We typically associate the Volkswagen Passat’s competitors being cars like the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 508, Honda Accord, and its sister car, the very similar Skoda Superb. But with the level of luxury and premium features on offer here - in addition to the superior build quality VW is known for - and the argument to justify that price hike for an Audi A4 becomes quite flimsy indeed - ironic since Audi themselves (and Skoda) are a part of the Volkswagen Group.
The B8 Passat, despite that designation, is technically only the 7th all-new version of Volkswagen’s larger sedan as the B7 that first showed up in 2010 before it was actually an evolution (i.e facelift) of the B6 that was introduced in 2005.
It’s pretty much an all-new car over its predecessor, and Volkswagen has aimed high. It has a far more attractive exterior design, impressive reserves of performance, improved handling, more room inside, and is considerably lighter as to aid in fuel economy.
Introduced globally in 2014 before arriving in Australia the following year, this Passat is the car that fellow contenders in this space should be paranoid about losing ground to. Locally, the range kicks off with the base 132TSI, followed by the 132TSI Comfortline, 140TDI Highline, and finally the sportier 206TSI R-Line.
“Cosmetically, R-Line adds a unique front grille, a sports front bumper with bigger air intakes, and side skirts – among other styling tweaks.” - Whichcar
Over the previous Passat, this one is far and away the more elegant; starting with its single frame grille meshing neatly into the swept back headlamps that flank it. This VW makes a strong first impression, particularly in wagon form.
It’s still a large car, mind you, and one that is only marginally different in height than the version it replaces. That’s cleverly masked with its subtly flared wheel arches, tapered roofline, and a prominent shoulder crease that runs pretty much the length of the car - helping it seem lower and squat than it actually is.
Of the four grades, the lower two receive 17-inch alloys while 18-inchers and optional 19s are reserved for the higher-end duo, respectively. All come with LED daytime running lights but, disappointingly, only halogen front illuminators come standard in everything but the 206TSI or otherwise the optional Luxury Pack ($3,500) be selected for the Comfortline or Highline grades - something we recommend.
As a consolation, the headlamps do turn on automatically when the light levels dip and, joy of joys, there are standard LED tail lamps too. Though, if you’d like some LEDs to illuminate the way forward, you’ll have to opt for that Luxury Pack which also adds dynamic cornering lights which also can also automatically switch from low to high beam if it senses a clear road ahead or from high back to low beam when another car is incoming.
Engine and Drivetrain
“There’s plenty of urge for overtaking, the steering is accurate and the car sits securely on the road, rounding up nicely when pushed enthusiastically.” - CarsGuide
No matter which motor is chosen, it’s unlikely you’ll be wanting for pace. Even in base form, the B8 Passat offers ace levels of performance, and it peaks with the R-Line’s powertrain packaged lifted straight out of a Golf GTI.
Every engine is turbocharged and manages to return relatively frugal consumption numbers too - paired, of course, with VW’s DSG dual-clutch transmission in either 7- or 6-speed configurations. No manual option is available.
Two petrol engines are available starting with the same 1.8-litre turbocharged TSI engine carried over from the older Passat. The German automaker has a happy habit of tying in the engine output to variant name. Hence, the 132TSI produces 132kW and 250Nm of torque from as low as 1,250rpm.
At the other end of the spectrum, the more powerful petrol sits under the bonnet of the most expensive Passat, the 206TSI R-Line. As stated earlier, this is more-or-less a collection of the Golf GTI’s oily bits, and thus dishes out 206kW and 350Nm of torque from 1,700rpm.
That’s a serious amount of performance, with VW saying it needs just 5.5 seconds to sprint to 100km/h. This is in part thanks to the extra off-the-line grip from the 206TSI R-Line’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system which, by itself, gives it a leg up on every other direct competitor. Even when throwing in ‘premium’ saloons into the mix (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz), this combination of power and all-weather grip isn’t easily matched.
For the hyper-miler, though, there’s the 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre TDI engine that’s able to return a claimed 4.8-litres/100km if your right foot is sufficiently light. Still, with that much torque available as early as 1,750rpm, overtaking should be expectedly effortless.
“The design isn’t flashy or standout, but it’s very satisfying and ergonomic, with a quality of materials to lift it above both the old Passat and many other cars in this sector.” - AutoExpress
Upon first blush, the cabin is typical Volkswagen high quality - solid and more assuredly better assembled than many rivals. But letting the eye linger will bring into view the elegant mix of material (particularly the interplay of aluminium and piano black accents in the Highline and R-Line), thoughtful design, impressive technology, and clever ergonomics.
In higher end trims, the interior remains quite minimal though it’s more of a visual treat than what we’re used to from Wolfsburg’s large sedan, and the cascading dash is a dead ringer for recent Audi products, particularly the fifth-generation A4 and second-generation Q7.
Everything has a lovely luxurious feel to it. Soft touch material is everywhere human hands can conceivably reach, and switchgear have a satisfyingly premium padded tactility to them when pressed.
The Luxury Pack that we touched on previously also adds ambient cabin lighting as well as a panoramic glass sunroof to further elevate the interior experience. Now on to the more practical concerns, and the Passat was never really wanting in this department either, but because the wheelbase has been stretched by 80mm, there’s more overall volume for rear passengers, particularly so with legroom.
It’s also a very practical car with 586-litres (or 650-litres for the wagon) of boot space from that more coupe-like roofline and boot. The B8 Passat, surprisingly, has a smaller footprint over the model it replaces, but in spite of this sports a 20-litre average increase in rear cargo capacity.
