Published on Monday 9 December 2013 04:00
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Passat Highline replaces the big selling SE model and adds a touch screen satellite navigation unit, front and rear parking sensors, dual zone climate control and stylish 17-inch alloy wheels. What's not to like?
The Volkswagen Passat has come a long way. It used to be the sort of thing you'd only ever countenance as transportation from a German airport, the sort of thing that would casually shrug off quarter of a million miles and be painted a particularly grotesque shade of beige. Then, during the Nineties, something very strange happened. The Passat became desirable. Even with the introduction of W8 and R36 powerhouses, the Passat never actually became cool or hip, but very slowly it became a car you really could choose instead of a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C Class.
Credibility is hard won and in the years since, Volkswagen has carefully managed the model line, with the addition of the ridiculously handsome Passat CC. The big selling Passat trim level has long been the SE. Now Volkswagen have axed that badge and replaced it with a better equipped Highline model designation.
The Passat has never been a car that's been defined by the way it drives. It's almost as if Volkswagen has shied away from extremes of anything. The Passat rides well enough, goes well enough and handles and stops more than adequately but if you're looking for a headline story about this vehicle's chassis dynamics, you're onto thin pickings. The Highline range is skewed towards diesel cars and comprises a 1.6 litre TDI 105PS diesel and a 2.0-litre TDI with 140 PS. The petrol engines shouldn't be overlooked as recent innovations have seen them become comparatively more efficient and, dare we say, fun. There's a 122 PS 1.4-litre TSI and a 160 PS 1.8-litre TSI unit on offer here and these are both surprisingly effervescent engines for a car as sensible as the Passat.
Performance from the diesels is relatively sedate. This is a very big car after all and the 1.6 litre TDI for instance, takes over 12 seconds to get you to 62mph from a standing start, though the more sprightly 2.0 litre TDI will cut that to just under 10 seconds. Except for the 105 PS 1.6 TDI diesel, this Passat can be specified with a choice either of manual transmission or the highly regarded twin-clutch DSG gearbox which offers a full automatic mode for lightning quick sequential paddle shifts.
Plus, if your growing family or your job as a sales rep has forced you into the Passat but you still yearn for the sprightliness of the Golf GTI, you can opt for the Volkswagen's XDS electronic transverse differential. The driving feel is far more responsive with XDS as it reduces understeer and gives greater traction in the wet. You won't be able to option the XDS diff on the lower powered petrol or diesel engines in the Highline range.
Design and Build
The Passat has long been an understated-looking thing, but this seventh generation model pares back the design still further to a point where it looks coolly minimalist. The clutter has been ruthlessly excised from its silhouette and the few details that have appeared such as LED daytime running lights and a sliver of chrome on the rear bumper have been tastefully incorporated. Who'd have thought it? The Passat has become a style leader.
Many lessons have been learnt in developing the luxury Phaeton saloon and these have been applied to this car. Things like sound deadening materials built into the dash and doors and special acoustic film embedded in the front windows cocoon the cabin. Other updates include plusher door trims and seats, high-end fascia materials and subtle ambience lighting for a distinctly quality feel. Despite the handsome styling and the too-cool-for-school interior, the Passat hasn't gone superficial on us. There's 565-litres of luggage room in the boot but should you need more, try an estate version which offers a gargantuan 1,731-litres of capacity when the rear seats are dropped.
Market and Model
The Highline scotches the stereotype that most German cars with a half-decent badge are about as well-equipped as a New Jersey electronics store in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. With even the entry-level Passat getting an iPod interface and leather multifunction steering wheel, six airbags, ABS (anti-lock braking system), ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) and WOKS (whiplash-optimised head restraints) as standard, the Highline model has a solid base to build from. To this it adds an RNS 315 touchscreen satellite navigation unit, front and rear parking sensors, 2Zone climate control and 17-inch 'Sao Paolo' alloy wheels. Together, Volkswagen reckons these add £1,680-worth of value, yet the Passat Highline tacks a mere £500 onto the price of an SE, with prices starting at around £21,000 on the road for the 1.4-litre TSI 122 PS.
The Highline comes as standard with a number of features to make driving safer and more comfortable, including a Driver Alert System that monitors for signs of fatigue, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth. There's also cruise control, a flat tyre indicator, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a six-way electrically adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support.
Cost of Ownership
The Passat Highline range looks competitive value for money, but choosing which engine to go for is a tougher ask. If you're set to lug gear about with an estate, go for a diesel. The heftier torque makes a big difference when it comes to the sort of real world economy you can expect when hauling about an estate car full of kids and their clobber. Saloons? That's not quite so cut and dried. A 1.4 TSI petrol is about as quick as a 2.0 TDI diesel yet costs around £2,000 less. If you're a lower mileage driver, the petrol car will probably make more sense over a three year ownership period. Flog the car mercilessly up and down motorways and the diesel car turns the tables. 119 vs 138g/km weighs in the diesel's favour, although many drivers will prefer the nimbler feel of the petrol car's lightweight front end.
Aggressive pricing sees the Passat square up more or less head-on with tackle like the Vauxhall Insignia and engine for engine, the Passat is a good deal more economical and cleaner to boot. Pull residual values into the equation and the Passat wins hands down, retaining at least 8 per cent more of its new value over three years. Do remember when considering the £1,500-odd DSG gearbox that this gearbox will bump emissions up to 135g/km on the 2.0-litre TDI, which bumps it up in taxation bandings.
The introduction of the Passat Highline is a smart move from Volkswagen. Asking cash-strapped punters to stump up another £500 might not initially seem so clever but this model offers the sort of kit that buyers in this class want. Sat nav, smart alloy wheels and parking sensors are some of the most popular Passat options and here's a car with them all built in for a very modest mark-up.
Buyers in the know realise how competitive the Passat's whole life ownership costs are and this model looks set to bolster them still further, offering a very convenient halfway house between the mainstream badges and the premium marques. Volkswagen would suggest that it offered the space of the former and the sophistication of the latter. It's not the most outlandish claim.