Sunday 19 November 2017

A lean giant -- and no fuelling

Volkswagen Passat 1.6-LitreTDI
Volkswagen Passat 1.6-LitreTDI

We could have done with this long-distance sipper as we made our dash from northern Spain to Cherbourg to beat the ash last weekend.

Not that we did too badly.

Our little Peugeot 207SW, with its 1.6-litre diesel engine, performed well under constant pressure from four of us who were intent on getting off continental Europe and setting foot on this indebted but cherished land by hook or by crook.

But we'd have had a lot more comfort and space for the four of us in something like this Passat. We covered around 900km in that single drive.

When I first took it for a test early last week, the on-board computer on this 1.6-litre diesel had 1,094km to an empty tank. In other words, it would have taken us the length of France and still have had something to spare.

Our story was one of the minor ones played out across Europe last week as the virtual absence of air travel compelled people to take whatever options they could.

We drove from Biarritz in the deep south to Cherbourg in the far north in that Peugeot. It was a systematic, unrelenting push to get on board Irish Ferries' Oscar Wilde ferry on Saturday evening.

I learned a few lessons as we sped over some of the best roads in Europe and let my eyes rest on verdant stretches that evoked memories of camping holidays when my family was young (where did all those innocent years go?).

The first lesson was that if you are hiring a car abroad, get one a little bigger than you think you need -- especially if you have children on board.

A bit of comfort and room adds to the safety factor and takes some of the stress and tiredness out of the drive.

The sheer luxury of getting into the Passat was palpable when I slipped into its cool leather interior on return at the long-term car park at Dublin Airport.

Being able to sit and drive comfortably should be your priority and no one can say that the Passat scrimps on space.

Another certainty, as far as I'm concerned, is that diesel remains the fuel that will cover the miles more economically than anything else for a long time to come.

The little Peugeot we drove in France would have done the trip on just one tank, we reckoned. But we put in an extra €20 at our pitstop just to make sure.

We were glad we did so because there were precious few readily accessible for the last 100km or so.

Back home, I wanted to get to see my godson on his Confirmation day in Tullamore. Mr Volcano saw to it that I was late but, my goodness, did this 1.6-litre BlueMotion consume kilometres at a phenomenal rate to allow me to mark the occasion. Funny too, how 90km on a signpost seem so few after you've been counting down from 900.

They call this Passat the BlueMotion because they have tweaked and twirled anything and everything they could to improve fuel consumption (such as reducing the rolling resistance of tyres, improving aerodynamics and cutting back on weight).

The net result is surprising, in a quiet sort of a way.

I mean, here is a big, strong car, with just a 1.6-litre diesel engine in it. No hullaballoo or chest-thumping.

Yes, they are pushing things a bit in a few areas -- and I'll come to those in a minute -- but it is an achievement, no matter how you look at it.

The only areas you notice as being below par are between the higher gears, where you do have to shunt downwards to get that bite of acceleration. That is not an unrealistic discomfort for what you are getting. At motorway cruising speeds, it was impossible to discern anything other than a smooth run.

There is a huge boot and the equipment levels are high for a car that has to make commercial and economical sense for families and companies.

I prefer the tauter and livelier handling of the Ford Mondeo and I prefer the Ford's cabin too. However, there is just something about the Mondeo setup that appeals to me. Such factors are relevant to some and not to others and perhaps too much is made of them.

But I will tell you that the Passat had faded from view a little with me. It has come back centre-stage now, because it is economically relevant (lowest road tax, for example) in this guise and will escort you without any fuss across this country -- or any other, for that matter.

Irish Independent

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