Volkswagen will be aiming to prove that little things mean a lot when special economy versions of the Passat range go on sale at the end of the year.
Dozens of mechanical, electronic and aerodynamic tweaks allow the new Passat BlueMotion saloon and estate models to eke up to 55 miles from a gallon of diesel and promise an unparalleled operating range of more than 800 miles on a single tankful.
And officials at Volkswagen claim that its response to hybrid technology from Japan still delivers the dynamic motoring experience demanded by business drivers across Europe.
Mareen Schulz, head of marketing at Volkswagen AG, said: “The result of our new technology means the Passat sets the standard once again and now has the lowest emissions in its class.
“We are very conscious of the debate over environmental protection, but this is not an attempt at jumping on the bandwagon – with 13 of our models already capable of between 57mpg and 72mpg, there’s no need for us to do that.”
Speaking in Berlin as the German firm’s eco-friendly BlueMotion packaging was unveiled on the range that won more than 38,000 UK registrations last year, Mr Schulz told Fleet News: “What we have done is hardly visible at first glance, but the changes add up to a big difference that’s as good for the wallet as it is for the environment.”
BlueMotion models differ from standard diesel versions by having different gearing, revised engine management and even feature smoother bodywork and harder-compound tyres with lower rolling resistance to trim fuel consumption by around 5-6mpg compared with standard diesel versions. Available in Germany from June but not due in right-hand drive form until winter, the cars are based on S trim models and use the 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine with a particulate filter to achieve up to 12% cleaner exhaust emissions.
Under-bonnet software changes include a lower idling speed allowing the engine to return average economy of 55.3mpg for the saloon and 54.3mpg in estate form (up from 49.6 and 47.9mpg from the regular 1.9 TDIs respectively), but other changes also make a significant contribution to overall operating efficiency.
A slight change in the shape of the front grille, smoothing the flow of air under the car and lowering the suspension by 15mm at the front and 8mm at the rear combine to cut the drag coefficient to just 0.27 – a 12% improvement over a regular Passat.
CO2 emissions fall from 148 and 151g/km for the 1.9 TDI saloon and estate to 136 and 137g/km for the BlueMotion models. <> Though they are based on entry-level trim, the BlueMotion cars feature extra chrome detailing and have a more upmarket appearance. The theme continues inside, with standard equipment including semi-automatic air conditioning, electric windows, twin front and side and curtain airbags and an electronic handbrake.
Equipment levels and pricing of UK cars have yet to be completed, but cars sold in Germany will carry a premium of only £350.
“We think this is a bargain – in fact, it is very reasonable when you consider this price includes a cruise control and on-board computer that have a total nominal value of £300,” said Mr Schulz.
According to technical spokesman Dr Christoph Kohnen, the issue of energy supply has arrived much earlier than predicted by company experts.
“It has proved to be a driving force in the industry and in the longer term, we will need more alternative sources of fuel. But for the immediate future, we are looking to achieve CO2 neutrality by working on existing drive systems and BlueMotion technology is meeting our demands for higher efficiency,” he said.
Behind the wheel
Engineers spent three years working on the raft of changes that make up BlueMotion and the result is a best-of-both-worlds package that gives the Passat all the credentials it needs to be eco-friendly as well as a yardstick in business motoring.
No slower off the mark than the standard car, the new model is just as good to drive overall.
Surprisingly, the transmission lacks a sixth cog, but the cheaper alternative of stretching the ratios for third, fourth and fifth seems to be a good compromise.
There’s little detriment to acceleration away from the lights or for overtaking and the super-long top gear – 12% higher than in the standard transmission – allows impressive cruising in effortless fashion and results in a slightly higher top speed.
On derestricted autobahns, our car’s engine was spinning at only 2,900rpm as we wafted along with 100mph on the clock. Even at this speed, noise levels are low enough to allow normal conversation and there’s only a small amount of wind noise from the door mirrors. At 70mph, the engine lazes at just 1,900rpm.
Though the ‘energy’ tyres from Continental are harder and run at higher pressure, they seem to have no negative effect on road holding and the ride remains supple.
The Passat BlueMotion provides diesel lovers with another reason to resist the drive towards hybrid technology – and the blend of performance, size and practicality of this popular Volkswagen model makes for a particularly compelling case.
Model: BlueMotion 1.9 TDI
Max power (bhp/rpm): 105/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 184/1,500
Max speed (mph): 119 (118 estate)
0-62mph (secs): 12.1 (12.4)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 55.3 (54.3)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 136 (137)
On sale: November
Prices (est): from £16,800