Wednesday 21 February 2018

#MyCar2015 - Steady as she goes: why the Passat is a solid contender

The new Passat: took rough with smooth on our test
The new Passat: took rough with smooth on our test
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I HAVE just completed my final round of voting for the World Car of the Year. Among the final contenders are the likes of the MINI, Citroen Cactus, Mercedes C-Class, Nissan Qashqai, BMW 2-Series, and this week's review car, the new Volkswagen Passat.

I don't know if you'd describe it as a vintage year (there, I've just gone and insulted them all), but I will say this: it was brutally difficult to choose. Just for your information, there's a range of elements and areas to score: from 'occupant environment' to 'performance', to 'significance' to (oh dear!) 'emotional appeal'.

You have no idea how I agonised for long periods, going back to it several times. And yet, at the end of the day, I know in my heart and soul that despite the application of science to the scoring, one's own background and outlook play central roles too.

The Passat was included in this final line-up, I have no doubt, because of the serious strides made in upping the level of its cabin and improving the way it handles and rides.

But I don't see the Passat as just one car any more. And I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. Apart from myriad improvements across the engineering spectrum, there are also several different facets to it, depending on engine and equipment levels. I've sampled most.

The 1.6-litre diesel is the one most people are expected to buy. Although it's now more powerful, I have to say, I was not madly impressed. I found it a bit unresponsive through the gears. That's because I was pushing on a bit. And here's where I have to check myself because most people really don't want zip acceleration. They want steady. And the Passat is steady.

There is also a 1.4-litre petrol for those who don't put up too many kilometres. It gives the car a different feel altogether.

The 1.6-litre diesel remains the bread-and-butter car. In mid-spec (Comfortline), it is the way most people will go. Same route to your money as Ford is taking with the Mondeo, Peugeot (the 508), Hyundai (i40) etc.

And then comes the 2-litre (150bhp) diesel I had on longer-term test. With it, I found another side to the Passat: the 'executive' motor looking to take buyers from BMW's 3-series/Audi's A4.

It was decked out with all sorts of bling - top spec Highline with extras. Now, I don't care what anyone says, we are creatures of comfort and heated seats, electric lumbar support and all that can sway our perception of a car.

I took it for many drives but on an especially unusual one, I took it deep into the night and onto the boggy backroads that skirt the midriffs of Kildare and Offaly. Here, some stretches carry warnings of 'subsidence': where roads have 80kmh and 60kmh speed limits because they have poor, undulating surfaces. Roads that I have used many times - but can't ever remember driving late on a dark, cold Saturday night.

I'd had passengers on board for most of the earlier drives (the car is only 2mm longer but with 79mm extra wheelbase, there's more interior room).

Now, I wanted to drive so their discomforts would not be my prime concern. Incidentally, one quite tall passenger had praised the rear headroom (seats are lower and the car is 14mm taller). I wanted to drive so the elements of chassis, suspension, steering etc were put to far sterner tests. And roads with subsidence warnings were made for exactly that.

That's where I found another side of the car. Indeed, it was a facet you could so easily miss on high roads. I drove it, mostly in third gear, believe it or not, because there was enough flexibility in that gear to accommodate pick-up from sharp slowdowns as well as 80kmh.

I still think the Mondeo (which got a heavy drive too) is an edge ahead on handling and ride, but I haven't driven a Passat with this calibre of suspension or tautness before.

It also looked the part of the executive cabin with a quality of material (remember it was top-spec) to look at and touch. That said, I'd like the car itself to look more dynamic - it is only shades different than the old one.

And I'd prefer a different run of some gear ratios. In city driving, I changed down sooner than I'd normally expect. Third was most flexible. Oh, and there is need for a decent handle/slot on the saloon boot-lid to give you grip to pull it down to close. There is one but it is remote (fine boot by the way).

So there's the multifaceted Passat for you. And whether it is good enough to beat the others in the World Car of the Year awards, we'll have to wait and see.

Facts and figures: Volkswagen Passat saloon

Passat 2.0TDi , 1968cc diesel Bluemotion technology (150hp, 108 g/km, €190 road tax).

'Highline' entry price is €32,580; my test car: €35,510. There is a delivery charge of €750. And there is a PCP option at 1.9pc.

Standard equipment on Highline includes: adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, park distance control, Climatronic air con (3-zone auto temperature regulation), 17ins 'London' alloys, 6.5ins "composition media" radio system with CD player and eight speakers, comfort seats (front alcantara or 'Vienna' leather, heated front seats, interior ambient lighting, LED rear lights, electronic differential lock xds, full-size spare alloy wheel).

Extras on test car included: sat-nav system with voice control, LED headlights, high beam control "light assist", 18ins Dartford alloys, Nappa leather trim.

Optional extras came to €4,636 pushing the on-the-road price to €40,146.

My side of the road

I did some driving around Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow last week in an Opel Insignia and a Mokka that had left-hand drives.

In other words, I was on the ditch-side rather than the outside.

No big deal, I've done it before. But I have never noticed just how jagged and precipitous the edges of road surfaces can be as they trail off under briars into gravelly netherlands.

No wonder so many tyres/wheels come a cropper on back roads if we have to drive over such surfaces. You mightn't realise it from your 'normal position', but we were surprised at how often we were on the edge.

A major reason for that was how little room we had. That's because cars are getting bigger and wider all the time and most back roads are not. It's worth mentioning because we were taken aback by the poor quality of ditch-side surfaces and yet how tight we found ourselves to oncoming traffic. Any thoughts?

ecunningham@independent.ie

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