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The longest-lived car in the VW line-up gets one final ICE generation - and the brand pulls out all the stops

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The Volkswagen Passat has been in production for more than 50 years, during which time it has captured more than 30 million sales worldwide.

It may not be as widely celebrated as the smaller Volkswagen Golf, but its 1973 introduction preceded that of the hatchback by almost a year, making it the longest-lived car in the Volkswagen line-up.

It’s important to point this out because the new ninth-generation Passat seen here will most likely be the last to be offered with combustion engines. As the recent launches of the similarly sized Volkswagen ID 7 saloon and ID 7 Touring estate have brought into clear focus, the future of Volkswagen is fully electric.

Not that Volkswagen has merely updated the Mk8 Passat. The Mk9 is based on a heavily revised version of its predecessor’s platform, called the MQB Evo.

It brings internal changes to its rear-end design for added rigidity and to facilitate a range of new vibration-reducing measures; it has larger dimensions; it offers a range of re-engineered petrol and hybrid drivetrains; and, in a bid to steal sales from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it features a higher-quality interior with more ambitious digital technology and greater space and versatility.

A sister model to the new third-generation Skoda Superb Estate, alongside which it will be made at the Volkswagen Group’s factory in Bratislava, Slovenia, the Passat will be offered to UK buyers exclusively as an estate; and, thus far, we've only tested the 1.5-litre, 148bhp eTSI mild hybrid version.

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VW Passat Estate R Line panning

The new Passat certainly looks like a Volkswagen. The pertinent question now is: which one?

Although the exterior styling is all-new, Volkswagen has retained many of the elements that have characterised recent generations, but they combine to create a stronger resemblance with the smaller Golf hatchback than the Passat has typically shown.

The latest evolution of the Volkswagen corporate grille is a fresh touch, with a thin light strip within its upper edge, and there's a heavily structured front bumper with a black central area that houses the ducts required for engine and front-brake cooling.

The inherent versatility of the Volkswagen Group's MQB platform is reflected in the revised dimensions, which essentially move the Passat up a class in size. At 4917mm long, 1849mm wide and 1497mm tall, the Mk9 is a considerable 144mm longer, 20mm wider and 10mm lower than the Mk8. Its wheelbase has also been extended by 50mm to 2841mm.

And so in terms of wheelbase, this car is now a match for its Skoda Superb counterpart - and on overall length, it exceeds it. Chart exactly where that length has been added to the car on the specification sheet and you will note that mostly it's been tacked onto the front overhang, which seems a little odd.

Stand back and take in the Passat's profile and you might just notice that. Overall, it looks a little long in the overhangs now and slightly too overdeveloped in the jawline to be considered one of the estate class's better-looking options.

The UK market gets a slightly truncated line-up: a 1.5-litre mild-hybrid turbo petrol enters showrooms first and two plug-in hybrids will come later in 2024.

The PHEVs will offer much-improved power than the previous-generation 1.4-litre systems, with power rising as high as 268bhp for that who want it, although still only front-wheel drive.

With usable drive battery capacity rising to almost 20kWh, however, electric-only range is expected to exceed 70 miles for 5% benefit-in-kind tax classification, and 50kWh DC rapid charging will be standard also.

There will be no diesels and no four-wheel-drive models for the UK, and an R performance model would surely be the longest of long shots.


VW Passat Estate R Line straightdash

The tech-centred era in which the car seems thoroughly ensconced presents certain problems for the market’s established players - especially where older ‘legacy’ models are concerned. 

The Volkswagen Passat is certainly one of those – and because so many of us feel like we know it so well, we’ve come to develop certain expectations of it that simply don’t encumber the likes of BYD, GWM and Nio.

We expect, for starters, a certain sense of maturity, functionality and grounded sensibleness from a Passat – a car that has always served as a filter of the affected, fleeting and superfluous. 

Do we expect a 15in central infotainment screen with built-in ChatGPT artificial intelligence? Probably not here. And when you see one on the dashboard of a car like this, drawing your eye like some sort of digital totem, you can’t help thinking: “Crikey, do I really need all that?”

To be fair to Volkswagen, the Passat’s full 15in Discover Pro Max system isn’t standard fit (a 12.9in touchscreen is), so it's far from forced upon you. Moreover, Volkswagen might say that when your money will buy exactly that kind of tech from so many other manufacturers, it simply has to compete.

The funny thing is that in the Volkswagen ID 7, the new electric equivalent of the Passat, I felt very much at home to the system – and it is precisely the same system: usable and navigable enough, with good top-level shortcuts but slightly fiddly icons and no physical controller.

The Passat certainly now exudes a more upmarket feel than at any time in its long history, and not just because of the injection of digital content. The dashboard and other parts of the interior use higher-quality materials than those found in the Mk8, including a new backlit fascia panel with colour-customisable ambient lighting.

Our R Line test car had appealing suede-like synthetic trim on the fascia and doors, too, and attractive grained aluminium decor along with it. It’s not quite as opulent as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class or similar, but it certainly stands up to closer comparison.

There's also a newly designed steering wheel that forgoes the fiddly capacitive controls of recent Volkswagens for straightforward buttons. The climate controls are now fully integrated into the touchscreen, operating in combination with a new backlit slider controller that’s a lot more responsive than what went before.

As in Volkswagen’s ID EVs, the gear selector has been relocated from its traditional position on the centre console to a steering wheel-mounted stalk, freeing up space for a sizeable storage bin housing a wireless smartphone charging pad, a pair of USB-C ports and two cupholders.

