With the completely new sixth-generation car, Volkswagen has tried to add some dash alongside the dependability.
The question is though, has it spent so much time on style, trying to drag itself out of the quicksand of the volume segment that it has forgotten about substance, the essential that made the car great?
Executives at the firm reckon it signals a new era and the beginning of a push into premium cars, although that path has already been trodden – not brilliantly successfully it has to be said – by the Phaeton and Touareg.
But the Passat starts from a position of strength – good residuals and a trusted name for the old vehicle will see to that.
In a full year in the UK, Volkswagen expects to sell 22,000 saloons and 12,000 estates (which will be launched in the autumn). Some 70% of those sales will be to fleets.
Volkswagen’s head of fleet services, Vince Kinner, believes he will not sell any more of the new Passat than he did of the old one. It’s not a vehicle Volkswagen wants to push hard on volume. You get the feeling the bosses think it’s such a strong proposition that it will find its own way in the market.
It is certainly strong in the way it looks. Volkswagen executives talk about the Passat having upmarket new aesthetics – and they’re right.
The chrome grille – standard on all models – sculpted metal flanks and sparkling front and rear lights give the Passat a luxurious big car appearance, although it needs a lighter shade of paint to show it off its full glamour. The delicate light blue does it best, while some of the darker colours kill off the sheen.
The Passat’s striking new looks hit home when one looms in your rear view mirror. For the first time in a long while, it is an upper-medium car that has real presence on the road – not just the lean, athletic good looks of the Mazda6 when it launched or the sharpness and solid flanks of the Accord, but good old-fashioned premium quality appeal.
It glitters like an Oscars night starlet, and giving company car drivers more used to the meat and two veg fare generally typical of the sector the chance to sample a taste of the high life will prove tempting for many.
Four engines will be available at launch – two petrol and two diesel. A 112bhp 1.6-litre FSI petrol engine will introduce the range, followed up by a 147bhp 2.0-litre FSI, while on the diesel front, there is a 103bhp 1.9 TDI and 138bhp 2.0 TDI. Later in the year a 200bhp 2.0-litre T FSI and 170bhp diesel will join the range.
Unsurprisingly, the new car is larger than the model it replaces: 6cms longer, although much of that has translated into extra boot space – a massive 565 litres – and it is 7cms wider. But thanks to new lightweight materials, it weighs no more. That helps to keep fuel consumption and emissions in check.
Volkswagen reckons it has knocked more than £300 off the servicing costs for most fleets of the new Passat, partly because it doesn’t need a cambelt inspection before 80,000 miles – especially key for leasing firms predicting maintenance budgets over three years.
The cost of replacement parts has also come down, with the firm admitting that historically the cost of some were too high. It claims to have rectified that since the launch of the Golf last year.
Prices aren’t yet confirmed but Kinner says that fleets will be ‘shocked’ by the pricing, presumably pleasantly so. He said the perception of the firm for expensive cars at launch will be well and truly banished with the pricing structure of the new Passat. Expect the range to start at about the same as the outgoing one – about £15,500.
Helping the car will be strong residual values. Many leasing firms privately believe the Passat could finally make the leap it has been threatening into premium territory percentage retained value when it comes to resale.
Certainly, experts at the price guides can see an uplift of four to six percentage points over the outgoing, nine -year-old car which could mean RVs in the low 40% area.
It will come laden with all the technology a premium buyer expects. Trims will be S, SE, Sport and a Highline-type spec, although exact UK equipment lists are not quite finalised.
But an electronic parking brake and rear LED lights are standard on all models and some will get corporate toys such as Bluetooth phone preparation, active cruise control, adaptive headlights, two zone climate control and keyless operation.
Kinner is extremely bullish of its wholelife costs, claiming that early indications suggest a 3-4 pence per mile advantage over 60,000 miles, compared to the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 407 and Vauxhall Vectra thanks to strong residuals and low servicing.
If that turns out to be the case, a 100-vehicle fleets could be saving a quarter of a million pounds by running Passats and Volkswagen’s calculations suggest that the new Passat will be cheaper to run than the old one. Quite some feat.
Behind the wheel
THE old Passat was always decently spacious inside and the new car is much of the same, without being limousine-like.
While the Passat has blockbuster appeal from the outside, things are a little more down to earth inside. Most of the cars on launch were highly specified, but there are some pretty drab plastics on view – most noticeably on the doors, where there is a wide swathe of cheap-looking, shiny black plastic, while a little imagination would not have gone amiss around the fittings like door handles and some of the switchgear.
Not that the interior is entirely free of interest: the chrome ringed dials are a classy touch but standard specification cars have much the same atmosphere inside as any other volume car. It’s only in the brushed aluminium, leathered and highly-specified interior where you can start to feel luxury nuzzling up against you.
The driving position is excellent, which Volkswagen gets right more than any other manufacturer, and the cloth and leather seat combinations of the test cars proved very comfortable indeed. Especially so the leather seats, which are softer version of the cool multi-paneled chairs in the Golf GTI.
It rides well, and the steering has the same inert feel of all Volkswagens, although it felt oddly heavy on small wheel, high-sided tyre variants. The new multi-link rear suspension certainly helps its handling, although more at high speed motorway cornering, keeping it flat and stable.
The new Passat will tuck into a twisty road if you lead it there, but to be honest, it feels more comfortable as a long distance cruiser.
Of the engines, the 1.9-litre 103bhp diesel unit does most of what a fleet would ever want and is actually quieter and more refined than the newer 2.0-litre TDI options. It doesn’t have the shove of the bigger diesel, but a combined figure of 50mpg and CO2 of 151g/km is hard to argue against.
All the gearboxes work well, from the five speed manual on the smaller engines to the fantastic DSG semi-automatic gearbox, which is the choice to go for, if you can stand the £1,300 extra it is likely to cost.
IN the right specification in the right colour, the Passat really is a premium product. Whether that will cut any ice with premium buyers remains to be seen. But for now, Volkswagen can console itself with having easily the best car in the volume upper-medium segment if it is priced right.
|Model:||1.6 FSI||2.0 FSI||1.9 TDI||2.0 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||113/6,000||147/6,000||103/4,000||137/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||114/4,000||148/3,500||184/1,900||236/1,800|
|Max speed (mph):||124||132||117||130|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||37.7||34.4||50.4||47.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||180||197||151||159|
|Transmission:||5 sp (1.9 TDI),||6 sp,||auto, DSG|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||15.4/70|
|Service interval (miles):||variable|
|On sale:||June 2005|
|Prices (OTR):||from £15,500 (est)|