The car in the image is the all-new Volkswagen Passat. Really, it is all-new. We’ve had two generations of Passat in India before but they were in and out of memory way too easily. Even now, the situation hasn't gotten any easier for the new car, with its well-established rivals still alive and kicking, all of which come with some legacy in India.
So, in a sea of such well rounded and competent alternatives, who is the VW Passat for?
The Passat’s design is indicative of who it’s for. If the words Ed and Hardy mean something to you, it’s not the car you’re buying. The styling screams, well, nothing. It’s straightforward, clean and big.
Yes, the length is 94mm short of the Skoda Superb, its platform partner, while the wheelbase is 55mm lesser too. In fact, it’s 2mm shorter in length than its predecessor but the wheelbase is a full 74mm greater. The car’s grown where it matters and the Passat still has the size quotient going for it!
The frameless three-slat grille blends into the full-LED headlamps with no drama and while you do get big 17-inch wheels, the design draws no superlatives. The swooping roof and 'Tornado’ shoulder line add a sporty touch, but only just. At the rear too, it looks evolutionary.
Even the colour options have no punch or flash. No way you'd see bright red or flashy yellow here. But that’s exactly the point!
The same flavour continues inside. There's no white or beige here. All-black cabins generally lend a sporty touch, but somehow, here, it works to keep things sombre.
There's no flash but there is attention to detail. The central analogue clock and ornamental wood along the dash and doors immediately lend an old-school charm to the cabin. Like the thick felt lining in the door pockets, they show good attention to detail too.
Quality leaves nothing to really criticise either. Plastics aren't soft-touch but have a smooth finish, with the leather seats and door grips offering some fine stitched premiumness.
Faults? Well, it will feel familiar to existing VW owners, even with differentiators like the new-age Audi-like full-dash AC vent layout and push-button starter next to the gear lever like in bigger Audis. That's mainly down to the steering wheel and trim textures that look similar to what you'd see in VW's bread and butter triplets. Also, the sense of size is watered down by the cabin’s dark palette, even though you won't be shortchanged for space.
Oh yes, two 6-footers in the front and rear can manage long distance drives in reasonable comfort with the seats offering great all-round support. That said, the rear backrest angle will be a tad upright for heftier users. Also, you can't help but want that extra stretch space you'd get in its Czech cousin. Three abreast won't be too comfortable either. Two reasons: the floor hump and the generously sized rear armrest that juts out of the backrest.
Practicality is still a strong point, though, and the 586-litre boot (1152 litres with the seat down) swallowed the luggage of our 4-man crew and then some. Not exceptional, considering there are entry-level sedans that aren't far behind, but no reason for complaint either.
The cabin may be understated but don't let that make you think the kit list’s taken a hit. There's the segment-first massage seat for the driver which kneads through the fattest of backs, 3-zone climate control, hands-free park assist and a 360-degree camera.
LED lighting makes its way into the cabin too. If you prefer your light natural, open up the sunroof. When things get too bright, pull up the side window blinds or have your driver electrically raise the rear blind. It's also great that you get a proper 230V plug point at the rear, rather than only USB/12V sockets. Laptops and car vacs are finally welcome, and phones can be charged so much faster!
The touchscreen infotainment system is fluid to use and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity too, but the special bit here is the option to view a lap timer, boost pressure gauge and G-meter. Delightfully unnecessary and cool! But truth be told, cooler graphics would've been appreciated as the current display feels too business-like, even for a car that champions the cause.
Finally, nine airbags and a long list of abbreviations including ABS, ESP, HSA, ASR and TPMS come as standard.
Cruise. That's the one thing the Passat enjoys most and there are two major contributors to this. One, adaptive dampers. The Passat has them and that's what the Dynamic Chassis Control bonus is. Set the drive mode selector to comfort and every road imperfection save for the really nasty ones is negated perfectly. Importantly, it's done without the side effect of the drive getting bouncy/wallowy through uneven patches
Two, the engine. It has ample low-end torque to make city slicking a breeze, sure, but where it really shines is intra-city cruising, as we did on our Udaipur-Jaipur drive. The engine feels almost bored if you drop below 100kmph since the torque spread is so creamy. The motor’s happiest below 2000rpm and it’s where you will spend about 80 per cent of the drive time.
There's also a healthy power reserve for high-speed overtakes with ample punch available till about 4000rpm, following which the revs are more about the sensation of speed rather than actual velocity gains. Overall, the performance isn’t explosive, as there is some planning needed, but still enough to confidently squeeze through overzealous truckers on single-lane highways. The performance is Goldilocks at the 3rd bowl of porridge - just right.
The gearbox is the cherry on top. The 6-speed DSG is predictable, responsive (gets steering paddles too) and, most importantly, smooth. Even under hard throttle, gear swaps only get noticeable, not jarry. Engine braking is quite effective too but attempt any bounce-of-the-limiter fun and the powertrain will trust its own judgement over yours.
Handling was pretty decent for a car of this size too on the few curves we got to throw the Passat at. It's not a driver's car in the traditional sense, but there's fun to be had should you wish.
So let’s come back to original question – Who is the VW Passat for? The answer’s quite simple. It’s for the buyer who has German big-badge money but wants a car that stays under the radar. It’s also a car for buyers who want something loaded with technology but prefers that packaged in something with old-school charm.
And finally, it’s for the person who wants all the car that the Skoda Superb is, in a moderately more mature package, and considers the slightly lowered practicality a fair tradeoff for that badge on the boot and grille.
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