I’m no dyed-in-the-wool fan of Wolverine, the superhuman X-Men character. However, I like the headline of this story a bit much and so decided, in my need to press on, that a little Internet research was in order to perhaps try and find a commonality between the man and this story. So I burned the midnight oil and rummaged through web-page after web-page only to discover that the End of Season sale at Myntra.com was still on, that 2Pac was born Tupac Amaru Shakur and that Internet research was a bad idea.
Having successfully given up, no guilt, I will now proceed to tell you about the two cars we have here. The VW Passat has been around for a while now. We’re rather fond of it, think it’s a breeze to drive in the city and out on the highway and I once famously said ‘The VW Passat is the perfect car,’ in reference to the last-generation Passat. That announcement raised eyebrows, was hotly debated once, is still debated occasionally. But the truth is, it’s a fact. Like the last-gen one, the current Passat is a car that is very difficult to point at and make faces. And that’s not because it’s dull, or brown, or featureless, no. It’s none of those things. That’s why. However, there is now a car that’s aiming for the Passat’s throne. And it’s from Sweden. Meet the Volvo S60 D3.
Seven out of the eight-member BSM team said the S60 looks unusual. The eighth was eating at the time, but nodded in approval. The S60 is undeniably in a coupe mould. This is very apparent if you look at it from a front-three-quarter perspective, because the hunkered down stance is most effective when viewed from this angle. It looks beefy, that chin sniffing at the tarmac like one of them K9 squad members, although I’d be wrong if I said the S60’s design is aggressive. It isn’t. The right word to use would be ‘progressive’. It feels like – and I don’t know how amateurish this sounds – it was designed with the wheels always in motion. The result is a car that looks great parked in your driveway and then looks even better when you’re blasting past commuters on the expressway. Until you pull up at the toll booth, where the attendant gives you a puzzled look. ‘Volvo?!’.
The Passat’s looks can be described in the same words than can be used to describe everything else about the car. It’s not in-your-face, is classy, well-appointed, mature and most importantly, is a sort of universally appealing design. VW has got the Passat’s lines just right, but maybe it’s so right, it’s beginning to get a bit boring now. The front-end is typical VW-family; that near-straight grille (no smiles please!) being a prominent feature, while the rest, I just can’t resist the urge to say this, looks like a scaled-up Jetta (or is it the other way round?). Not a bad thing, but now that even the Touareg looks identical, we wish VW would diversify its design language. Deciding which is better on the looks front is always slippery business, looks being a personal matter. But here, the S60 emerges the clear winner. It looks lively, like something you would want to holiday with, and there is a feeling of sportiness to the S60’s lines that we can’t help but compliment. Round one to the Swede, then.
VOLVO S60: 4.5/5
VW PASSAT: 4/5
Step inside the Volvo and in about a minute, you’ll have figured out that it’s a driver’s car. The way the centre console tilts pronouncedly towards the driver is a good note to start believing so. Everything, from the stalks, to the steering controls and the various buttons on the fascia feel chunky – you don’t need needles to operate anything on this car – and that’s for a reason most of you probably already know. Sweden’s a cold country – you can’t quite survive the weather without a pair of thickly padded gloves. Which is why the controls are designed in a way that they can be operated with gloves on. That, combined with the bang-on ergonomics, means you won’t need to take your eyes off the road ever. One of my favourite details in the S60 is on the steering wheel, the sides of which are mildly flattened and it really does feel very good to grip.
I like the seats too. They’re big and generous, and feel much softer when compared to a few German cars – good! While it has a healthy features list, what the S60 does outstandingly well is impart a ‘feel at home’ vibe. This is especially evident if you get in the rear seat and overall, the atmosphere is that of calm, rapid motoring. It’s not very business-like, the S60 (the Passat is) and it’s more a car you’d take the wife and kids out in. Leg room is decent and even with the front seats positioned to accommodate 6-feet tall blokes, space in the back is good enough.
The Passat, while it is extremely classy, feels quite understated. I like the wood trim running across the length of the dashboard, broken momentarily by the clock, and the expanse of black, which somehow adds to the stately nature of affairs on the inside. A layer of beige would have brightened things up a bit, though. Right now, it looks very serious. Maybe that’s a good thing if you have important meetings in the rear seat with your business associates, who, I’m certain, aren’t in the same frame of mind as Nigella Lawson, two children and a tail-happy Lhasa Apso. The seats are hard-ish but generous anyway, and overall, the Passat feels more airy than the Volvo. The quality of controls and, in fact, everything you can put a finger on, is top notch, undoubtedly. Its sobriety is its strong point and it has a strong appeal that executives will love. But for me, the youthful Volvo it is.
VOLVO S60: 4/5
VW PASSAT: 3.5/5
ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE
First, the numbers. The 1968cc in-line four diesel on the Passat produces 167.6 bhp@4200 rpm and 35.6 kgm of torque at 1750-2500 rpm. Mated to a 6-speed DSG gearbox, the Passat’s engine is absolutely tractable and at no point will you be left wanting for more grunt. This, however, doesn’t mean the Passat is a wild child. It is always calm, even in the higher reaches of its powerband and the power delivery is always linear, never coming in the way of your important business conversation. As such, a 0-100 kph timing wouldn’t be of any use to you but I have to tell you anyway – the Passat does it in 9.11 seconds and maxes out at a good 205 kph. As I see it, a Mumbai-Pune run on the expressway feels no different from a short errand run. Well, almost.
