Tuesday, February 23, 2016
First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TSI Blue Motion
The Passat has been around since 1973 and is one of Volkswagen’s oldest active product lines. The current one actually marks the eighth-generation model and apart from its lineage, is the most beautiful and most advanced one ever made. It’s so well-made that former Volkswagen Chairman of the Board Martin Winterkorn said, “It is a premium car without the premium price.” Indeed, VW is pitting the Passat not against the Camrys and Accords of this world, but instead against the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. This move may seem mad, but there’s reason for VW’s confidence.
It starts with the Passat’s design. Led by chief of design Walter DeSilva and helped by coachbuilder Bertone (which Volkswagen now owns), the Passat is clean and well-proportioned throughout. It’s neither shouty nor conservative, playing on horizontal themes giving it a low and planted stance. Two models are available locally, the Highline and the Business Edition. They can be easily distinguished thanks to the latter’s unique LED DRLs, larger wheels (18-inch “Dartfords” as opposed to 17-inch “Londons”), more chrome, dark tint on the rear taillights, a unique rear bumper, and a large panoramic sunroof.
More than just a thing of beauty, the Passat rides on Volkswagen’s revolutionary MQB Architecture. If it sounds familiar, it’s the very same platform that underpins the Golf GTI. Designed to improve efficiency and performance, the Passat’s body uses aluminum and hot-formed ultra-high strength steel making it up to 85 kilograms lighter than the previous model while increasing rigidity by at least eight percent. Also shared with the Golf GTI is the Passat’s 2.0-liter TSI (Turbocharged Stratified Injection) good for 220 horsepower from 4,500 to 6,200 rpm and a maximum torque of 350 Nm from 1,500 to 4,400 rpm. It’s mated to the 6-speed DSG or Direct Shift Gearbox.
The Passat’s cabin continues to play on the horizontal theme suggested by the exterior. The net effect is one that gives a feeling of space while allowing for the uncluttered but ergonomic placement of the controls. In terms of numbers, it enjoys 989-mm of headroom upfront and 964-mm at the back beating the Camry and the 3 Series in those areas respectively. For those who want to stretch their legs, it has 1,045-mm of front and 973-mm of rear legroom putting it more or less in the same size range as the Accord. Apart from size, it eschews the usual beige and faux wood and comes in a well-appointed mix of high-gloss piano black inserts, aluminum accents, supple leather, and grippy Alcantara. And depending on the exterior color, the interior color combination changes from Titanium Black on the Oryx White and Iridium Gray Metallic, Natural Brown on the Black Oak Brown and Deep Black Pearl, and an off-white shade called St. Tropez solely on the Crimson Red.
And despite the emphasis on weight reduction, the Passat is actually more loaded with comfort and convenience features such as a three-zone climate control and an 8-speaker system. The Highline adds more niceties like the Discover Pro 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, more movement to its power seats (12+2 as opposed to 6+4), and an Area View Rear Camera. And for additional P 50,000, you can get the Active Info Display that replaces the traditional gauges with a 12.3-inch LCD screen.
Testing the Passat’s merits as a genuine contender in the premium entry-level sedan segment, a route of nearly 400 kilometers stretching from Manila to Batangas was chosen. From Volkswagen’s Bonifacio Global City showroom, the fleet of Passats made its way through the South Luzon Expressway to the Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway to the twisty, hilly costal roads between Cavite and Batangas before arriving at the final stop: Le Chevrerie Resort and Spa in Anilao, Batangas.
Starting off as the rear passenger for the first part, it’s immediately apparent that there’s quality to the Passat’s construction. The doors open and close with a solid sound while every inch of the interior is soft to the touch. The rear seats themselves are supportive, offering excellent back and thigh support. Though the legroom is quite good, a large hump on the floor may limit the most comfortable passenger count at the back to two. The ride is characteristically Teutonic: firm but supple. It manages to absorb most bumps with only the sharpest ones making its way to the cabin. The biggest complaint though is the high amount of tire noise at speed from the tires.
Switching from passenger to driver after lunch reveals the best part of the Passat experience: the drive. The simplest way to describe it from behind the wheel is: it just works. The entire drive system from the engine to the chassis all work in unison to deliver an attainably sporty driving experience. Just like how the Golf GTI feels like a sporty yet usable hatchback, the Passat is a sporty yet comfortable large sedan. Despite the size, it’s nimble and easy to control through the tightest of turns. There’s good amount of grip and along with the controlled body movement, it’s both stable and comfortable through the bends. Equipped with Electronic Differential Lock or XDS (also found in the Golf GTI), it controls the power, providing pressure on the inside wheel to prevent wheel spin.
As agile, precise, and calm as it is, when driven manically, the Passat becomes a willing partner. Thanks to its strong engine and fast-acting gearbox, it’ll easily make the front tires struggle for grip before the stability control kicks in. Power is down on paper and this is only noticeable before the turbo kicks in. Once it does though, the broad power and torque curve delivers a rush and sense of urgency that cannot be matched by any normally-aspirated sedan in its class. It allows for easy overtaking even on two-lane roads. What’s more, 100 km/h comes in at just 6.7 seconds, putting it in the same league as cars equipped with V6 engines while delivering up to 30 percent better fuel economy as tested (9.90 km/L).
Priced at P 2,253,000 for the Highline and P 2,759,000 for the Business Edition, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat doesn’t come cheap. However upon closer inspection, it manages to straddle the line between the top-line Japanese sedans and the entry-level German premium sedans. The Passat values substance over flashiness, timeless elegance over passing fads. In that regard, VW has nailed it right as the Passat is proof of their quiet confidence to deliver a world-class driving experience.