BMW and Mercedes-Benz are the prime targets as the German company prepares to venture into premium brand business transport territory with a model line-up it claims is bigger, more sophisticated and better value than the one it replaces.
Trim and specification levels are still to be confirmed, but it is unlikely that the new car will carry any significant premiums on the £15,000 to £23,000 price range of the current Passat – and certain that the sleeker and more spacious B6 version will be pitched to make inroads into the sector dominated by the BMW 3-series, Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz C-class.
A Volkswagen spokesman said: ‘After it was revised in 1996, this car set the standard for family and fleet motoring and became the benchmark for many rival designs. But that was a long time ago, and we’ve been surprised at its consistent strength in the showrooms considering the way the D-segment has shrunk in recent years. As a result of improvements, we think the Passat has raised the game again, and the car now effectively straddles the area between mass-market models and the premium sector.
‘While we envisage our entry-level cars competing with the Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 407 and Toyota Avensis, we will be looking to the premium sector with our top-range versions. A pure and simple design has been replaced by one that is more emotive. In its new guise, the car still appears solid, has quality, space and is in no way pretentious. We are confident it is a package that will appeal to buyers in the premium sector.’
Ten years ago, VW sold just 8,000 Passats in Britain, but interest in the model rocketed when the B5 version arrived the following year. By 1998, registrations topped 25,000 and despite the introduction of a raft of rivals, the current range has continued to achieve annual sales of around 35,000.
Estate models will be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.
Design and technology
DESIGN chief Murat Gunak claims the shape of the new Passat is the result of a brief conversation with his boss – VW AG chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.
Gunak said: ‘He came into the office one day and asked me to come up with the kind of car I would want to have in my own garage.
‘He said the shape should be exciting and made the point that if we were not emotional about it, we couldn’t expect our customers to make a strong response. We got to work right away.’
Only weeks later, his B6 styling proposal won the go-ahead from the Wolfsburg board of management and the approval of the chairman. At the preview event in Hamburg, Pischetsrieder told Fleet News: ‘I’m very pleased with the result. The market has split into many different facets, and this is a car that takes us into the future by appealing more to the buyers who seek greater individuality and extra features.’
To be launched on the domestic market at unchanged prices, the Passat is 62mm longer, 74mm wider and 10mm taller to gain added kerbside presence. Wheelbase is unchanged, but significantly, the new bodywork is 57% more rigid, a factor that should translate into superior driving characteristics.
Yet though its bodywork offers substantially more metal for the money, unsprung weight is unchanged, thanks to innovations in production techniques and the use of new and lighter materials.
Drawing heavily on recent concepts for roadster and cabriolet coupe models, the front of the car introduces the new face of Volkswagen, featuring a large grille framed in chrome. Shaped to resemble a coat of arms, it is intended to give the brand greater sports appeal as well as increased sophistication.
In profile, the design makes another break with Passat tradition to follow a more muscular wedge theme, with the roof line forming a stretched curve leading to a neat rear-end treatment featuring quick-response LED tail-lights.
In a move to make loading the car easier, damped hinges allow the bootlid to rise gently to the fully open position once the latch is unlocked.
As well as offering more legroom and headroom, the car’s interior has the ambience of class-above transport and bristles with new technology that makes traditional items like the ignition key and the handbrake into relics of yesteryear motoring.
As ever, switchgear has a precise feel and the quality of interior detailing looks likely to set an even higher standard for rivals to benchmark. Chrome is used to frame the instruments and all dials have blue backlighting. Numerous storage compartments include space in the driver’s door for another nicety – an umbrella. Big enough for two people, it raises and lowers automatically and uses material that displays the Passat emblem when it is wet.
Despite appearing luxurious, the interior is also practical and has obvious fleet attractions. At the rear, the seat is split 60-40 and the front passenger seat backrest can be folded forward to allow long items of luggage to be carried.
It might bear little resemblance to the Golf, but this new car has a lot in common with its ubiquitous C-sector stablemate under the skin.
The first model to benefit from the revised platform strategy, it uses common engineering modules to save both time and money.
THOUGH the front axle of the Passat follows the familiar McPherson layout, the use of wrought aluminium and new ideas in construction have trimmed weight by 13.3kg to aid fuel consumption as well as promising to promote more agile handling.
And separating the four-link rear axle subframe from the body via four large bearings is claimed to lower noise levels and provide luxury-class ride comfort.
Like the push-button parking brake, an electronic stability programme is standard across all models, and versions fitted with towbars are equipped with ESP+Trailer, a new system that detects the onset of the ‘snaking’ that can lead to accidents and works to prevent it.
Another innovation is the use of 16-inch brakes across the range – all equipped with a ‘wiper’ facility designed to operate every few minutes to make sure the discs remain dry for maximum efficiency.
Dual-stage front airbags, side airbags and head airbags at the front and rear provide a good passive safety package. Active headrests are fitted at the front, and the rear can be equipped with side airbags and belt tensioners as an option.
Among options for the car is a two-zone automatic climate control system to provide draught-free air conditioning, adaptive bi-xenon headlights with cornering function and – as in the new Golf Plus – a 230-volt mains power supply to charge laptop computers. A new sound system is also available to deliver 600-watts of music power through 10 speakers, but an automatic adaptive cruise control is unlikely to be offered on UK cars until the VW network is fully equipped to service it.
Engine and transmission
WITH every engine in the range new and mounted transversally, there are big changes under the bonnet of the Passat.
The shift from longitudinal mounting makes for a more spacious cabin and allows boot capacity to grow to a massive 565 litres – a lift of 90 litres in volume. It also further distances the car from the Audi A4, for which north-south engine mounting is a design priority.
Direct injection is used on all petrol engines for the first time in the Passat, and the UK range entry-level unit is a 1.6-litre producing 113bhp, as in the Golf. Acceleration to 62mph takes 12.4 seconds, top speed is 118mph and average fuel consumption is 36.6mpg.
Next up is a 2.0-litre, 147bhp unit – again from the Golf. The GTI’s 2.0-litre turbo motor will come later, along with a 3.2-litre V6 option from the Toureg.
The turbodiesel choice starts with a 1.9-litre unit producing 103bhp and graduates to the two-litre, 138bhp engine. With a 0-62mph acceleration time of 9.8 seconds, top speed of 129mph and 47.8mpg economy, this is likely to be the key fleet offering.
Later, a new ultimate two-litre TDI will deliver 167bhp and be made available to replace the current 2.5-litre V6 unit. Featuring a new high-pressure unit injector system and a balancer shaft, it is said to have extremely low noise levels despite powering the car to 62mph in just 8.6 secs, reaching 138mph all-out and returning 46.3mpg economy.
Both 2.0-litre TDI units will have six-speed manual gearboxes as standard, but DSG, the six-speed automatic transmission, will be optional and also available with the 3.2-litre petrol engine.
Petrol engines developing 114bhp and over will come with six-speed manual gearboxes and offer a six-speed Tiptronic auto unit as an option.