Volkswagen Passat Review
The Volkswagen Passat is a halfway house car, one that spans the world of affordable mid-size vehicles like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia and premium machines like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In pretty much every area, the Passat sits midway between them, the idea being that you can pay slightly more than Ford or Vauxhall prices to get something that’s just a bit classier all round.
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
The long-term success of the Volkswagen Passat – a car that’s been on sale since the 1970s – reflects the fact that it’s always done lots of things rather well. Like its main rivals, it’s practical and drives well, and this eighth-generation model is better than ever. Sure, it might be a bit pricier than a Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia, but it also has a more premium vibe that elevates it above the opposition.
But crucially, it doesn’t price itself into direct competition with premium cars like BMW’s 3 Series, the Audi A4 or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That means it can be a legitimate choice for a Ford customer that decides to treat themselves, or a BMW customer that wants to save a bit of money.
Market positioning aside though, the Passat is an attractive option in its own right. There are plenty of trim levels to suit different budgets, a choice of saloon or estate body styles and power from petrol, diesel or a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
There’s nothing particularly flashy about the Passat’s looks, but we’ve heard words like ‘suave’ and ‘classy’ bandied about in its presence. The same is true inside, with a handsome but restrained look, realised in high-quality materials and dotted with all sorts of mod-cons.
Choice is a big selling point for the Passat. With a range of trim levels, none of which are bare-bones in terms of equipment, you can pick frugally or splash out on some more fancy features. The same is true of engines, with economical petrol and diesel engines on offer, as well as an eco-friendly plug-in hybrid option that also delivers plenty of performance. Most models are front-wheel drive, but some of the more powerful engines have the option of all-wheel drive too.
There’s a plethora of power choices for your Passat, and which one is best for you will depend on how you use it. Those doing regular longer journeys may want to opt for a diesel, as the superior fuel economy will offset slightly higher leasing costs if you do enough miles. The diesels are all 2.0-litre engines, starting with a 120bhp version. This isn’t a bad option, but there’s a more powerful and more advanced 148bhp version that has lower CO2 emissions and better fuel economy, so that will be a better choice for most. The extra grunt means progress is more relaxed and it’s especially welcome if you’re filling the passenger seats and/or boot.
Petrol models may suit more people for everyday use. The Passat uses a 1.5-litre engine with 148bhp, which like the similarly-powered diesel strikes a great balance between power and running costs. If your journeys are shorter, then it’s a solid option.
However, the plug-in hybrid GTE models may also appeal. These take the best of multiple worlds by combining a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, delivering 215bhp. This makes for brisk progress if you’re after performance, but also allows you to do up to 36 miles on electric power only, with zero emissions and zero petrol consumption.
The system works very well – you can tell it to just use electric mode all the time, or switch to hybrid mode where it’ll combine both power sources as you see fit. This can be adjusted if you know when you’ll be able to charge – say you have 20 miles left of your journey, and 20 miles of electric power left, you can switch to EV mode and not use any more fuel. Or if you’re doing a longer journey and are out of battery power, but know you’ll be doing some slow crawling through town later on, you can tell the hybrid system to divert some engine power to charging the battery back up again. It’s impressively flexible. For performance fans, when you put your foot down and select Sport mode, it’ll deploy all the power from both battery and petrol engine to give you some very brisk acceleration.
If most of your trips are below 35 miles or so, and you have somewhere to plug the Passat in to keep the battery full, the GTE models could dramatically reduce your fuel bills. That said, they are the most expensive models in the range to lease.
As with all plug-in hybrids, it’s worth pointing out that if you don’t keep the battery charged, you’re effectively hauling some heavy electrical components around with a petrol engine, which means fuel economy plummets.
Power aside, the Passat has a calm yet composed driving manner. It’s not trying to be sporty, even in top-spec GTE spec. All models will give you supple and comfortable ride quality, and the handling is solid, but the Passat doesn’t particularly reward spirited driving in the way that the Ford Mondeo or BMW 3 Series do. It’s going for the sensible, relaxed approach to motoring, which is exactly what most Passat customers are after.
Leasing costs for the Passat tend to be slightly higher than the equivalent Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia, and there’s a broader model choice from Volkswagen too, so it’s easier to find the exact spec that you’re looking for.
Petrol models tend to be the most affordable when it comes to monthly costs, followed by diesels, while the Passat GTE is on the pricey side; in fact, at the time of writing you could get BMW’s 330e plug-in hybrid for less. It’s definitely worth comparing individual models to their like-for-like rivals.
The GTE has the potential to give you big rewards in fuel economy if you use it correctly as described above. Its official fuel economy figure is up to 256.8mpg, but that will plunge if you don’t lean heavily on the electric motor rather than the petrol engine.
Regular petrol cars will give you up to 47.9mpg depending on body style, trim level and gearbox, while on the diesels you’ll get up to 60.1mpg, or 53.3mpg for the more powerful 197bhp version.
The Passat’s insurance groups span 16 to 28 of 50, which means premiums will vary depending largely on engine and trim choice.
The GTE plug-in hybrid has the lowest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the range, with an official figure of between 25 and 33g/km, depending on model. With an official electric-only range of 36 miles, that means an 11% tax bracket for benefit-in-kind company car tax.
