrome strips, the effect is of quality and style. And it is a theme that continues on the inside.
We’ve already waxed lyrical about the new Passat’s lighter, more chic cabin, and the estate is no different. Even the thick velour upholstery has a superior feel to it that doesn’t make you miss leather so much, although some of the plastics lower down in the cabin smack of cost-cutting. But in the areas that really matter, the Passat has a very good finish.
And although quality and image are possibly more important in a lifestyle estate than boot space, the Passat is not too embarrassed in this regard either. Its total of just over 1,600 litres with the rear seats down does not compare to the Vectra’s cavernous 1,850, but it is no doubt more than enough for many drivers.
The square-edged sides give decent load carrying ability and the rear seats fold down with an easy motion exactly as in the previous model.
The 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI SE we have chosen here is right at the heart of the range. As a drive, the 2.0-litre unit is fine. While it is not mind-blowingly fast (at 1,715kg the Passat is weighs 150kg more than an equivalent Vectra), there is enough performance for most, and it is quiet and refined.
The new estate also handles decently. It’s not the sort of car to be hanging on for dear life in round corners, but it’s much less of a big old bus than the last one, and doesn’t feel a great deal less nimble than the saloon, despite its extra 76kg.
All these characteristics add up to a very fine car that really stands out as a quality product at its price, and proves that while many doom-mongers have predicted the continuing demise of the upper-medium car, done really well, there is life in the segment yet.
Three rivals to consider
NONE of these cars could be said to be overladen when it comes to equipment. The Mondeo has satellite navigation and its useful Quickclear windscreen, the Laguna rain-sensing wipers and dual-zone climate control, but other than that there’s not much generosity about. However, there are some generous fleet discounts to be had – expect up to £5,000, except for the Passat, at about half that.
RENAULT claims it has sorted out its reliability problems, most notably with malfunctioning electronics, with the recently-restyled Laguna, and service maintenance and repair predictions are suitably optimistic. It is just the lowest here at 2.33 pence per mile which over three years/60,000 miles, which equates to a likely bill of £1,398. The Passat and Vectra are not too far behind at £1,422 and £1,470, while the Mondeo is a little more expensive at £1,650.
ALL four cars return some impressive fuel economy figures for their size. The worst – and by no means disgraced – is the Mondeo, with a claimed average of 45.6mpg. That gives it a pence-per-mile figure of 9.42, working on an average cost-per-litre for diesel over the next three years of 94.5p. The best is the Vectra at 8.96ppm for a fuel bill of £5,376 over 60,000 miles. Of course, these cars are most likely to be used as heavily-laden load carriers, which is never good for fuel economy, so they are unlikely to reach these claimed figures.
THE old Passat was always top of the class when it came to residual values, and the new car is no different. Put simply, it is in a different league to the others here. CAP predicts the other three, after three years/60,000 miles, will only be worth 25% of their cost new, while the Passat sits imperiously at 37%. That means a cash lost figure of £12,252 for the Volkswagen, compared to £14,352 for the Renault, £14,676 for the Ford and £14,970 for the Vauxhall.
THE Passat wins the running costs comparison by miles, mainly thanks to a fantastic residual value. It’s certainly one of the biggest margins we’ve ever seen for this level of car. Before discounts are taken into account at £19,236, it is cheaper on costs by £2,000 from the Renault, £2,600 from the Mondeo and £2,700 from the Vectra. The only way the others can compete is by offering much higher discounts.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
ALL four cars are now Euro IV compliant (as they have to be) but from the start of this year incur the 3% benefit-in-kind supplement for diesel. Cheapest on BIK tax is the Laguna, which would cost a 22% taxpayer £884 in 2006/07 and 2007/08 thanks to the lowest emissions. The Vectra will cost £923, while the Mondeo and Passat are at £950 and £977 respectively due to higher emissions. Will that higher tax undermine the Passat’s chances of winning the test?
DRIVERS will pay more money in company car tax for the Passat. And so they should because, as the old saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’. It feels a class apart as a product from the other three cars in this test. For the fleet manager, the competition is even more clear-cut. The Passat has fanstatic residual values and solid costs in all other areas. It wins this test easily.
Volkswagen Passat estate 2.0 TDI 140
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,307
CO2 emissions (g/km): 165
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 23%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 46.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,050/37%
Depreciation 20.42 pence per mile x 60,000: £12,252
Maintenance 2.37 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,422
Fuel 9.27 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,562
Wholelife cost 32.06 pence per mile x 60,000: £19,236
Typical contract hire rate: £397
At a glance
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