Sales of cars such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra are falling, and their residual values are going the same way. But is that trend is about to be bucked?
The reason I ask is because of the arrival of the new Volkswagen Passat. Here is a car which is not only much better than the model it replaces, but is miles ahead of its rivals, not only in style and build quality but also in its cost effectiveness.
The Passat is not only cheaper than the old version, but it easily undercuts its lower-medium rivals. And then there are the residual value forecasts, which will make even more worrying reading for competitors.
CAP estimates the Passat range will retain between 37% and 41% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, compared with figures in the low to mid 20%s for the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra.
You’ve got to take your hat off to Volkswagen. Faced with a sector in decline it has pulled out all the stops to bring a car to market which sets a new benchmark.
Bigger than the car it replaces, the latest Passat takes styling cues from its bigger brother, the Phaeton, such as the LED rear lights. But it also debuts the next generation Volkswagen family look with a striking silver grille and surround which drops into the bumper. (It looks great, especially when contrasted with a dark body colour.)
But it’s not just a new look which marks the Passat out – there are some innovations on the inside, too.
You can now get keyless entry, an electronic parking brake, a pre-heater which activates the climate control system before you get in, meaning you’ll be neither freezing cold nor boiling hot depending on the season, and Xenon headlights which turn with the steering wheel to maximise illumination around a corner.
It’s impressive stuff, and there’s certainly enough gadgets to tempt company car drivers. And naturally, these people will make up the majority of Passat owners – Volkswagen estimates 70% of sales will go to fleets.
It expects to sell 32,000 Passats in 2006 – 19,000 saloons and 13,000 estates (the new version will go on sale in November). That figure is down on the old version’s heyday, when sales were around the 36,000 mark, but Volkswagen knows the sector is shrinking.
Drivers get S, SE, Sport and SEL trim levels with a choice of four engines initially – 1.6 and 2.0 FSI petrols and 1.9 and 2.0 TDI diesels.
Later on this year the range will grow with a 2.0-litre TDI with 168bhp, a 198bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI and a 3.2-litre FSI V6 with 247bhp. Four-wheel drive versions will follow later.
Behind the wheel
THERE were two things which disappointed me about the previous generation Passat - a loose, wobbly feel to the gearbox and steering with absolutely no feel.
Thankfully, both of these have been banished in the new model. Although this Passat retains that typically Germanic feel with a firm ride, there’s far more weight in the steering now thanks to a variable ratio rack which adds in resistance when driving hard, but becomes effortlessly light for parking or manoeuvring at slow speeds.
The gearbox has also had a thorough going over and feels as though it’s been tightened up with a much more direct action.
The interior’s all-new, too. The instrument binnacle is similar to an Audi A6, with deep recessed dials and the familiar central digital readout, although some of the plastics used aren’t of the same quality.
We drove two models at the car’s launch, a 2.0-litre TDI and a 2.0-litre FSI, and both impressed with their refinement and performance.
The FSI petrol unit offers 148bhp and revs cleanly through to the red line, with minimal noise intrusion into the cabin. Through the gears it feels sprightly and the much-improved six-speed manual gearbox gives it a more sporting feel.
But it’s the 2.0-litre TDI which really impresses. Volkswagen expects this version, in SE spec, to be the biggest seller in the range, and it’s not hard to see why.
This engine really suits the Passat’s long-legged nature, with plenty of power in the middle of the rev range which translates into relaxed cruising at motorway speeds. At 70mph the engine is barely ticking over and the cabin is well insulated from the outside. The excellent DSG clutchless manual gearbox is available as an option on the 2.0 TDI, and if you can find the extra money (no prices have been announced yet), then it is a worthwhile expense.
COMFORTABLE, refined and much better to drive than the previous model, the Passat ticks every box for company car drivers. The 2.0-litre engines are excellent, although the 1.9 TDI is an admirable second choice if finances are a little tight.
|Engine (cc):||1,598 FSI||1,984 FSI||1,896 TDI||1,968 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||114/6,000||148/6,000||103/4,000||138/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||114/4,000||148/3,500||184/1,900||236/2,500|
|Max speed (mph):||124||132||117||130|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||37.2||33.6||48.7||47.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||182||202||157||159|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||70/15.4|
Transmissions: Standard six-speed manual on all models. Six-speed auto and DSG gearboxes optional extras
On sale: June 24
Prices (OTR): £14,995 – £19,810