Volkswagen has played it very cleverly with the Passat. While the rest of the family car world has largely moved to the ever-popular hatchback format, VW has resolutely stuck with the 3-box saloon shape (ironic really, since the very first Passat in 1973 was a hatchback).
Given that the next class up - the compact executive arena - is also almost entirely populated by saloon cars, this seems like a wise move on VW’s part. It chases buyers who want something a little bit special for their family car buck.
So, from the VW badge on the grille backwards, the Passat has a subtle and classy appearance, with tasteful applications of chrome here and there, alloy wheels that aren’t garishly large, and a subdued bodywork palette. The classy appearance is also enhanced by the tinted glass area and LED tail lights on some models.
The Passat has a subtle and classy appearance.
What’s it like to drive?
The emphasis is very much on comfort with both the 7th-generation and current-shape Passat. There are numerous petrol and diesel engines available in the big German saloon. The best for diesel fans may be the 2.0-litre TDI, linked to the 6-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This is utterly at home on long motorway trips, where it has more than enough poke to make things relaxing, and it keeps its voice down most of the time, too.
The DSG swaps cogs effortlessly and smoothly, and even makes the car slightly more efficient. If you tow regularly, this is the one to choose.
Diesels just aren’t for some people, in which case the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a peach. It has more than enough punch to let the Passat easily keep up with traffic in town.
This is utterly at home on long motorway trips.
There’s nothing particularly whizz-bang about the interior of the Passat. Nor would you expect there to be. That might even seem slightly incongruous. The dashboard is laid out exactly as you’d expect, with analogue dials, conventional dials for the climate control temperature settings, and a central touchscreen through which you can control a whole range of the car’s settings, as well as the sat-nav and audio set-ups.
Some owners replaced the instruments with a 10.3in display, which shows everything you could need, including speed, revs, your audio preference and a sat-nav map. It’s well worth keeping an eye out for.
Trim quality is pretty much beyond reproach. It boasts thick, yielding plastic on top of a dashboard that’s fronted by piano-black plastic and metal-effect trims, with chrome highlights, such as around the analogue clock. It’s quite the classy look.
Meanwhile, all the dials, knobs, levers and buttons operate with a slick uniformity that feels just so. If this is your first foray into the world of VWs, you’ll feel rather special.
The seats are very comfortable indeed, and even entry-level models get an electrically-adjustable backrest with adjustable lumbar support. Anything above SE will have an electrically-adjustable seat.
As long as you go into Passat ownership knowing a 3-box saloon isn’t as practical as a hatchback, you’ll be fine. In which case the Passat will make a truly spacious and practical companion.
In both the 7th and 8th generation versions, there’s a vast amount of space up front, so even those considerably taller than the norm will have no issues with discomfort.
The rear seating is also pretty huge, so 3 adults will fit without any hassle or feeling like they’re on top of one another. The cabin is festooned with storage areas and the door bins are big enough for large bottles of water.
The boot is enormous and will easily take 3 large suitcases and a couple of carry-on cases. The only thing to be aware of is that getting stuff into it will be trickier than it would be with a hatch.
Running costs and reliability
Diesel versions of the Passat should comfortably manage an average economy figure starting with a 5. When combined with the large fuel tank, it means your local fuel station staff are likely to greet you with a ‘hello stranger’ – so infrequent will your visits be.
The 1.5-litre petrol model should also manage an economy figure of around 40mpg if driven carefully. Combine this with the lower cost of unleaded and it’s easy to see why petrol can be the better choice for some. Insurance should be pretty cheap, with entry-level cars in group 12, rising to group 29 for top-spec versions.
What cinch loves
Owning a Passat is a bit like having a well-dressed member of staff to look after you, because it looks subtly classy and just gets on with the job of making every day easier than it might otherwise have been. It’ll take you and 4 friends (plus their suitably fabulous ‘stuff’) from here to there without fuss – and will do so without costing a whole lot to run.
Each and every one of those friends will get in, look around, touch a piece of trim or fabric and offer a nod of appreciation for how good the Passat feels.