The first cars went on sale this month and a 1.9-litre pumpe duse turbodiesel version has just arrived on the Fleet News long term test fleet.
The motivation to boost the range was, VW said, quite simply to provide a well-specced and reasonably priced version, with a keen eye on fleet drivers. VW predicts in 2004 the Highline – available in one petrol and four diesel versions in both saloon and estate bodystyles – will account for 60% of total Passat registrations. Last year 24,973 of the 30,896 Passats sold were to fleets.
Prices for the Highline model start at £16,575 on-the-road for the 2.0-litre 130bhp saloon and rise to £20,182 for the 1.9 TDI 130 estate.
Carbon dioxide emissions vary across the range from 151g/km for the 100bhp 1.9-litre diesel saloon to 202g/km for the 2.0-litre estate.
In addition to standard Passat SE specification the Highline adds six disc CD autochanger, 'Michigan' alloy wheels, heated front seats, parking sensor, leather upholstery and steering wheel, heated washer jets, body- coloured bumper strips, carpet mats, driver and front passenger seat lumbar adjustments and driver's centre armrest with compartment.
And beginning this year, all new Passats have the side indicators housed in the door mirrors.
What all this means when you get to experience the Passat in the metal is the trusted fleet workhorse – a car you've seen in your company car park for years – with a glint in its eye.
VW hasn't tried to gain a reappraisal of the Passat with a flurry of cosmetic changes – this is a lot more than a 'special edition'.
The additions to the spec add considerably to the comfort factor, from the indulgence of the CD player and the leather interior to the practicality of the heated washer jets that suddenly proved a real 'must-have' in the January blizzards.
The resulting feel-good factor leads to a positive reassessment of a car that could have been lost in the shadows of BMW, Lexus and Audi competitors in the sector.
The driving experience is excellent, without necessarily being jaw-dropping.
The 130bhp maximum power output isn't something that I would say is remarkable, but the car does have an adequate turn of speed through a transmission and pedals that are more user friendly than my former long termer, the BMW 320d. And the Passat costs almost £10,000 less than our high-spec test car.
Company car tax bill 2004/05 (22% tax-payer): £64.86 per month