New Volkswagen Passat moves the big seller upmarket

VW sends its lighter, faster, more economical big selling mid-sizer up market - but not up as far as Audi


Volkswagen has made life difficult for its premium brand, Audi, with its all-new, eight-generation Passat moving upmarket without a higher price.

The Passat will arrive in European showrooms in the last quarter of 2014 with a completely new car. The largest car based on the Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) chassis architecture introduced on the Audi A3 and the Golf VII, the Passat will deliver an entirely new range of petrol and diesel engines.

The all-new chassis design delivers a larger cabin area in both saloon and wagon variants and both models have a longer wheelbase without paying a price in size, because the eight-generation Passat’s overall length has actually shrunk by 2mm.

Some models are up to 85kg lighter, with the lightest of the 1.4-litre turbo petrol motors tipping the scales at just 1312kg, and the best of the eco models have slashed their fuel consumption by 20 per ent, yet there is more power and speed from their new engines.

It is all being pitched by Volkswagen as a clear step upmarket to further develop a car that sells 1.1 million units a year and has had, so far, found more than 22 million customers since 1973.

“The new Passat offers more value for money, because it transfers technologies and features into the mid-range segment, which are normally limited to upmarket cars,” Volkswagen Group Chairman, Dr Martin Winterkorn, said last night.

“It’s designed to be a premium car without premium cost and it’s designed to be eye-catching without creating envy.

“We have the most efficient petrol and diesel units available at the launch, plus a plug-in hybrid version.

“For us, it also shows how cars and computers are more and more amalgamating. The new Passat is the technology leader and it shows where the automotive industry is heading.”

Built in the Volkswagen’s German plants at Emden and Zwickau, the Passat is also a flagship for what European design and manufacture is capable of producing, Dr Winterkorn insisted.

“The Passat is the most successful midrange car in the world and it is already one of the most important model ranges in the Volkswagen Group,” he said.

To deliver the extra size needed to be called “premium”, Volkswagen has stretched the Passat’s wheels out at both ends, delivering 33mm more passenger space overall in a package that is wider and lower than its predecessor. Its wheelbase has grown by an incredible 79mm to 2791mm, which mostly benefits the rear passengers, and the front overhang is 67mm shorter than before.

Its luggage area has risen 47 litres in the rear (to 650 litres) in the wagon and 21 litres (to 586 litres) in the saloon, but Volkswagen is claiming the Passat will become the “new business class” because of the interior design, as well as the interior equipment and design.

It’s an interior dominated by its width and uses its ventilation nozzles in a line to emphasize its 12mm stretch out to 1832mm in overall width. It has a standard active info display plus a head-up display, and will come with three different lines of specifications.

“The emphasis has been on luxury,” Volkswagen design chief Klaus Bischof said. “We wanted to give the car a luxurious feel with lots of details and extreme innovation. It has an active info display, for example, that sits right in front of the driver, so he or she always has the info they need at any time. There is no distraction for the driver and there is also a retractable head-up display, with navigation and speed information.”

Volkswagen’s design team has used the new engineering stance and 16-inch wheels as a minimum to deliver a car with crisper lines and proportions that look, in profile, startlingly like a BMW 3-Series.

“This is a completely new car with new state-of-the-art technologies,” Volkswagen engineering boss, Hans-Jakob Neusser, said.

“We didn’t refine the Passat, we made it as a revolution based on some main features. Comfort, elegance (quality feel and design). It features design, connectivity (mobile online services and safety and driver assistance systems) and engineering. And, finally, this must meet customer requirements. A big part of it is its economic efficiency and low running costs and value for money.

“Meeting these required a plethora of technologies that go beyond the normal abilities of this class. The car is lower but there is more headroom in every seat.

“This car has more features but the weight is down by 85kg. If the weight is down by 100kg, then fuel consumption goes down by five percent on average.”

The car also takes the driver assistance systems built into the MQB with the Golf VII and builds on them with the ability to autonomously brake for pedestrians and the skill to reverse park a trailer without interference from the driver.

While the new engines deliver more power and speed, Volkswagen will also give the Passat the most powerful plug-in hybrid powertrain it has yet produced, with 50km of pure electric range, a 115kW version of the 1.4-litre turbo petrol motor and 155kW of total system power.

The plug-in hybrid, which arrive at the same time as the first Passat models, will deliver the same NEDC economy figure as the Golf GTE, with 1.5 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of just 35 grams/km.

But the headline act of the conventional Passat powertrains is the thumping 176kW version of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel. The most powerful four-cylinder diesel engine Volkswagen has ever put into production, the common-rail 2.0-litre uses two turbochargers to deliver 500Nm of torque from 1750rpm and reaches its power peak at 4000rpm.

It’s powerful enough that Volkswagen only delivers it in all-wheel drive 4Motion mode, complete with a standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It will reach 100km/h in 6.1 seconds and move on to a 240km/h top speed, yet it uses only 5.3 litres/100km and emits 139 grams/km of CO2.

The diesel family will be anchored by a 110kW version of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel, with 340Nm, which delivers 4.1 litres/100km, and it will start with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox. In the middle will be a 140kW version of the engine.

There will be five different engine versions, including two 1.4-litre petrol engine models, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder and two versions of the 2.0-litre engine, all of which offer turbocharging and direct injection. The starting engine is a 92kW version of the 1.4-litre, then there’s a 110kW version with active cylinder management, which produces a dieselesque 4.9 litres/100km in saloon form.

Volkswagen fleshes the mid-range of the Passat out with a 132kW version of the 1.8-litre engine, then tops it with a 162kW 2.0-litre and a range-topping 206kW version, which only comes in 4Motion and with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The engines have had more weight-saving work than the rest of the car, with the 2.0-litre turbodiesel having had 40kg shaved from its mass, which is close to Volkswagen’s claims to the rest of the car combined. It claims to have found 21kg in the body, 12kg in the equipment, 9kg in the suspension and 3kg in the lighter MQB electronic architecture.