I was invited for a recent long weekend away to help a friend celebrate his birthday. Being the diligent journalist I am, I promptly reached for my schedule to check whether the test car scheduled for that time would meet the requirements. I groaned. I would be going to White River, via some of Mpumalanga’s finest roads and mountain passes, in a Passat. My granddad had owned a Passat and that, together with my last lacklustre experience with VW’s big sedan, had not left the most endearing memories. So the Passat’s delivery was met with a sense of trepidation. I’d not attended the launch but, based on my colleagues’ assessments, it was worth looking forward to. In the metal, it was bigger than I had anticipated, yes, but it looked mighty attractive, too. This has to be the best-looking Passat yet but, then again, it could just be another symptom of Walter de Silva’s brand design being so adaptable. Importantly, for the trip, the latest version also had a huge boot and comfortable seating for four. It remained a Passat, though. A FEW REQUIREMENTSOn the day of departure the boot was stuffed with golf clubs, groceries and cooking utensils (the resident chef would be riding with me), clothing for a week, and padkos and the space seemed almost incapable being filled. It takes a lot to fill a 565-litre boot… CAMOUFLAGE: The Passat is as comfortable in Mpumalanga's wide open spaces as it is in the city. Not in any hurry to get to our destination, we hit the road for the trek north. The entry-level Passat 1.8 TSI came with the sublime seven-speed DSG, so I could use the time to take in a few additional details. For one, the Passat’s cabin was incredibly quiet and the ride (on straight sections) through the Macpherson strut and multi-link arrangement wonderfully soft and pillowy. The seats and level of electric adjustment are goo, too, as shown by the lack of strain that sometimes creeps into my right shoulder. Or it could have been the warming/cooling function of the seats. The entire range is very well equipped, moving the Passat ever closer to the premium segment occupied by its Audi stablemate. It comes with the safety fare one has come to expect – ABS, ESP, anti-slip regulator, brake assist, and the like – and others you’d expect on a higher-end model – fatigue detection and brakes with a clever wiper function.Passat’s comfort goodies that will make many more feel at home, too, such as adjustable centre armrest, extendable sun visors, active headlights and, my favourite, a 230V two-pronged power socket in the back of the centre console great for powering cellphone chargers/electric toothbrushes/straightening irons/you name it. Besides sprinting away from the multitude of toll gates along the way, there wasn’t much chance to really to explore the Passat’s athletic qualities until we stuck its nose into some of the yummiest mountain passes Mpumalanga has to offer. I understand that the Passat is not designed for hooligan exploits, but for all the fervour and zeal it displayed in the bends, I was not about to break the news to the gutsy sedan. The balance and steadfastness displayed through the suspension, which cleverly adapts to suit the driver’s style and the condition of the road surface, was worth noting, along with the manner in which the electromechanical, speed-sensitive power steering system loads up under pressure. Despite the Passat not being a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination – it does, after all, weigh in excess of 1.5 ton – it displays a nimbleness that belies its size. GERMAN PRECISION: Volkswagen's familiar cabin layout is present in the Passat and the analogue watchface hints at more luxurious pretensions. But with its passengers and cargo on board, the entry-level Passat’s 1.8 TSI engine made quite a show of displaying its worth, rarely feeling out of breath or under strain. To remedy that, a quick shift of the DSG shifter into Sport mode – and its resultant taller gearing – and that hurdle was quickly cleared. Additionally, this crack pairing also allowed for rapid downshifts and ample firepower to tackle swift and safe overtaking manoeuvres, particularly on clogged roads. The situation didn’t get any worse with four adults up and a short time in which to take in most of the tourist traps the region has to offer. Passengers seated on the rear bench were especially complimentary of the comfortable seats, although the driver would probably suggest instruments that are not as visible to those seated at the rear…Of course, be prepared to shell out for extras such as an electric sun blind, LED rear licence plate lamps, dynamic headlamps, a parking assistant that actually measures bays and parks for you and leather seats, although the standard fare available on Passat will probably not leave you grumbling about German stinginess. All in all, the new Passat is an absolute charmer that should be able to find a home for those not yet ready to take the step into the next tier occupied by the big German three. It is comfortable when you need a place for the passengers to nap, has enough power for those rare moments when you’re in a bit of a hurry, and it has a boot big enough to help you lose a number of sins. It also means the superb Honda Accord now actually has some competition. Grandad would have loved this.