Fleet News

Volkswagen Passat (New)

Volkswagen

Review

##vwpasn.jpg --Right##IF there had been uncertainty in Germany over Volkswagen Passat prices there shouldn't be now: the new version to be launched in its home country in November will cost the same there as the old, despite something like a 6% rise in value.

Within that 6% are safety improvements, upgraded interior, a revised front, wider track, two new 100bhp and 130bhp pumpe duse TDI diesel engines to replace the 90bhp and 115bhp PD units, 2.3-litre petrol's brake horsepower boosted from 150 to 170 and more than 2,300 component changes.

New Passat's styling alterations are subtle - the outgoing and the 2001 model have to be placed side by side for the differences to become obvious: the sturdier stance, longer front and rear ends, shiny grille, more prominent light clusters and the extra chromework. Inside, the most noticable changes are that the instrument displays have chrome-framed surrounds and the handbrake has been moved to make room for cupholders integrated into the console. UK prices won't be announced until closer to its launch here in January and it would be unwise to read from the German situation that we can expect a carryover. All we got out of VW on prices was: 'They'll be competitive.'

What we do know is that the grades will remain S, SE, Sport and V here and, on all, standard specification will include ABS, Climatronic automatic air conditioning, remote central locking with alarm and electric front windows and mirrors.

Anyone hoping VW would slip a hatchback body style into the line-up will be disappointed, as the manufacturer is sticking firmly to its saloon and estate portfolio, which last year accounted for 22,473 and 7,589 UK sales respectively. Given the new car pricing turmoil and lingering confidence hangover, 2001 volume is unlikely to be any bigger.

So - why bother with a mid-life makeover? The official answer is that Volkswagen wanted to make Passat look a little more superior in the upper medium class and from next week that class includes an all-new Ford Mondeo which bears, in several areas, a striking resemblance to its German rival.

In other words, Passat's reworked lines, chrome details and revised engine line-up are designed to raise the premium stakes while Volkswagen is beavering away to develop a range which will probably see the light of day when new Mondeo has become two years current and part of the furniture.

At the European launch of new Passat, which included a bizarre mock TV interview hosted by Germany's female answer to Jeremy Paxman, 'not wishing to rest on our laurels' and 'not wanting to reinvent the wheel' were among the phrases dutifully trotted out by the interpreter to explain the upgrade strategy. Whatever. But new Passat is good news for fleets, assuming the trading terms are as competitive with new Passat as they have been with the current model.

Volkswagen has, indeed, enhanced the appearance of Passat quality through stronger lines, chrome window surrounds and, on the top grades, chrome rubbing strip. The changes are not simply for the sake of change and if the whole is a boost in aspirational appeal, that should have a stabilising effect on residual values. All the petrol engines have been back to surgery and have emerged leaner, and the two four-cylinder diesels have been discharged with more power and greater torque while maintaining 50-plus mpg for those not tempted away from manual transmission to a four-speed auto or Tiptronic five-speed.

The autos work surprisingly well with VW's diesel engines, and they have an important role to play in Volkswagen's ambition to turn the USA (Passat's largest market outside Germany) on to oil-burners. The company has its work cut out, as just 5% of its sales Stateside are diesel, although if American passenger car buyers' introduction to truck propellant is in a 2.5-litre V6 TDI with a five-speed Tiptronic gearbox, the gas habit should be a little easier to break.

Meanwhile, back on the British ranch we'll be spoilt for Passat choice with three diesels and four petrol engines and a full house of grades. On company car tax grounds, the manual PDs present the best costs case, with CO2 emissions at 149g/km and 154g/km keeping them at 18% of price new for benefit-in-kind calculations, including the 3% diesel penalty/supplement, for the first and second years of the new scheme which starts in April 2002.

While the 100 is both lively and quiet, the 130, which replaces the recently introduced 115, is the better all-rounder, with stacks of torque on tap from way down the rev range. In fact, its lb-ft figure of 228 beats even the 2.8-litre V6 petrol and matches that of the V6 TDI. It may not have the straight line speed of either, but it feels capable of outpacing both between 30 and 60mph.

Wider front and rear track and more body stiffening have improved Passat's handling and ride perceptibly. And the department responsible for equalising engine noise, vibration and harshness have had some late nights. It now has possibly the best road manners of the lot.

Build quality is superb, however. We also spent a fruitless few hours trying to find a Passat with a squeak or a rattle and we thought we'd cracked it in a V5, but it turned out to be my colleague's travel bag tinkling away suspiciously in the boot.

The centimetres added to overall length and width have, without stretching the wheelbase, not only improved the ride but given rear passengers more room in which to shuffle around. The extra space doesn't quite have Passat straddling C and D but the centimetres make a difference.

Many areas stand out for praise and, to be perfectly frank, finding something to criticise is a tall order. The best I can manage is that the instrument dials' digit typestyle is difficult for myopic eyes to read.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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