Cape Town - The Passat, like the wind it was supposedly named after, is the longest prevailing brand name for any vehicle still in production in the Volkswagen stable.
Now in its eighth-generation it was also the first front-engine, water-cooled, front-wheel drive Volkswagen launched (and not the Golf, as is often mistakenly assumed) way back in 1973.
A hit for Volkswagen
The original Giugiaro-designed Passat hit South Africa the following year (preceding the Golf by four years) – at gale force - 10 000 units were sold in just eight months.
So successful was its introduction that it convinced Volkswagen AG to buy the remaining shares in VWSA to become a wholly-owned subsidiary, and until 1987 the first and second generations of Passat were also produced locally.
Image gallery: 2015 VW Passat
Since its introduction the mid-size sedan, in other markets also badged as the Dasher, Santana. Quantum, Magotan, Corsar and Carat, has racked up over 22 million sales worldwide.
Now Wolfsburg’s latest Passat, first unveiled at the VW Design Centre in Potsdam, Germany, and making its public debut at the 2014 Paris auto show in October, has reached local shores.
Taking on the C Class, 3 Series...
At the launch in Port Elizabeth it's clear VWSA has great expectations of its new flagship mid-size sedan.
Volkswagen AG’s technical project leader for Passat Dirk Nessenius said the design goal with its new Passat was to up the premium factor considerably so it can take on the Mercedes-Benz C Class and BMW 3-Series.
Nessenius said: "It has been completely redefined to stay in tune with the times and aim for younger customers. It reflects the biggest forward step in design of the Passat since the B5 of a decade ago.”
Based on the VW Group’s Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform, the newcomer is shorter (by 2mm), lower (by 14mm) wider (by 12mm) than its B7 predecessor.
Importantly, it is also lighter (by up to 85kg), with a longer wheelbase (by 79mm) and interior (longer by 33mm) and increased cargo capacity of 479 litres (with full size spare wheel).
Designed by a team led by VW’s design chief, Klaus Bischoff, the latest Passat has quite simple, unpretentious lines and sporty proportions.
The significantly lower bonnet line and edgy ‘cab backward design’ with the windscreen shifted backwards, a well-defined tornado line on the flanks and hockey-stick C-pillar treatment (looking suspiciously like BMW’s Hofmeister Kink) strengthens the premium-class sedan impression.
The plain four-bar grille is simple and forceful (I’m not convinced by the vertical slat grille treatment for the R-Line models) and the cab sweeps inwards at the rear and then transition into a strong flared shoulder section.
The LED rear lights are considerably wider and leaner and on top derivatives the tail lights have distinctive patterns with a three-segment vertically inclined signature when braking.
Halogen headlights are standard, while LED headlights, daytime running lights and dynamic cornering lights are available as options.
Eye of the storm
In keeping with its more premium sedate exterior the new Passat’s spacious interior exudes an aura of lightness and calmness – like being in the eye of a storm.
The lean horizontal dashboard design with its air vents incorporated in a band extending across the entire width of the cabin is reminiscent of the Audi Q7, as well as the centre console with its clean, organised layout.
The interior, with comfortable cloth seats (Alcantara leather seats and 3-way Climatronic aircon is standard in the Highline and R-Line models) has class-leading leg- and headroom, and the boot is simply huge.
Volkswagen’s Active Info Display, in essence Vee-dub’s adaptation of the Audi Virtual Cockpit, makes its debut in the Passat, and it’s also the first VW equipped with (optional) head-up display – available from early next year.
Also new is the Composition Media infotainment system, while the optional Discover Pro system with20cm colour touchscreen includes voice activation for navigation, CD and radio functions.
Available in two trim levels, Comfortline and Highline (with optional R-line accessories), all derivatives offer a wide range of standard safety, convenience and comfort features – hitherto the reserve of luxury class vehicles.
