2017 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI first drive review
There was a time when the Volkswagen Passat was a forerunner in the executive sedan segment. It enjoyed immense popularity despite stiff competition from rivals like the Skoda Superb, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and even the Nissan Teana. The segment withered away to nothingness over the years though, with buyers moving towards similarly priced SUVs. Most manufacturers thus pulled out of the segment, including Volkswagen, who discontinued the Passat in India.
Volkswagen has just relaunched the Passat, however, in an all-new avatar. It believes the segment may have become smaller but still holds potential, and there's a sizeable chunk of buyers who prefer the comfort of a sedan to the muscular appeal of an SUV even today. So what's the new Passat got? We spent a day driving it from Jaipur to Udaipur in Rajasthan, a distance of over 400km to find out.
The new Passat looks as stylish and elegant as always, but wears a more understated look this time. It is identifiable instantly as a Volkswagen, though the design is more futuristic than other sedans Volkswagen sells in India. And that's particularly thanks to the chromed, three-slat grille. The headlamps are the exact same height as the grille and get a chrome strip at the top, making the grille look as if it extends from end to end when viewed head on. From a distance the headlamp design looks simple but look closely and you'll notice how intricately the LED projector beams and LED daytime running lamps have been designed.
Prominent chrome strips in the lower half of the bumper add more elegance to the front end. The sides are where the new Passat reminds one of the older car, particularly thanks to the chrome strips lining the windows and also the way the window line tapers towards the C-pillar. The higher-specced Highline variant you see here runs on 17-inch alloy wheels, and their design is in keeping with the car's understated look. The rear end looks simple with its minimalistic design with just a large VW logo, angular tail lights and badging.
The understated elegance is carried over inside too. The dashboard is flat and simple looking but uses high quality materials to offer a rich, premium feel. The dash is split horizontally across its length by a matte-finished strip of wood, at the centre of which sits an analogue clock. Above the wooden strip are air-conditioning vents which look like the ones on the Audi Q7, with faux vents that connect them from end to end. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is the same as the Tiguan's and so are the clocks and the Passat offers a familiar feel from behind the wheel. Interiors are finished in black including the leather seats to offer a sporty feel, while the roof is beige-hued and offers a sense of airiness.
The Passat is no match for the limousine-like space offered by the Skoda Superb, but there's plenty of space at the rear and I cannot possibly imagine anyone complaining about lack of legroom. The seats are plush, particularly the rear bench, which also gets a wide arm rest with cup holders.
The Passat's feature and equipment list is extensive. It gets a 12.3-inch TFT display that integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The infotainment system also offers staggering amounts of information about the car, like the 'Think Blue Trainer' we first saw in the Tiguan. It rates your driving style, giving you marks out of 100 depending on how efficiently you drive. The Passat also gets five driving modes, and apart from customising the engine and gearbox responses the modes alter the suspension setup too, a segment first.Â The new Passat gets semi-auto park assist and a 360 degree view camera too. Then there's the easy open and close boot Â a wave of your foot under it will open the boot, pressing a button will shut it.
Boot space is massive at 586 litres, and should you ever feel the need for more space, you can drop the rear seatbacks by pulling the levers placed conveniently in the boot. Both front seats can be adjusted electrically, and the driver's seat gets memory and massage functions too. Front seats are heated, though we would have preferred cooled seats given that our warm conditions. There's three-zone climate control on offer as well, but oddly the rear controls only let you adjust the temperature and not the blower speed. On the safety front the Passat gets 9 airbags, while ABS, EBD, ESP are of course part of standard equipment.
Engine and performance
The Passat is being offered with Volkswagen's tried and tested 2.0-litre diesel engine only, that makes 177PS and 350Nm here. It feels as refined as ever, and with peak torque available from just 1500rpm, acceleration is quick and linear. The strong surge continues almost all the way to the 5400rpm redline and as revs go up the engine even manages to sound sporty despite being a diesel. The Passat is quick to build speeds, also thanks to the 6-speed DSG the engine is mated to. You get paddle shifters that are engaging to use and offer quick responses, but what truly makes the Passat engaging to drive is the torquey feel from the engine, irrespective of the revs.
The gearbox is extremely quick to respond to throttle inputs and shifts gear accordingly. It worked flawlessly even at crawling speeds in city traffic, gauging my right foot movements well to downshift or upshift. The DSG gearbox thus contributes to the Passat's efficient manners as well, and claimed efficiency stands at 17.42kmpl, which is commendable given the strong engine performance. I was in fact surprised to see the onboard trip computer display a range of over 800km on a tankful!
Ride and handling
The arrow-straight, smooth highways in Rajasthan allowed us to do some serious speeds, helping cover the 400km distance in a lot lesser time than expected. Apart from the engine and gearbox, credit also goes to the car's confident, sporty handling. The suspension setup is firm which is typical of Volkswagens, and makes for a planted feel. The steering wheel is communicative, offering ample feel and feedback along with a weighted feel especially around fast corners. The Passat's handling prowess in fact isn't surprising at all when you consider that Volkswagens are acclaimed globally for their handling.
The 215-section Hankook tyres offered a lot of grip, and helped in boosting confidence levels around fast corners. The ride quality is equally commendable too. Despite the sportiness and the firm feel the Passat does not unsettle its occupants, and soaks up bumps and potholes with aplomb. I did hear a few thuds going over bigger potholes but even then the car did not lose composure which is impressive. On the whole, the Passat feels properly European in terms of its ride and handling Â firm and confident Â but at the same time it has a feel that will be appreciated by Indian drivers and the chauffeur-driven types equally for its comfort.
Let's address the elephant in the room first, which is the fact that the Passat belongs to a segment that is not hot-selling. In fact the segment is a lot slower currently than it was the last time the Passat was around. Volkswagen though believes there still exists a demand for cars like the Passat. It is confident that with its simple, elegant design and the tried and tested powertrain the Passat has what it takes to perform well in its segment, despite the segment's diminutive size. The car has been priced at Rs 29.99 lakh for the Comfortline while the Highline version we drove retails at Rs 32.99 lakh ex-showroom, which is excellent value for what the car offers. It may be late to the party but the Passat is sure to appeal to those wanting a well-built, feature-rich German car that is more about understated elegance rather than showing off or being loud and pompous.