The regrettable impact this has, however, is in forcing both wiper and headlight controls onto the left-hand stalk - and that makes flicking on the wipers for one momentary sweep, when the automatic wiper setting isn't quite clearing the screen as you'd like, slightly harder work than it might be.

Newly designed Ergoactive front seats, standard on sporty R-Line trim, reflect Volkswagen’s efforts to provide the Passat with a more upmarket positioning and have firm and supportive properties. There are also new optional Ergoactive Plus seats with electric adjustment, ventilation and massage functions. Our test car had the standard R Line seats, but they had all the adjustment they needed and more – cushion angle and extension, plus integrated headrests, although they didn't adversely affect head and neck comfort.

Other key options include a reworked head-up display. Among the standard equipment on R-Line trim are LED headlights with automatic high-beam, keyless entry, a rear-view camera, a leather-rimmed steering wheel, ambient lighting, stainless-steel pedals, tri-zone air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, sports suspension and Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers.

A standard electronic tailgate function makes accessing the car's vast 690-litre boot easy (it's smaller in the PHEVs, which lose the height-adjustable floor) and a low loading lip and a flat floor further contribute to its outstanding practicality.


VW Passat Estate R Line fronttracking

Volkswagen has confirmed a range of up to eight engines for the new Passat in some markets, but at launch there’s just one in the UK: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 48V mild-hybrid tech, cylinder deactivation and a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic gearbox.

With 148bhp and 184lb ft of torque, the transversely mounted engine isn’t exactly overflowing with energy. However, the new belt-driven starter-generator adds a further 17bhp and a good dollop of torque for short periods under load, which is sufficient to give the 1572kg Passat a 0-62mph time of 9.2sec.

Importantly for a car conceived to haul large loads, the reworked engine has useful torque, the combination of combustion and electric power endowing it with good drivability and fairly impressive refinement in everyday driving, while its official average fuel economy is a strong 52.3mpg.

The powertrain feels slick, settled and comfortable. The 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine can labour a little during quicker driving and doesn't always maintain top-level refinement when working hard, but it's generally entirely pleasant company. The DSG gearbox, meanwhile, only struggles for shifting composure under bigger throttle loads.

Volkswagen plans to bring two PHEV powertrains to the UK later this year. These combine the 1.5 eTSI engine (herein running on the Miller cycle) with an electric motor and a six-speed DSG to provide respective system outputs of 201bhp and 268bhp.


VW Passat Estate R Line frontcorner

A good part of the Passat’s success down the years has been thanks to its safe and dependable dynamics, and the Mk9 upholds this tradition, with lightly weighted controls and general ease of operation.

The same people who look for familiarity and reassurance for the design and interior of this car seek simlar qualities from its driving experience - and they will mostly find what they're after here.

There’s precision to the steering, which has been sharpened, at 2.1 turns lock to lock (in the case of models with the progressive rack), and fluidity to the handling. There’s characteristic consistency and uniformity in the way the chassis reacts to steering inputs, too.

Its larger size is noticeable, but the Passat is still easy to place on the road. It also turns in keenly, grips well and remains composed.

You encounter some inevitable nose-heaviness when you hustle it, and the steering is quite lightly weighted and short on feel, but it does give sufficient feedback to keep you well aware of the car's limits.

Ride comfort has taken bigger strides forward, with noticeably improved rolling refinement and added damping control among the key advances. The reworked rear-axle carrier and the fast-acting twin-valve dampers combine to provide much better isolation of road shock and greater compliance over both high-frequency bumps and larger undulations.

It’s smoother and more settled over any given road than the Mk8, although much of this depends on the fitment of the DCC Pro adaptive dampers, which only come as standard in the UK on R-Line models. If you want the very best-riding model, they should probably be fitted as an option to an Elegance-spec model.

The Mk9 is also much quieter than its predecessor, excellently isolating engine and road noise. With a drag coefficient cut from 0.31Cd to 0.25Cd, there is also a lot less wind buffeting at motorway speeds.

So the Passat is a better car than its predecessor in many areas. Its best drawcard remains its outstanding everyday usability.


VW Passat Estate R Line frontcorner

Price should be a strong motivator of the Passat's success. With entry-level models available from less than £40,000 and lots of space and versatility on offer for that outlay, it represents a value alternative to premium-brand estates with much higher showroom prices (although Skoda's related Superb Estate plays the value card even more tellingly, it must be said, and is still available with a frugal diesel engine).

It remains to be seen how Volkswagen UK will price the PHEV models, but they will likely command a premium as a result of impressive EV range and low BIK tax qualification.

From the 1.5 eTSI petrol, you should expect a day-to-day economy return of around 45mpg, climbing just beyond 50mpg at a moderate long-distance cruise.


VW Passat Estate R Line frontstatic

Volkswagen likes to call the Passat a business model, but it’s also a terrific family car, and it now offers close-to-class-leading passenger accommodation and excellent load-carrying ability.

Efforts to improve the quality and ambience of its interior, the ease of driving and the sophistication of the ride and refinement have also been successful.

The 1.5 eTSI petrol engine offered at launch in the UK is smooth and torquey enough, if a bit unenthusiastic, while for those seeking electric driving capability or low company car tax bills, the PHEVs should be well worth a look.

In the main, the Passat still feels like a very mature choice, one with the tech, material richness and cabin quality to attract someone from a bigger and more expensive executive option but just enough underlying focus on functionality, comfort and space to make them feel good about their rationality.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.