Goa is a great place to be. The sun is out, the roads are freshly laid with clean tarmac (well, at least most of them) and it is siesta time for the locals. There can’t be a better moment than this to make the most of the new Volkswagen Passat. Its 2000 cc four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel motor makes 168 bhp — about 28 more horses than its predecessor. Torque figures are also up by 4 kgm over the older car — at 37 kgm, which is brilliant. I am driving the Passat in the top-spec Highline trim that comes with Volkswagen ’s famous dual-clutch gearbox, while the Trendline starts off the range and is only available with a manual transmission. Unfortunately, along with the bump up in engine output figures, this Passat has put on some weight as well. While the outgoing car boasted of a kerb weight of 1,496 kg, the new Passat weighs in at 1,605 kg, an increase of a whole 109 kilos.
Sure, that’s all on paper; the clincher is in the way any car behaves in real life. Punch the throttle down, and before you know it you’re doing triple-digit speeds. But you are so isolated from the experience that it feels like... nothing!
The six-speed DSG keeps hunting for the right gear and when it finally makes up its mind, you are flung ahead with a surge in power. Although performance is relatively rabid, the new Passat doesn’t send a tingle through your spine, unlike the older car. It is engineered to cocoon you and keep you away from the vagaries of the environment outside. It’s fast; while it fools you into believing that you’re covering ground at a relaxed trot, in reality, you are hurtling down the highway at very illegal speeds. Paddle shifters add to the fun factor to a certain extent, but that visceral feel that the older engine provided is largely absent.
Swinging it around corners is a cause for celebration every time, with the car never leaving its line. The steering isn’t the stiffest I’ve come across but calling it light would be unfair. The brakes hear their call with urgency every time they are summoned and stop the car predictably with no hair-raising antics whatsoever.
As the group of letters adorning the lower right part of the boot testify, the new Passat benefits from Volkswagen ’s BlueMotion Technology — a bunch of systems that strive to make the car cleaner and more efficient. Starting from the engine which is designed to perform better while keeping its act clean, the new Passat also gets auto start/stop technology and regenerative braking that converts energy — which otherwise would be lost as heat — into electricity to help charge the battery.
Open the doors and you are greeted with smart beige or black interiors, depending on the trim you choose. In the Highline trim, the driver and co-driver’s seats are climate-controlled as well. Wood and aluminium add a dash of opulence to the interiors, while a smart looking analogue clock takes prominence in the centre of the dash. The new Passat gets a start/stop button, keyless entry and the superbly laminated glass areas that help keep the outside commotion er, outside with their ingenious sound dampening design. Then there is the optical parking display that employs a camera mounted under the Volkswagen monogram at the rear. When you engage reverse, the chrome moniker swivels upwards, revealing the camera to do its business. It’s right out of a James Bond movie!
But the biggest party trick in the new Passat is its Park Assist system. Employing ultrasonic waves, it takes over the steering system completely, leaving only the operation of the throttle and brakes to the driver. It’s the first time we’re seeing this technology in India, so it’s worth dwelling on it. Say for example you need to parallel park between two cars. If the distance between the two cars is about 80 cm plus the width (or length, depending on how you intend to park) of the Passat, the system can be engaged. Select the parallel park assist mode by pressing the button on the central console twice and then decide whether it’s on the right or the left side of the car by turning on the respective blinkers. Move forward till the display unit in the instrument console tells you that there’s enough space. Stop, engage reverse and all you need to do now is monitor the accelerator and the brake pedals. It’s quite freaky to see the steering wheel rotate this way and that without any intervention whatsoever from you as the car negotiates itself into the slot. Your hands are itching to take control, but it executes the manoeuvre somehow! However, it’s advisable to keep an eye on the mirrors while it is doing its magic act.
Speaking of alertness, driver fatigue is a major contributor to automobile accidents. The new Passat comes with what Volkswagen calls the Attention Assist. What this system does is that it closely monitors the driver’s steering pattern. When it detects an aberration in this pattern over a period of 15 minutes and at a continuous speed of 65 kmh and above, the driver is alerted with an audible alarm and a flashing coffee cup icon on the instrument display console. I do not check this feature out for myself, though, and I think Volkswagen will appreciate that!
Knowing that the Passat customer will usually occupy the rear seat, I am eager to sample it myself. Its ride quality is brilliant enough to lull you to sleep while traversing over semi-metalled roads at speed. The space at the back is ample and the leather seats support you comfortably.
As a whole, the new Passat is a great car to own, especially if you value build quality and smart aesthetics. The car will hold up very well in the longevity department and as the last-gen model proved, living with it is going to be as easy as can be. And at Rs 25.65 lakh for the Highline (Rs 20.8 lakh for the Trendline and Rs 23.80 lakh for the Comfortline — all prices ex-showroom Delhi), the Passat is decent value considering what it has on offer. Buy it for your daily commute and for lugging the family around. But if you want your car to move your soul every time you choose to kick the chauffeur out of his seat, look elsewhere.
The writer was on a media invite from Volkswagen India to test-drive the new Passat in Goa