The S60, on the other hand, is quite unlike the Passat, as you would have understood when I said ‘on the other hand'. The new motor, which is what brings it so close to the Passat on the pricing front, is a five-cylinder 1984cc turbodiesel unit that produces 163 bhp at 3500 rpm and 40.7 kgm of torque at 1500-2750 rpm. Which means while it has a 4.6 bhp deficit, it’s got over 5 kgm more of torque (produced slightly earlier than in the VW) than the Passat and, of course, an extra cylinder! Oh, and since the S60 has a lighter kerb weight (1551 kg, as compared to the Passat’s 1605), the difference in the driving mannerisms of the two cars is quite justified. The Volvo is mildly volatile. It’s no faster or quicker than the VW, but it just behaves a bit upbeat. Paired with a six-speed Geartronic transmission, the motor’s a bomb. It feels much quicker and more responsive than the Passat. It’s meaty, much like the rest of the car then, and have I told you how glorious it sounds? Okay, it won’t shame a Lambo, but for something that will primarily be used to negotiate the sea of bumper-to-bumper traffic that South Mumbai is, it’s a stunner. That perhaps explains why I almost always drove it with the windows down and the sunroof retracted. While the Passat gets you from A to B in great comfort, the S60 adds just a tinge of motoring pleasure to the imagery. Can’t say we don’t like that, can we?
VOLVO S60: 4/5
VW PASSAT: 4/5
RIDE & HANDLING
Before I announce yet another personal, biased verdict, it is my duty to elaborate on what is certainly most crucial to your buying decision. Ride quality. The problem is, there is nothing to tell you about. Both cars are, well, perfect on tarmac, concrete and on bad roads. Okay, the Volvo lets a wee bit more through to the seats than the VW but it’s really no big deal – the S60’s better seats save the day for Volvo. While the Passat sort of glides over fast, flowing tarmac, the S60 feels a little rooted – something you will quite like if you’re an enthusiast. However, you can buy either and find nothing to complain about.
There is, however, a pronounced difference in the way the two cars handle. The Passat’s steering is well-weighted through all speeds though there is a hint of electronic nanny-ing at all times. The S60’s steering, in another ‘on the other hand’ moment, feels as close to mechanical as a power-assisted unit can get – on this level of cars, that is. The S60 is a bit more athletic, agile. It feels more accepting of driving under the influence of dubstep, while the Passat encourages listening to the blues. Says it all, no?
VOLVO S60: 4.5/5
VW PASSAT: 4.5/5
At Rs 25.19 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), the S60 is superb value for money, although the lack of a widespread service network is probably the only thing that should hold you back. The Passat scores well on all counts, is built of a fabric (not literally!) that will appeal to a wider audience and, of course, has the sort of service network you won’t need to lose sleep over. While realistically, I can’t afford either, I’d like to think that if I could, I’d pick the Volvo. It’s lively, it’s got a bit of flair and I really like the way it looks. If you can overlook the service network (go on, give it a shot), you should perhaps be looking at the S60 too. I guess it’s time they start writing songs about Volvos...
To wish upon a star
Should you aim higher and get yourself a Mercedes-Benz C-Class instead?
Just to make things a little more complex in this shootout, we thought we should add a three-pointed star to the equation. The C 220 CDI is the entry-level C-Class and it is perched at about Rs 28 lakh in Mumbai according to the Mercedes-Benz website – though for illustrative purposes we have brought in our gloriously appointed C 250 CDI long-termer here. Since you could afford either the Volkswagen Passat or the new Volvo S60 D3, should you then push your budget upwards to get a Merc inside your garage?
For starters, there is no doubt about it – you can impress your neighbours with a Mercedes rather than either the German or the Swede. Even if it’s the lowest-priced Merc on sale in the country, well, you got yourself a car wearing the three-pointed star, right? On that count alone, the Mercedes wins.
However, both the Passat and the S60 give you more bang for the buck considering they come brilliantly loaded with lots of gizmos and stuff, while the C 220 CDI is pretty bare because it comes only in the Executive edition. No sunroof (it should be called moonroof in India), no memory seats, no bi-xenons and no Parktronic, for example. And it has fabric seats. There was a manual gearbox variant once which would have made it cheaper, but it comes with the 5-speed auto which is standard across the CDI models. The recent facelift has meant a new Comand system – good news indeed.
Where the C 220 scores is that the 2143cc inline-four makes more power than either the five-cylinder S60 or the Passat, which have 2000cc motors. When it comes to the driving experience, I found the S60 more of a driver’s car – the responsiveness of the engine plus the steering feedback were terrific while it is entertaining to chuck around. The Passat is competent across all aspects though it is not terribly exciting to drive. But the Passat is the most practical of this trio and the most rational choice by far. The C 220 is better than the VW on the driving experience though the motor is not as enthusiastic as the C 250 CDI. The steering feedback is oriented towards comfort, but it tightens up artificially. And the electronic nannies are in full form in the Merc. The C’s underpinnings are however brilliant and fundamentally it is a great car that’s not overtly sporty but doesn’t disappoint you either.
So what is the conclusion then? As I mentioned earlier, go for the VW blindfolded if you want a car that satisfies all aspects of car ownership – if not for the Superb, it would be the benchmark. The S60 is for the owner-driver who wants something that stands out, who loves to drive and who likes offbeat styling. As for the Merc, hmm... The C 220 CDI is a bit of a compromise for the actual price you end up paying. So work harder, earn some more money and reward yourself with the C 250 CDI in Avantgarde trim instead – it will make you feel good day-in, day-out vis-à-vis the C 220 CDI. Srinivas Krishnan