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Longer, Wider, Taller; High Quality
If Only VW Would Let The Designers Give You The Wow! Factor
Passat A Tremendous New Family Car Competitor; It Needs To Be
Will It Be Priced To Go?
Rating: **** out of 5
Its almost an iron law of nature. If you make a highly successful car, when you come to replace it after 5 or 6 years the temptation to make it look almost exactly the same as the one that sold like hot cakes will be almost irresistible.
Thats why the new Volkswagen Passat looks a lot like the last one. Thats why the new BMW 3-Series looks suspiciously similar to the model it replaced. Thats why new Fiats look completely different from previous ones.
Thats a shame, because VW seems to have started off with a plan to make the new Passats styling exciting and cutting edge. If you look at the working drawings for the project, the latest model should have such a Wow! factor that the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar would have felt the pressure.
In the event, the new Volkswagen Passat looks nice but bland; just another new motor that looks OK. Nothing too raunchy to frighten off the steady customers. VWs designers were not given a license to dare to be different. They probably werent even shown the sketches, one of which you can see on this page.
VW begs to differ.
The development team has breathed new passion and pulsating liveliness into this Passat through an uncompromising combination of shape, functionality, design and ergonomics, is how VW sees it.
The Passat has been highly successful as a solid, reliable family car, or as a standard rep-mobile, bombing up and down the motorways of Europe. Why jeopardise a successful formula?
To be fair to the new car, it does have tremendous quality, with many ideas inherited from the luxury VW Phaeton. The doors shut with a satisfying clunk. The interior must be best in class, even rivalling the fabulous dashboard and interior of one of its biggest rivals, the Honda Accord. The wood trim looks classy. So does the plastic. The instruments look great. Theres a huge amount of room. Theres even an umbrella holder built into the drivers door.
Borrowed From Phaeton
The ignition key, which isnt really a key but a plastic gizmo which slots into the dashboard, is borrowed from the Phaeton and Touareg SUV. If you opt for keyless entry, the plastic gizmo in your pocket or handbag signals to the car as you approach that you are entitled to enter. You press a button behind the door handle and the locked door opens, and deactivates the immobiliser. You fire the engine by pressing the starter button.
The car does have tremendous presence on the road and is noticeably bigger than the car it replaces - length up by 62 mm, width by 74 mm, and height up 10 mm. The wheelbase has also increased up by 6 mm to 2.71 m. The interior is huge. Luggage space in the boot has grown by 90 litres to 565 litres.
Go To Workshop
On the road, all the various petrol and diesel iterations performed well. Ride was impeccable. Steering was light and feedback excellent. The cabin felt insulated from the world. Driving around the motorways outside Barcelona, the new Passat was in its element, although a couple of early electronic glitches raised suspicions. A warning light briefly lit itself, before disappearing whence it came. A bizarre instruction Go to Workshop also made a guest appearance and proved to be as reliable a guide to the future as red skies in the morning.
The new Passat range has four new petrol engines and three new diesels, fitted transversely. The first wave of Passats will have a choice of four engines - a 1.6-litre FSI (direct injection petrol) 115 bhp, a 2.0-litre FSI 150 bhp petrol, and two diesels - a 1.9-litre TDI 105 bhp and a 2.0-litre TDI 140 bhp. The 140 bhp diesel was superb. Coupled with the DSG automatic gearbox, this utilitarian car becomes almost exciting. The DSG gearbox uses two clutches one does the change, the second primes the next one the result is stupendously fast and imperceptible gear changes. The manual 5 and 6 speed gearboxes were OK.
VW claims two firsts in this class: a standard-fit electronic hand-brake, and two-zone, individual air conditioning. The electronic handbrake works well; it releases when you press the accelerator. On hills, it is programmed to stop the car rolling back, and frees up space between the driver and passenger. Thats great for inexperienced drivers. Two-zone air conditioning, where the driver and front seat passenger select their own temperature used to be found only in luxury cars; now its de rigueur right across the market.
VWs new Passat is a classy, high quality machine. The trouble is, so is the opposition, particularly the Honda Accord and Toyota Avensis. The Passat will surely be a short-term success in the market place, but no doubt it will soon find itself under pricing pressure when its newness wears off. (The base price for the Passat in Germany is 21,800 euros.)
VW has a bit more flexibility with prices with the new Passat, because the cost of building it has been slashed by about 10 per cent. The Passat is really a Golf V in disguise. VW has saved lots of development costs by using engines, front suspension, steering column, fuel tank and seat structures which also serve in the Golf, not to mention the Touran, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia, Seat Altea and the upcoming Seat Leon.
If only VW had the courage to build a Passat with the Wow! factor intact. Then it could command premium prices, and even persuade BMW and Mercedes owners to come on down.
Neil Winton March 25, 2005
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