VW proves old recipe still makes a fine meal: a car of few surprises, but most buyers won't want any

What is it?

If you’ve never been part of the Passat culture, you’ll probably think this seventh version of VW’s mid-sized saloon in 37 years is a bit on the tame side.

It’s a sharper-edged and re-nosed iteration of the previous model, even recognisable even from the version before that. VW likes it that way.

Its bosses believe they struck a pretty good understanding with the family car buyer ‘way back in 1973, which is why they’ve sold, on average, over 1000 Passats every day since then – not counting the burgeoning numbers from China. “We didn’t set out to build a new car,” said one highly-placed engineer from the team responsible for this latest edition, which goes on sale in the UK at the beginning of next year. “We set out to build a new Passat.”

What’s it like?

What VW has done with the 2011 Passat closely echoes what they did a year or so ago with the latest Golf. While the concept is almost identical to the outgoing car (the two are only 4mm apart in overall length, for instance) every component has been honed and improved.

The new car is noticeably quieter- and smooth-riding, the engines (familiar from other VWs are all a little more frugal) and the car, already as well festooned with options as the luxurious VW Phaeton limousine, is now available with market-leading driver fatigue detection systems, automatic parking (both parallel and rear-on) and a city emergency braking system that protects you from collisions – with metallic objects, not humans – below 20 mph.

In the UK, the car comes in three model levels (S, SE and Sport) available in either estate or saloon options with three direct injection TSI turbo petrol engines (1.4/120bhp, 1.8/158bhp, 2.0/207bhp) and three 16-valve TDI turbodiesels (1.6/104 bhp, 2.0/138bhp, 2.0/168bhp).

All engines are available with six-speed manual or twin-clutch DSG gearboxes (seven speeds for the smaller engines; six for the high-torque models) but Britain won’t get either the offered 4Motion versions, or a forthcoming VR6 version. No demand, say the importers.

A Blue Motion version of the 1.6 diesel, emitting just 109g/km of CO2 despite its comprehensive spec and impressive performance is coming later next year.

We tried a full-house 168bhp diesel with six-speed DSG, and it was superbly smooth and powerful, with a beautifully integrated stop-start system and an abundance of torque that made passing acceleration very accessible, and good fuel consumption easy to produce.

The 2011 Passat is noticeably more refined and smooth riding than its predecessor (especially with the adjustable suspension option set in Comfort), though its steering doesn’t have quite the sharpness of a Mondeo.

Should I buy one?

The seventh-gen Passat may be a car of few surprises, but an amazingly large proportion of the population don't want any: in the 100 countries or so where this new Passat will be sold, it is deservedly close to being the ideal car.

Volkswagen Passat Sport 2.0 TDI 170

Price: £25,623; Top speed: 133mph; 0-62 mph: 8.8sec; Economy: 53.3mpg; CO2: 139g/km; Kerb weight: 1560kg; Engine: 4cyl, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power: 168bhp at 4200 rpm; Torque: 258lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: six-speed dual-clutch auto

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Add a comment…
LateKnight 24 December 2010

Re: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI

Thought VW would have taken the opportunity to launch the twin turbo 2.0tdi they've been sitting on for a while (200ps+)

Its in the Transporter/Caravelle in 180ps guise, and also the soon to be launched Amarok in 163ps guise.

Might appease the (very) few who want 3.0tdis and R36s.

Take your time VW.

J400uk 15 November 2010

Re: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI

I don't see what your all getting so worked up about, I think it looks good for the intended purpose. Its a Passat remember, supposed to be reliable family transport that lasts for years, not a sports car/ fashion statement type vehicle. Perhaps the design is more of a sideways step from the old model rather than a big improvement, but it don't look bad.

230SL 30 October 2010

Re: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI

supermanuel wrote:

I totally wasn't reading properly when I wrote my comment about POST facelifts being better. I mean PRE facelifts are almost always better but said the complete opposite. Duh.

Thanks for this correction, thought what's he on when I read your first comment, totally agree with prefering pre-facelifts.