With the Passat, you always got the feeling that Volkswagen was trying a little too hard to convince us (and itself) that it was much more than, well, a people’s car. This time around, though, there’s something different: a steely, matter-of-fact conviction – you wouldn’t call it a belief – that the eighth-generation Passat truly is The Car.

On the Passat’s home markets, initial reaction seemed to support VW’s contention that it meets the Big 3 on equal terms as it aced Euro Car of the Year above the new Mercedes C-Class. There is an unmistakable sense of a new sophistication.

The car is slightly smaller overall and lighter than its immediate predecessor. At the same time, it is significantly roomier, including boot space, thanks to a huge increase in wheelbase. It’s also more economical.

In one respect, though, VW has gone backwards: reversing the cab-forward trend. Viewed from the side the Passat hints at the hunched-and-ready-to-spring look of the premium segment’s traditional rear wheel drives. Of course, the VW is front-drive and, at launch, is offered with only petrol engines. A 130 kW 2,0-litre diesel arrives around midyear.

Offered as an option is Active Info Display, for my money the most effective and natural-looking implementation of fully digital automotive instrumentation. There’s also (for the first time in a Volkswagen), a head-up display, multi-mode driver profile selection and semi-automated parking in reverse or forward.

The Passat makes VW’s most convincing case yet for inclusion in the premium segment. Against that, though, it has formidable barriers to overcome in the form of public perception and supply constraints.

Turning point. The Passat is based on the VW Group’s modular transverse matrix platform, MQB (in German, Modularer Querbaukasten), also used for the Polo and Golf. The company says it represents a turning point in the design and production of future transverse-mounted cars by standardising many vehicle component parameters, across brands and vehicle classes and offering access to new technologies. MQB facilitates the use of new modular powerplants – allowing engine and gearbox variants to be cut by around 90 per cent, without restricting choice and even allowing for natural gas, hybrid versions and electric drivetrains.


This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.