In the diesels, the CO2 ranges between 125 and 141g/km for the 120bhp model, which means BiK brackets of 29% to 32%. For the 148bhp models, 124 to 145g/km figures mean brackets of between 28% and 38%, while the 197bhp models 138 to 152g/km equals brackets of between 31% and 34%.
Once again, there’s a classiness to the Passat’s interior, a notion that Volkswagen engineers haven’t just tried to tick boxes and hit a budget.
Materials feel carefully selected and well screwed together, and the design feels sophisticated without being flashy. Comfort levels are high with plenty of adjustment in the driver’s seat on all versions, and the option of an electrically-adjusted seat that’ll suit pretty much anyone.
There’s a mix of touchscreen features and buttons, which keep things easy to fiddle with while avoiding too much visual clutter.
All Passats have an 8.0-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard, which controls the infotainment system. This includes Bluetooth and a DAB radio, as well as App Connect, which is VW’s word for a suite of phone connectivity systems that include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink. Apple CarPlay will work wirelessly too, which is useful, but VW will supply you with a cable anyway. If you do want to plug something in, there’s a USB socket at the front, but it’s the newer USB-C format, so you may need an adapter for older cables.
The top-spec GTE Advance model, which is hybrid-only, upgrades the infotainment system to allow you to change settings using gestures. Twiddle your finger clockwise to up the volume, for example. It’s clever, but a bit hit and miss, and you’ll likely find it’s quicker to just use the buttons on the steering wheel.
On top of that, the GTE Advance has clever Matrix LED headlights, which let you keep high beam on at night without dazzling oncoming traffic; a camera in the windscreen tracks cars coming the other way and turns individual LEDs in the headlights on and off to keep them in shadow, while still giving you maximum visibility.
Space in the Passat is very decent, particularly in the Estate model. Rear passengers will have more room to stretch out than just about anything else bar the cavernous Skoda Superb, and boot space is enormous too. Again, the Superb tops it in both saloon and estate form, but the Passat beats just about everything else.
The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split if you want even more luggage space. There are also plenty of cubby holes, cupholders and pockets dotted around the cabin.
Lots of cars lose boot space when they introduce a plug-in hybrid version, as the battery components are often placed in the back. Luckily that’s not a serious issue for the Passat GTE models; it’s a bit smaller, but still pretty big.
If we were being picky, we’d say that 2014 was a while ago, and standards have improved since then, but the Passat is still loaded with safety systems so you can be confident that it’ll provide good protection in the event of an accident.
All models also get front, side, head and driver’s knee airbags, a post-collision braking system so you don’t roll away after a crash and a pre-crash system that detects an impending collision and prepares the car by tightening the seatbelts and closing the windows. There are Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
Even the lowliest Passat has an impressive amount of features as standard. Go for the entry-level SE Nav and you’ll get the same infotainment system as the pricier cars, as well as 17-inch alloys, manual air-conditioning and LED headlights.
Upgrade to SEL and that’ll give you a different design of alloy wheel, tinted rear windows and heated, leather-upholstered seats. R-Line models have a slightly sportier look courtesy of a bodykit, 18-inch wheels and lowered sports suspension, and you get three-zone climate control air-con too, as well as keyless entry and engine start, and an electric boot lid.
The hybrid-only GTE model can be spotted by its blue brake calipers and GTE badging, and includes largely the same features as the SEL model, while the GTE Advance has the Matrix LED headlights and digital driver display.
Options include myriad alloy wheel designs and adaptive suspension, which can firm or soften the dampers depending on whether you want sportier or more comfort-focused driving. It works well, but we’re not convinced it’s worth the extra money. You can also pay for various metallic paint finishes and the Matrix LED headlights. They’re not cheap, but if you do a lot of driving on dark country roads, there’s not much better for lighting the way.
As this type of car has, for decades, been the staple of the company car market, the Passat has plenty of long-established rivals.
You may be considering the VW over volume models like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, and you’ll find the Passat a generally more premium offering than those. But that said, the Mondeo is a more engaging drive, if that’s a priority for you. So too is the Mazda 6 and, if you want to up the budget, the BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE.
Speaking of the BMW, you do have to count the more prestigious brands as rivals, albeit for a bit more money. The BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 all up the luxury factor over the VW, but you’ll pay for the privilege, and they can’t match the Passat’s practicality.
If space is your number one reason for leasing the VW, then don’t click on Go without checking out the Skoda Superb, which has huge amounts of room inside and isn’t that far behind the Passat when it comes to interior quality.
The Passat can be the ideal car for a lot of people. It could be that it’s a step up from the likes of Ford and Vauxhall without breaking the bank, or it could be a chance to be within a whisker of premium cars like BMWs and Audis for a substantial chunk of change less each month.
Countless people over the years have found that the Volkswagen hits a perfect sweet spot between those two markets, and that’s still the case today.
Yes, you can get something cheaper. Yes, you can get something more swanky. But when it comes to really great all-rounders, you’ll struggle to make a case against the Passat.
Whatever kind of mid-size car you’re thinking of getting, you should have the Passat on your short list.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the VW Passat
**Correct as of 05/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1933.09 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.