For reference, another large car with a fastback-esque roofline that’s in direct competition with the Volkswagen - the Ford Mondeo - only manages to eek out 458-litres of cargo volume, which is about on par with other rivals like the Peugeot 508 and Mazda6. The Passat’s boot floor is flat and uniformly shaped too for easy sorting of cargo.
Of course, there’s even more room with the seats folded, which they do with a 60:40 split. Once down there’s 1,152-litres (or 1,780-litres in the wagon) at your disposal.
Behind The Wheel
“There’s a firmness and control to the suspension that past Passats lacked, so it copes with being chucked down the road without complaint, even if it isn’t exactly bursting with enthusiasm.” - Top Gear
We know there is a certain expectation for every Volkswagen to somehow have some manifestation of Golf GTI DNA imbued within. While that’s a little unreasonable in most cases, the Passat would certainly benefit from it with cars like the Mazda6 and Mondeo both being touted as sharp drives.
Luckily, there’s quite a lot to like about how the B8 Passat behaves on the road. There is definitely a tendency toward comfort here, particularly when the excellent Dynamic Chassis Control is set to the matching mode.
In the 206TSI, even without the DCC and the 4Motion system shuffling drive between the front and rear axles and/or from one side of the car to the other, the Passat has some impressive inherent dynamic ability. Also, steering is light throughout, but seems to sharpen up a tad when the car’s Sport mode is engaged.
It’s not the last word in a communicative chassis, but it certainly is predictable with the car responding linearly to pretty much any kind of driving situation one might encounter. This makes achieving high speed and fast cornering a somewhat muted in sensation, but it’s high grip levels allow it to be pushed fairly hard before it starts to complain.
Volkswagen is peddling the top-spec 206TSI as a spiritual successor to the Passat R36. While we have no doubt it’s a faster and more effective machine overall, the Passat doesn’t deliver same kind of thrill. The 2.0-litre EA888 turbo-petrol does have its aural moments, though, but a match for the older V6 this is not. Rather, it’s a more precise, somewhat clinically efficient instrument through the bends.
It’s forte lies more in it being a long distance cruiser, often at higher speeds, but the optional 19-inch wheel can mar an otherwise pleasant urban driving experience, but so long as the roads don’t disappoint or a smaller wheel size is fitted, negotiating a congested (and often bumpy) city shouldn’t pose a hurdle for the Passat driver. The DSG transmission has commendable low-speed smoothness and the well-controlled NVH levels mean quite little outside disturbances are allowed to creep into the cabin.
Safety and Technology
“This level of preventative safety gear is truly excellent.” - CarAdvice
There’s an impressive, even exhaustive list of modern features here to cover, but we’ll start with the most basic. First of all, nine airbags are standard, as are a reversing camera, parking sensors, Autonomous Emergency Braking in the form of VW’s Front Assist with City Emergency Brake system, and even a driver fatigue detection system. Thusly, ANCAP corroborates the same 5-star safety score that Euro NCAP awarded the Passat in 2014.
Cruise control is also standard, though the radar-assisted adaptive system is reserved for tiers above the entry-level 132TSI, understandably. Should the option be selected (the $3,200 R-Line package), you’ll be able to step into the driver’s seat and be greeted by a 12.3-inch high-resolution panel that sits in lieu of the traditional analogue instrument cluster. It’s a fairly similar system to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, mimicking its ability to display media or navigation information dynamically. The Active Info Display, as it’s called, works well and is about on par with the Audi version for sheer technical sophistication but doesn’t have as many driver customisable options.
For the more familiar infotainment needs, the base Passat receives the Discover Media and satellite navigation system displayed through a 6.5-inch touch panel. More expensive grades get the Discover Pro system with an 8-inch touchscreen. Both support smartphone interfacing via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though the lack of a better-specified stereo to pipe tunes through is a little disappointing.
The B8 Passat builds on the strengths of the car that preceded it by basically reassembling that formula from the ground up. This newest stab at an upmarket car for the masses is Volkswagen’s finest yet and should worry the establishment of premium marques squarely because there isn’t really anything lacking with the Passat, even when judged on those higher standards.
It feels more expensive than it actually is, drives well, rides beautifully, looks the part, and has ample performance especially if the right powertrain is fitted. Best of all, its price makes it seem a steal by comparison.
One might desire to upgrade to a BMW 3 Series, for example, although the Passat is more comparable in size to a 5 Series or Audi A6, but costs less than any of them. In an apples-to-apples comparison, the Volkswagen product just makes more sense.
Then again, the less posh VW badge doesn’t lend itself to the kind of ego fix one might be seeking with a proper prestige brand. Having said that, the B8 Passat comes achingly close to being as much a decision you make with your heart as it is with the head.
AutoExpress - 4/5 - “The latest Volkswagen Passat brings classy looks and premium quality, to a family car that already majors on space and efficiency.”
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “The new Passat builds on its predecessor across the board, given the quality and space inside, the dynamic upgrades, the technology on offer (notably safety and infotainment) and the sharper pricing.”
TopGear - 7/10 - “Volkswagen serves up more of the same and it's now better than ever.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “Plenty of wow factor and all-round desirability. VW has taken an average-looking car and made it into something special.”
WheelsMag - “Handsomely proportioned, impressively equipped, comfortable and practical, the B8 Passat proves the smart money at $35-50K buys a mid-sizer like this, not a compromised SUV.”
Whichcar - 4.5/5 - “The Volkswagen Passat is an impressively refined medium car that transcends its price bracket with luxury-brand levels of comfort, finish, appearance and features.”