First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Passat (Euro-spec) [Review]

Join us as we take VW\'s new Euro-spec Passat for a spin through the Sardinian countryside.

It likely comes as no surprise that Volkswagen's best-selling model around the globe is the Golf. The second best-seller might raise a few eyebrows, though. It's not the Jetta and it's not the Polo sub-compact: It's the mid-size Passat.

The Wolfsburg-based automaker has built over 22 million examples of the Passat since the Audi-derived first-generation model was introduced in Europe in 1973. Over the past four decades the Passat has become a truly global car that is currently distributed in over 150 countries.

Volkswagen builds market-specific variants of the Passat for Europe and for the United States, a strategy that is similar to the one implemented by several Japanese automakers in the 1980s. It recognizes that different cultures have a different definition of what a car should and shouldn't be.

Introduced in Paris earlier this month, the eighth-gen Passat tested here was designed exclusively for the European market. Volkswagen stresses that it will not be sold in the United States and it does not preview the next-gen Passat in any way, shape or form.

What is it?The Euro-spec Passat rides on the same modular MQB platform as the seventh-generation Golf, the Audi A3 sedan and the third-generation Audi TT, among others. Visually, the new Passat closely follows Volkswagen's evolutionary design philosophy and it looks like a careful update of the seventh-gen model. The front and the rear fascias adopt a sharper and more modern-looking design but the middle of section of the sedan is seemingly carried over with only minor modifications.

The story is different under the skin, where nearly every part of the Passat is new and improved. Switching to the MQB platform allowed engineers to remove up to 187 pounds from the sedan. It is slightly smaller than the outgoing model but it is roomier inside thanks to a wheelbase that has been increased by three inches.

The Passat measures 187 inches long, 72 inches wide and 57 inches tall, making it about the same size as its Chattanooga-built counterpart. It weighs 3,086 pounds in its lightest configuration.

On sale now across Europe, the mk8 Passat is offered with two gasoline-burning TSI engines rated at 125 and 150 horsepower, respectively, and four turbodiesel units whose outputs range from 120 to 240 horsepower. A GTE-badged gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid model is scheduled to join the lineup next year.

The Passat wagon tested here is powered by a 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder TDI turbodiesel engine that makes 240 horsepower at 4,000 rpms and a healthy 368 lb-ft. of torque at just 1,750 rpms. It can only be paired with a seven-speed DSG transmission and Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

Life Aboard

The Passat's interior features evolutionary updates that are seemingly inspired by the U.S.-spec model. The dashboard remains ergonomic and unmistakably Teutonic but it looks more sophisticated than the one found in the outgoing seventh-gen. High quality materials are used throughout the cabin and nothing feels flimsy or cheap. Clearly, Volkswagen is serious about pushing the Passat up a notch on the market.

The average Passat buyer in Europe is someone who spends a considerable amount of time behind the wheel so the seats were designed to be comfortable hour after hour. Legroom and headroom are adequate both up front and out back, and taller passengers can comfortably sit in the second row for a prolonged period of time without having to make an appointment with a chiropractor.

Lower trim levels come with a familiar instrument cluster that consists of four easy-to-read analog gauges and a configurable thin-film-transistor (TFT) screen positioned in the middle. Higher trim levels can be ordered with a fully-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster called Active Info Display that is similar in concept to the unit found in the third-gen TT. The system works well for the most part, being able to configure the instrument cluster comes in handy in a number of situations, but we noticed the tach needle occasionally lags during rapid gear changes.

Select trim levels come with the latest generation of Volkswagen's Discover Media infotainment system. Controlled via a color touch screen on the center stack, Discover Media groups all of the expected functions like connectivity and climate control and it can work with Car-Net to offer additional features like Google Send-to-Car and Maps with Street View. Highly intuitive to use, Discover Media also provides accurate real-time information such as the price of gas at the nearest stations and whether there are any spots left in a given parking lot, a real boon in big cities.

The Passat sedan boasts 20.6 cubic feet of trunk space with five occupants on board and 40.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. In the station wagon, these figures increase to 22.9 and 62.8, respectively.

At the WheelThe range-topping 240-horsepower Passat we spent the bulk of our time driving inaugurates a new sequential twin-turbocharging setup designed to reduce turbo lag. It consists of a smaller turbocharger that starts to spin as soon as the throttle is pressed and a bigger unit that gradually takes over as the rpms rise.

This setup all but eliminates turbo lag and it helps provide a near-instantaneous throttle response as well as a smooth acceleration. The seven-speed DSG shifts quickly but it sometimes briefly hesitates to find the right gear after the car has been coasting for a few hundred yards.

The 4Motion all-wheel drive system helps the twin-turbocharged Passat reach 62 mph from a stop in 6.1 seconds, nearly on par with a GTI. In mixed driving we averaged about 40 mpg in Mario Kart-esque Sardinian traffic.

The Passat is available with Volkswagen's Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), a function that provides five different driving profiles. DCC is one of the better systems on the market because the effect that each mode has on the car's main components is immediately perceptible.

In Sport mode, the steering becomes more sensitive to input and the suspension becomes stiffer to reduce body roll. The Passat isn't a sport sedan but it's enjoyable to toss around bends in spite of its large size. Drivers looking for a more relaxed ride can hit the Comfort button which softens up the suspension and makes the steering almost overly assisted. Normal mode is positioned between Sport and Comfort, Eco aims to improve gas mileage and Individual lets the driver design a custom profile.

We briefly spent time behind the wheel of a gas-burning Passat sedan powered by a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter TSI four-banger linked to a six-speed manual transmission. What impressed us the most with the TSI is the cylinder deactivation system. It is absolutely seamless, the only way to tell when the engine is running on two cylinders and when all four fire back up is by looking at a message displayed in the instrument cluster.

Part of the Passat's upmarket push revolves around high-tech driving aids. Consequently, it can be ordered with a wide number of extra-cost features including traffic jam assist, trailer assist, a blind spot detection system, a heads-up display and a 360-degree camera that provides a bird's eye view of the car.

Leftlane's Bottom LineThe eighth-generation Passat might look like its predecessor from certain angles but it's quieter, it's better built, it's more efficient and it's generally more refined, attributes that reflect its premium aspirations.

It's still not the most exciting or engaging family car on the market but it doesn't need to be, that's not what its target audience is looking for. The refinement comes at a price, however, and the more upscale trim levels can quickly venture far into C-Class territory if buyers start piling on options.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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