These include VW’s Automatic Multi-Collision Braking System, Driver Alert system (for fatigue detection), a very effective Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Front Assist and City Emergency Braking system, front and rear Park Distance Control and Park Assist.
High beam control light assist and keyless access is also standard, while a multi-function leather steering wheel with DSG gearshift paddles, three-zone Climatronic aircon and a power closing boot are optional in Comfortline models.
For now the new Passat is only available with three new Bluemotion turbo petrol engines with start/stop and brake energy recuperation systems.
The entry-level 1.4 TSI, developed specifically for the MQB platform, delivers 110kW and 250Nm of torque and has a claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.3 litres/100km (5.2 litres/100km for the DSG) equating to CO2 emissions of 124 g/km (121g/km for DSG).
This EA211 engine is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard while the 7-speed DSG transmission is optional.
The mid-level 1.8 TSI delivers 132kW and 250Nm. Only offered with the seven-speed DSG transmission it has a claimed consumption of 5.8 litres/100km, equating to 130g/km of CO2, and sprints to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 232 km/h.
The range-topping 2.0 TSI delivers 162kW and maximum torque of 350Nm. It accelerates to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds and reaches a top speed of 246km/h.
Combined fuel consumption is 6.2 litres per 100km (143g/km of CO2) and interestingly it’s only available with six-speed DSG transmission (presumably because the seven-speed version is not torque compatible).
A 130kW 2.0 TDI diesel mill is to be introduced in the second half of 2016, and the GTE plug-in hybrid version may be considered for later.
The launch route from PE towards Port Edward highlighted some key aspects of the new Passat’s lighter, yet much stiffer and more rigid body structure.
Equipped with the latest strut-type front suspension and a four-link axle with independent wheel suspension at the rear all the models have high levels of comfort and agile handling.
This is further enhanced by a driver profile selection programme that alters throttle mapping and engine management, offering five settings: Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual.
Personally I preferred the Individual setting, enabling one to set the steering to Sport mode with a slightly heavier weighting, while keeping the suspension in the comfortable Normal setting.
Even when wound up the small 1.4 TSI wasn’t noisy, and with its ample torque it was surprisingly willing. However, the bigger, more powerful 1.8 TSI was my favourite, feeling the most balanced of the threesome.
While its handing was not overly sporty it was easy to pilot quickly and secure through the sweeps, and it was quite fun to in Eco mode use the coasting function of the DSG gearbox to ensure better fuel economy.
In the 2.0 TSI R-Line a fifth profile – Comfort – is offered, and also standard on this model is Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), making it lurk 10 mm lower than the other models, and an XDS+ electronic differential lock.
Unfortunately it also affects the ride quality of the most powerful Passat, and personally I wasn’t convinced by the system’s value add to an already exceptional chassis.
Wind of change
In terms of styling, advanced engineering, dynamics and safety (it received a five-star Euro NCAP rating) the new Passat is an exceptional car.
It is a huge step up from its predecessor and good enough to compete with the best in the premium mid-size sedan segment on equal terms – and for this justifiably awarded with the 2015 European Car of the Year title.
With prices ranging from R378 800 for the 1.4 TSI to R 476 800 for the 2.0 TSI R-Line (nearly R45 000 less than a comparable C-Class model) the new Passat also represents good value. Still, optional features such as the Active Info Display (at R22 000) and Head-Up Display comes at a price.
The new Passat is a viable and sensible option, and it deserves to do well. But will buyers in this highly competitive and emotive segment be prepared to look beyond the badge?
VW Passat: retail prices (VAT and emissions tax included)
1.4 TSI Comfortline 110kW Manual R378 800
1.4 TSI Comfortline 110kW DSG R398 800
1.8 TSI Highline 132kW DSG R444 200
2.0 TSI R-Line 162kW DSG R476 800
The new Passat comes standard with a three-year or 120 000km manufacturer warranty and five- year or 100 000km Automotion Maintenance Plan. All models have a 12 year anti-corrosion warranty and 15 000km service intervals.