When you think Volkswagen it’s easy to associate certain drivers to the brand’s model choices: First time buyer? Get a Golf; Boy racer? Get a GTi. Need a budget family car? Get a Polo. So where does that leave the Passat?VW’s premium sedan has never really taken off in SA, mainly due to having some tough rivals, little exposure and living life in its more successful siblings' shadows.First launched in 1973, the Passat was pitched as an “adequate middle-class” vehicle, which conjures images of struggling family men sporting bad combovers behind the wheel of an equally “boring” vehicle. For 2011, however, the guys at VW have injected some much-needed life into the Passat and called it "Seductive German Engineering” – which conjures mages of a working-class man and his a sexy trophy hausfrau, cruising in an equally exciting vehicle.But does it deliver?The Passat hasn’t lived up to its true potential, despite selling 15-million units. This probably has more to do with the German trio stealing its thunder over the past three decades – namely BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. NEW DESIGNThe Passat has a new look and will be available with a choice of two engines and new specifications: a 1.8 TSI and a two-litre TDI, each available with a manual or auto transmission.There’s no denying the Passat is pleasing on the eye. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Passat, mainly because it doesn’t come across as having a “Look at me, Look at me!” presence or the dreaded “old man’s car” stigma. Instead, it’s always seemed to me as being underappreciated, despite some of the more bizzare incarnations of the vehicle over the decades. That said, the new Passat has a new grille, new headlights with daytime LED's and new tail lights. Apart from the roof, every panel on the 2011 Passat is new; overall, it doesn’t stray too far in terms from the previous generation, but does give us a glimpse at VW’s design evolution for future models.BEHIND THE WHEELI drove the petrol derivative - auto and manual. The 1.8 TSI engine has been carried over from the previous model, though VW has made some tweaks to the unit. The engine is less thirsty - 6.9 litres/100km from seven - and capable of 118kW at 5000rpm and and 250Nm at 1500rpm.The petrol engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG gearbox.Driving through the hills of kwaZuluNatal, I got the chance to really put the TSI through its paces and it didn’t disappoint. Despite its size the new model proved nimble through corners and when needed the engine can deliver brutal performance. The DSG provided smooth gear changes through its intuitive transmission and, although it’s a effortless ride, I never felt detached from the road. The 2.0 TDI engine produces 103kW at 4200rpm and 320Nm from 2500rpm. The diesel can be mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG transmission. Fuel consumption was given as 5.6 litres/100km, 6.4 for the DSG.Driving the Passat gives a sense that VW stuck to its “For the people” moniker. It’s a premium sedan yet never skimps on practicality. It’s a family car that’s not pretentious and is as pleasing behind the wheel as it is in dealing with everyday driving needs.What will set the German carmaker’s new sedan apart from the competition is definitely its features, with VW fitting plenty of creature comforts as standard across the Passat range. Overall most of the features from the previous generation Highline derivative (valued at R20k) have been moved across to the Comfortline model range as standard. It’s a good strategy as many optional, albeit desirable features on other brand’s models could end up with you forking over R50k to 100k on extras. Some of the standard features include a fatigue detection system, rain sensors and fabric ventilate seats. Inside the Passat really comes into its own with an elegant interior. One never gets the feeling that you’re simply in a classier Golf but rather a vehicle that’s as sophisticated as it is functional. A revised dashboard has new dials and trim along with chromed highlights. The centre console design has also been changed.I mentioned earlier that the Passat doesn’t skimp on practicality and this is very evident than at the rear. With 565 litres of boot space and seats that can easily be folded flat, the Passat is ideal for carrying the kids kit or packing in all that extra luggage for a weekend getaway.PricingCompared to the outgoing model, pricing has increased by R3000 for the 1.8l models and about R10 000 for the diesel. At launch, the 1.8 TSI retails for R294 000 with the auto R309 000. The diesel models are priced at R309 500 for the manual and R324 500 for the DSG variant.OVERALLThe Passat faces a steep challenge in trying to grab its share of the D-segment. Apart from its German counterparts, the Passat also faces stiff competition from Asia - think Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and popular newcomer Hyundai's Sonata. To combat this VWl has begun an aggressive marketing campaign to get the most out of its new model. If you've seen the popular Star Wars-themed advert on YouTube, you’ll get the feeling that the Passat is finally getting the attention it deserves. With its competitors in mind and the lack of relative success in the past, VW has set a modest sales target of about 75 units a month.Overall, it’s an elegant, sophisticated sedan fit for the company exec or, like it’s 70's era tagline, suitable for any average Joe wanting a practical ride with a touch of class. PRICES1.8 TSI Comfortline – R294 0001.8 TSI Comfortline DSG – R309 0002.0 TDI Comfortline – R309 5002.0 TDI Comfortline DSG – R324 500The Passat is backed by a three year or 120 000km warranty and a five-year or 100 000km "automotive plan".