Here’s what I imagine the business news headlines on CNN will be in 2015:
1. Volkswagen buys out Mazda. The 16th carmaker to be added to the group, VW now builds and sells over 12 million cars and is the largest auto company in the world.
2. Bugatti, a VW group company, has announced its intent of building a 500 kph supercar. The car will cost 5 million pounds and only 25 will ever be built, all of which have been spoken for. Over 16 of those buyers are Indians, seven are Chinese, and one is European and one North American.
3. VW plans to build the cheapest car in the world in Bolivia. Bolivia is the last country in the world to get a VW manufacturing facility.
4. Volkswagen’s Passat goes through an update. Gets auto cruise-control with driver disable facility – a world first!
This gives you a sense of Volkswagen’s need to take over the world, become the largest car manufacturer and generally win the business-world equivalent of a game of marbles. It also tells you how smart the new Passat has become, so smart that it nearly drives by itself. The first time you use the Park Assist system, it feels eerie. And then you aren’t completely satisfied when you notice the flaws, because it can’t detect oddly placed objects like a jutting-out lamp-post, doesn’t account for it and conveniently has its rear-bumper scraped. For once, the error is with the system, not the driver. But I guess it’s the only bit that Indian supporter and R&D guru Ulrich Hackenberg may have missed. What they didn’t miss, was a huge target with a ‘hit me’ sign, called the Skoda Superb. Siblings they sure are, but has the Passat finally outdone the Superb? Moreover, can it be a more tempting proposition than the BMW 320d Corporate Edition, the sporty exec that has already ruffled some feathers? We decided to lay all of it to rest, drove the two cousins back-to-back and even added the BMW angle as a ‘what if’ scenario.
Badge or Value
Both the Skoda and Volkswagen brands tend to be in the same mind space in India. So, despite Skoda’s antecedents in Europe, they seem to have captured the mind of the average Indian who is ready to step up into the world of premium cars. Volkswagen is the new kid on the block, and while it has made its presence felt at the lower end of the scale, it is here, in the premium segment, that it somehow is still trying to find its feet. The previous-gen Passat and the outgoing Jetta may have given VW a toehold into India, but VW knows that they didn’t necessarily represent the new face of Volkswagen, one that is technology focussed and aggressive.
The new Passat is all that. Its looks don’t break any new ground, but it is a more balanced design. It’s also possibly the least boring-looking Passat in a long time, so VW should pat themselves on the back. Using a re-worked platform from the previous car, the Passat’s underpinnings are sound and there’s little to worry there. From the use of LEDs for the large headlamps to the horizontal slats to the Orient fan-inspired 16-inch wheels, the details help in making the car inoffensive. The Superb, on the other hand, sharply divides opinion, but what it belongs to is the form-following-function school of design. The long wheelbase and the twin door are a result of exactly such a thought process.
Space vs Features
The title tells it all – it’s the spacious Superb vs the feature-laden Passat.
The Superb has as much rear legroom as a long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Simply put, it’s ‘excessive’. Compared to that, the Passat is comfortable and not too bad either – it will only be the six-foot-plus occupants who will whine that wee bit. The rear seats on both cars are well designed, but the Superb has the more comfy seats at the front – the Passat’s ribbed seats lack good side bolstering.
But then, the Passat has enough and more to keep you entertained – the Park Assist and Start-Stop system for instance. Or even the comprehensive stereo system, which finally comes equipped with a USB slot. You feel like you are sitting in a mini-Phaeton and that kind of turns the tide in its favour. The Superb isn’t too bad either, but its central tunnel doesn’t boast too many buttons, unlike the Passat. I wish the Park-Hold function from the Passat was available here, as well as the Bluetooth function unit. Placed next to each other, it’s the Passat that feels more luxurious on the inside, despite the heavy use of dark tones.
Power or More power
Both the Superb and the Passat have the same 2.0-litre diesel block under the hood. The differences are down to tuning, a different turbocharger and the use of piezo injectors to deliver the results. Volkswagen have even managed to leave out the diesel particulate filter that’s found on the Euro-spec car, which in our experience is a wise thing to do.
The additional 30 bhp helps the Passat accelerate quicker than its Czech cousin. The dash to 60 kph and 100 kph are achieved in 4.04 and 9.11 seconds, making it 1.06 and 1.9 seconds quicker respectively. The passing speeds too are substantially quicker in the Passat. So how does that happen? Well, the Passat and Superb have a near similar kerb weight, but it’s the new DSG gearbox on the Passat that helps it go one up. It’s smoother shifting and responds quicker, unlike the one on the Superb, which can sometimes go into gear hunting mode. The Passat is also (slightly) more fuel efficient, delivering 12.8 kpl versus the Superb’s 12.5 kpl.
Ride vs Handling
The moment you get behind the wheel of the Passat, you are greeted by a cosseting ride. It just filters out road irritants and delivers a ride that is now the class benchmark. Coupled with an engine-tranny combo that delivers few jerks, it behaves like a more mature S-Class in that regard. The snappers at the Lamborghini Aventador drive in Vallelunga chose the Passat as their platform of choice. The Superb has a slightly stiffer ride setup, down to the lack of flex from its sidewalls,tending to thud around a bit, especially when road levels change.
But it fights back as far as handling is concerned. It easily has more feedback, and a positive turn-in into corners. It also has better poise, thanks in a way to its marginally longer wheelbase. The Passat isn’t as much fun to drive, most of it down to its rather numb steering, which is otherwise accurate and easy to use at parking speeds. It also doesn’t inspire as much confidence when pushing hard on a winding road, so it’s better to take it a tad easier. Braking and high-speed stability on straights are good on both cars, but it’s the Passat that tends to inspire that extra confidence.
The Passat, with all the bells and whistles, costs Rs 26.85 lakh (Highline), while the Superb comes in at Rs 23.27 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai. The other versions of the Passat cost Rs 24.3 lakh (Comfortline) and Rs 21.3 lakh. Ignore the prices for a moment, look at them purely as what they are and the Passat emerges the winner. It’s loaded with features, has a powerful and efficient engine and feels more luxurious than more expensive cars. The Superb still has more space and is a more involving drive, but maybe those aren’t hygiene factors in this segment. Those factors are covered by the Passat, which is why it is the better of the two. That indeed is ‘breaking news’.