WHAT’S in a name? The Passat, it seems, is named after the German word for trade wind. No surprise there, given that Jetta, Bora and Scirocco are similarly named after winds.
In fact, even the famous Golf is said to be named after the German for gulf stream, rather than the sport.
Passat has been around for ever, or so it seems. It first appeared in 1973 and is now firmly established as a class-leading executive model.
It competes in the crowded saloon car business market alongside a mass of rivals, especially Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia.
But Passat has, cleverly, managed to create its own niche. While it is very much a standard-looking car and costly compared to some of its competitors, it is highly regarded for quality, comfort and reliability. It is also one of the best-equipped models in its class.
Tested here is a version which is very much designed to appeal to company car users. To hammer home the point, it is even called the Passat SE Business. At £23,265, it is at the more affordable end of the range with Passats starting at £22,680. That’s a lot when you consider its relative Skoda Octavia starts at below £17,000 and Mondeo (just over £20,000) and Insignia (£17,439) are considerably cheaper.
It simply means Passat doesn’t sell on price alone, and compared to other executive models from Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Audi and the rest, it is actually quite affordable.
So, what exactly is Passat SE Business? Volkswagen say the SE Business trim level ‘adds even more style, and value, to the premium-focused class leader’.
SE Business offers high-specification features as standard such as Discover Navigation, front fog lights, electric folding door mirrors and tinted rear windows – together amounting to £555 of value – for just £100 more than the outgoing SE models.
In fact, Passat is a pretty established model. First launched more than 40 years ago, it accounts for 23 million sales around the world. The current version is the eighth generation and it is a totally new vehicle compared to the seventh generation in terms of design, technology and engines.
It is notably lighter and more economical. In fact, it manages more than 60mpg around town and more than 78mpg on a run while emissions are 105g/km, which are quite stunning figures for such a sizeable car. Especially when you consider it reaches 60mph in under 11 seconds, which is quick for a 1.6 litre turbodiesel in such a solid car.
For the first time, there is also a Passat with a plug-in hybrid drive system. In its design and in the advanced features it offers, the new Passat bridges the gap between the upper medium and premium class.
At 4,767 mm long, the saloon is 2mm shorter than the previous model, while the wheelbase is 79mm longer and therefore the body overhangs significantly shorter. At the same time, the Passat is 14mm lower at 1,456mm, and 12mm wider at 1,832mm.
The cabin feels much bigger, thanks to clever engineering. It was possible to lower the bonnet and shift the windscreen towards the rear. This ‘cab backward design’ helps create the impression of a premium-class car.
The Passat has precisely-drawn edges and creases which create a distinctive looking and well-designed car.
The car also has a much-increased luggage space.
New technologies to be offered include the optional Active Info Display, which replaces the instrument cluster with a configurable interactive 12.3-inch display; a heads-up display; the latest ‘Modular Infotainment System’, including the Car-Net remote app; a 360-degree Area View function; and the latest generation of Park Assist.
Park Assist includes the option for the car to park itself forwards into perpendicular spaces – useful, for example at supermarket car parks, where access to the boot is important. It also includes a world-first Trailer Assist system, which provides help when reversing a vehicle with a trailer attached – without the need for any modification or adaptation of the trailer.
Safety technology includes Side Assist with Rear Traffic Alert; Traffic Jam Assist which makes stop-and-go driving more comfortable; Emergency Assist, which can halt a vehicle when the driver is incapacitated; and the latest Front Assist system with City Emergency Braking, which optionally combines both radar and camera sensors to add pedestrian detection.
The 1.6 litre turbodiesel engine is good. But there are other credible options, too.
A highlight of the Passat’s new range of engines is a high-performance, four-cylinder, 2.0-litre, bi-turbo diesel delivering 240PS. This engine will be available only with a new seven-speed DSG gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
Volkswagen Passat SE Business 1.6 TDI
PRICE: £23,265 on the road
ENGINE: A 1,598cc turbodiesel engine generating 120ps via six-speed manual gearbox
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 128mph and 0 to 60mph in 10.8 seconds
COSTS: Town 60.1mpg; country 78.5mpg; combined 70.6mpg
INSURANCE: Group 12E
WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles