Passat hides its real secret
Little outward change but there has been a revolution
IT takes a bit of time to see the change in the new Passat even though every outer panel, bar the roof, has changed compared to the previous model.
But while the difference may appear slight overall, there has been a major shift with this new incarnation.
Windows and door apertures are the same and so is much of the understructure: it's the kind of refreshment that created the latest Golf out of the previous. Volkswagen calls this the ‘seventhgeneration Passat’.
Others might deem it a comprehensive facelift.
The Passat has always had a bit of prestige value here though it has never been what you might call glamorous. Since the mid-1990s it has hovered on the edge of ‘premium’ territory.
When the Passat was a differently bodied Audi A4 (1996 to 2005), the boundary virtually vanished. When it was re-engineered as a giant Golf saloon, its interior was cheapened and restored the automotive apartheid.
Now the pendulum swings again: the latest Passat might at first seem little changed apart from that grille, but once you're inside it you find that the quality has come flooding back.
The basic interior components have changed little, but the finish and the details are set to tread on Audi toes again. This would be a premium car were it not badged Passat.
Electronics systems? One of these applies the brakes if you forget to do so and would otherwise crash into the car ahead.
Then there's the automatic parking system, now able to cope with end-on parking bays as well as roadside slots.
A clever device nudges the steering wheel back on track if you veer out of a lane. (Take your hands off the wheel and it stops working, so this is not quite the self-steering car.) And – as standard – there's a warning in the form of a cup and saucer if the steering's enormous control brain senses that your movements are erratic.
I like the new windscreen, too. It has a heat-reflecting film which can also pass an electric current able to heat the glass and so de-mist and de-ice it. But what's it like to drive? Painless, is the answer. It's quiet inside, partly thanks to the new windscreen's sound-absorbing ability, but not so much that the diesel version hides its method of combustion. With optional adaptive dampers, the Passat copes amazingly well with speed bumps, while still feeling precise and responsive.
Normal mode is best most of the time; the suspension fidgets in Sport, but Comfort is good if you're feeling passive.
The electric steering is good of its type, and the latest engine range is as efficient as in other recent Volkswagens. There are various sizes and powers of diesel and petrol engines, all turbocharged and producing up to 210 and 170bhp respectively, but perversely my favourites are the most modest motors.
For the first time, saloon and estate Passats are launched together. The saloon better illustrates the new look.
Both are civilised, comfortable, capable cars that light no emotional fires but do a fine job. In this, nothing has changed.