Launch Report: 2015 Volkswagen Passat

The smoother coincidence

Recent events have shoved the giant car maker Volkswagen onto its back feet but the colossus is using this situation to leap up with new focus and new products. Although it’s probably coincidence, their timing couldn’t have been better to introduce the new-generation Passat in southern Africa.

You may think that the Passat is an old man’s car or sales disaster which explains why Volkswagen is so desperate to destroy any of those connotations. Yes, older models weren’t particularly exciting and yes, they never inhabited our country in great numbers but VWSA alleges that “this model should change that.”

Passat is one of Volkswagen’s most successful models ever, also in new-money China. Local retailers are banking on this new (B8) model’s more executive look and premium feel to capture market share from the perpetual German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes in the (increasingly premium) B-segment sedan.

Spearheaded by a marketing campaign called “Think New”, Passat is based on the VW group’s MQB modular platform. With only the engine position fixed, all dimensions were maximized for comfort and space, resulting in a lower bonnet / line, lower roof height and less front overhang than its predecessor.

Remarkably, the new sedan is shorter and lower but boasts an increased wheelbase and lighter, tighter bodies (up to 85kg less than before). This provides occupants with better cabin space and comfort levels, as well as improved acoustics and increased luggage capacity (up 20L to 479L).

The car’s looks will play a big part in capturing buyers and I believe that VW got it right. Going from a wide face and powerful stance at the front, the “Tornado Line” sculpted profile crease and trademark VW C-pillar lead to strong rear shoulders and distinctive tail lights, all wrapped in crisp lines and elegant proportions.

Add the high-quality interior and delicate chrome detailing (inside and out) to end up with a sedan that’s probably most like its own second cousin, the Audi A4. You’ll have to wait for the new A4 to get this level of top-class safety and assistance systems, intuitive infotainment and the HD-quality instrument cluster.

Optional extras include a full three-zone climate control with rear settings, adjustable heads-up display and “Discover Pro Navigation” with 8-inch VGA screen and 10Gb hard disk drive. This system features 3D navigation, multi-user Bluetooth connectivity, voice control and is Apple Car Play and Android Auto ready.

Other add-ons (depending on model) include R-Line goodies and wheels as well as leather trim, clever seats, glass sunroof, ambient lighting, keyless access, fold-away tow-bar, adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera with park pilot and a thumping-great 700 Watt DynAudio sound system with subwoofer.

The current Passat line-up includes 1.4 TSi 110kW Manual (N$378,800), 1.4 TSi 110kW DSG (N$398,800), 1.8 TSi 132kW DSG (N$444,200) and 2.0 TSi 162kW DSG (N$476,800) with TDi models expected in 2016. A 3-year/120,000km warranty and 5-year/100,000km AutoMotion Plan is included.

As for driving this car, I can honestly state that interested buyers need not travel more than a few hundred meters to discover that the new Passat is as comfortable, sophisticated and responsive as its maker alleges. It’s smoother than a 3-Series, softer than a C-Class and more comfortable than an A4.

A new multi-mode response system is standard across the range and adapts to the driver’s inputs, switching between modes if need be. On the Eastern Cape launch route, I made sure to cycle through the frugal “Eco”, normal “Comfort”, eager “Sport” and flexible “Individual” settings to test their effects.

While every mode had its own appeal, I always detected an underlying smoothness and solidity to this car’s behavior – even when fitted with 18-inch R-Line alloys. This excellence wasn’t just picked up by yours truly; the new Passat recently won a landslide first place in the 2015 European Car of the Year competition.