It’s the little things, I tell you. What could an inconsequential little bench at the Frankfurt airport possibly have to say about the nation itself? A lot, actually, if you’re willing to look closely. The comfortable one I was seated on had a nice swooping wooden form to relax your back, replete with polish standing up to rigorous usage. The wood and metal elements fit together like Siamese twins. Perfectly bolted down, nothing squeaked, nothing rattled. They could’ve compromised here with something so trivial. They could’ve decided to make do with something less, but didn’t.
This steadfast, almost obsessive dedication to quality and utter pride in their work is what makes German engineering such a force. And you can see it in every product — right from Sennheiser headphones to a Carl Zeiss lens. And as I made my way up a set of twisty mountain roads in the Catalunyan countryside a few days later, I could feel this very force shine through whilst at the helm of the new 2011 Volkswagen Passat.
Over 15 million Passats have been sold till date and some unofficial lists Google throws up peg this car as one of the top 10 best-selling cars of all time. That is quite something, especially since most of the others on the list were priced affordably to keep the cash registers ringing. Seven generations worth of experience at building Passats with virtually bulletproof reliability certainly gives VW an undeniable edge, but it also means expectations keep rising like a Jupiter rocket on boost. Does this Passat keep up with those expectations?
Of the raft of engines Volkswagen makes and Europeans choose between, we’re expecting the 138 bhp 2.0 TDI Blue Motion diesel and the 1.8 TSI petrol to come to India. Volkswagen just might surprise us by getting a third 1.6 turbo TDI diesel that returns a claimed 23.8 kpl, which is impressively economical, if a bit underpowered for a car in this class. All the diesels deploy Volkswagen’s Blue Motion technology — start-stop, low-resistance tyres, battery regeneration when braking — and on the roll, it all comes together very pleasantly indeed. The 2.0-litre diesel I drove in the gorgeous hinterland of Barcelona seemed sprightly. The six-speed DSG ‘box responded well to throttle inputs through various driving conditions. The steering feels light in your hands and winding up a set of twisties, the body control, even in the comfort mode, seems to be spot on. The handling is adequately sharp for the kind of driving expected from the Passat, keeping your sleep and the new Fatigue Detection system from kicking in. What really matters on the Passat — passenger comfort — is top-notch, as is the refinement and sound isolation. It would be unfair on my part to comment on the ride quality, because the Spanish roads were snooker-table-smooth, so let’s just wait until we give it a road taste of Incredible India.
Of the host of features they’ve crammed into the Passat, here are some of the niftier, cooler and more useful ones — Park Assist, where an electronic brain squeezes you into a parking spot 25-40 cms more than the car’s dimensions, be it parallel or perpendicular parking. Works like a charm in real life. The xenons have Dynamic Light Assist, an intelligent lighting system that shapes and masks the light beam to assist your visibility without blinding oncoming traffic. Equally impressive is a first on a VW — city speed automatic emergency braking. Simply put, below 30 kph, if you don’t brake in time, it will brake for you using its radar cleverness. Impressive as it might be, it remains to be seen if and at what price this cutting-edge tech comes to our shores.
Where you’d be spending your time — the insides — it’s classic Volkswagen. It’s a nice place to be, shining in terms of material quality, put together so well it feels one-piece, though for me, added flair or colour would’ve really sealed the deal.
All things considered, if you’ve got an eye out on the market for an immaculately engineered sedan in the Rs 20-25 lakh bracket, hold your horses till the second quarter of next year. From the looks of things, the Passat will arrive in a bolder and bigger fashion than before in India, and is a very worthy opponent, maybe even a notch-up, on the Accords, Superbs and Camrys that we currently have on offer. It’s a well-rounded, practical, well though-out, safe and smart-looking German saloon that you wouldn’t go wrong with. Don’t believe me? Just ask any one of the 15 million folks who’ve brought the Passat home.
The writer was on a media invite from Volkswagen to drive the new Passat in Spain.