You know the new middle-sized saloon from VW? Well, that. But the estate version.
Day one: Here comes the Passat, looking all Passaty and that. It’s a handsome car. It feels Passaty to drive too. That is to say, very normal, quite comfortable, a bit understated. For some reason you occasionally see people in Passats being needlessly aggressive on motorways. I don’t know why. On first acquaintance, this new one seems very relaxed. Maybe if you’re a bellend on a motorway this is annoying for you and you over-compensate.
Day two: The outside of the Passat is quite simple and tasteful. The inside is the same. There’s a very smart horizontal thing going on between the vents on the passenger side, for example. In the middle there’s one of the few analogue car clocks I’ve seen that manages not to look twee. In fact, it’s a bit like a Braun wristwatch. Sitting in traffic this morning I’ve worked out one of the reasons the Passat interior feels nicer and more expensive than those of other cars this size. It’s the clever application of thin shiny strips. They’re everywhere. Round the buttons, framing the stereo, scampering neatly across the bottom of the instrument pack. Sometimes you barely notice them, but they’re there, looking expensive and smart and giving the whole shebang a bit of class.
Day three: Top Gear studio day. An early start in the cold. When you switch on the driver’s heated seat, the steering wheel heats up too. It’s the kind of sybaritic indulgence that would have got you shot in Soviet Russia. It’s also rather nice. During my journey there’s a chance for some helmswrightery. From this I can tell you the following; the Passat can and will be driven with enthusiasm but it feels a bit unnecessary. Also, if the rear wheels hit a bump in the middle of a fast bend the whole back end is very slightly knocked off line. This is a surprise. The rest of the time the car feels very well planted and the ride is good. I wondered if they’d saved a few Euros by fitting cheapo beam axle that’s gone under less powerful Golfs but I’ve checked and no, the Passat gets an independent multi-link. So there we go. This car has a double clutch gearbox which works very well in auto mode. Trying to force the issue with the paddles behind the wheel is almost completely pointless. The changes aren’t especially snappy and there’s that usual narrow dieselly power band to spoil your fun.
Day four: Work to do at home. No Passat driving today. It sits outside looking crisp and unassuming, One of the reasons I like the way it looks is because of what black rollneckers would call its stance. Like the latest Golf, it’s built on VW’s MQB box of bits and, like the new Golf, the wheelbase has got longer which makes the car look good. The car itself is actually 2mm shorter than the old Passat. Do you know what MQB stands for? Modularer Querbaukasten. It means modular transverse matrix. That’s right, in German they have a word for ‘transverse matrix’.
Day five: The Passat has various bits of electro-assistance, the more annoying of which can be turned off. The thing that reads speed limit signs isn’t generally annoying, although a couple of days ago it did spot something that plainly wasn’t a speed limit sign and then tried to tell me the limit through London was 90mph. This morning things get worse. It’s frosty and, even once the screen is cleared, the chill plays havoc with the forward facing camera behind the rear view mirror that makes it work. The car keeps making a ping noise and telling me the speed reader isn’t working. Fortunately you can turn it off.
Day six: Another drive across the city in the Passat. I’m sorry, I’ve can’t really think of anything else to say about it. Erm… it’s got a big boot. And quite a lot of rear legroom.
Goodbye: The Passat is leaving. I feel a bit sorry for it. As a car, it performs its duty well. It’s not exciting but it is agreeable and decent. It looks nice too. But private buyers aren’t wowed by cars like this any more. VW freely admits that 80 percent of Passats will go to fleet customers. But fleet drivers don’t want this. They want an Audi. So they’ll get a Passat because their fleet manager refuses to give them an A4. And they will resent it. That’s why I feel sorry for the Passat. It’s the perfectly good car that no one really wants.
The car talked about here is a Volkswagen Passat estate GT 2.0 TDI 190PS DSG. It has a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 187 horsepower. VW says it can go from 0-62 in 7.9 seconds and on to 144mph. Without options it costs £30,910.