Motoring: The birth of a meritocrat

Roadtest: Volkswagen Passat

Unlikely though this may sound, Volkswagen's new Passat represents the dawning of a new motorised meritocracy. Up to now, there have been medium-size saloons of the silver-spoon variety (BMW 3-series, Mercedes- Benz C-class, Audi A4). There have been those of more proletarian bearing (Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra, Peugeot 406 and others). And there has also been, lurking colourlessly in the background, the Volkswagen Passat, a car of practical virtue and sound quality but entirely lacking the class- transcending charisma that surrounds the smaller Golf and Polo.

Now, though, the Passat is born again. The new one has pricing to match the proles, but airs and attributes to equal the aristocrats. It's a Passat with attitude. And the guardians of upmarket auto brands have reason to be worried.

That's because the new Passat is effectively an Audi A4 with a longer body, more room and exactly the same approach to Germanically sculpted design and high-quality construction. The design was brought about through the Volkswagen/Audi group's efforts to rationalise parts and cut costs, but the result, ironically, is a more desirable car. It's a striking- looking vehicle, with a profile dominated by a continuous curve from the base of the windscreen to the bottom of the back window.

Behind the unfashionably big front grille, the engines, too, are from the A4. You can choose from a 100bhp 1.6 (the cheapest "E"-trim Passat so powered costs just pounds 13,385), a pair of 20-valve 1.8s (one with a turbo), a 2.8-litre V6 matched to Synchro four-wheel drive (it is Audi's Quattro system, really), and a pair of direct injection turbo diesels of either 90 or 110bhp.

The E may be a bargain buy - even this lowly version has two airbags, anti-lock brakes and electric front windows as standard - but it's the SE-trim, non-turbo 1.8 that's likely to prove the most popular Passat. Its engine delivers 125bhp and willing pulling power across the speed range, and it never spins less than sweetly. The only snag is the engine's unwillingness to lose revs quickly when you take your foot off the accelerator, which makes smooth upward gear changes difficult to achieve.

Over bumps and around bends, the Passat outscores its Audi cousin thanks to weightier, more confident steering and the flatter ride that goes with the longer wheelbase. But it's not quite as capable as a 406 here, because the nose rises and dips too much as you speed up and slow down. And, sad to say, right-hand-drive versions are afflicted with the same hypersensitivity to the brakes that can make the A4 a tiresomely snatchy drive.

Inside, you're faced by a fascia of Audi inspiration, but just a touch more Bauhaus. The detailing is delightful, including air vents whose slats fold flush when shut to resemble tongue-and-groove panelling, and if you go for the Sport version (an extra pounds 626) you get some technical-looking aluminium embellishment to go with the fatter alloy wheels and the more enveloping seats.

The previous Passat's one remarkable feature was its rear leg-room. The new one lacks its predecessor's limousine-like lounging space, but is still roomier than most rivals, including its Audi relation. And considering that the Passat 20V SE is, at pounds 15,869, about pounds 4,000 cheaper than the equivalently powered and equipped Audi, the Volkswagen looks hard to resist. What price brand values now?

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 20V SE

Specifications

Price: pounds 15,869. Engine: 1,781cc, four cylinders, 20 valves, 125bhp at 5,800rpm; five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed: 128mph, 0- 60 in 10.6 sec. Fuel consumption: 31-36mpg.

Rivals

Audi A4 1.8 SE, pounds 20,605 on the road: More perceived prestige, less room, higher price.

BMW 318i SE, pounds 18,920: Same applies here, except that the engine isn't so powerful.

Ford Mondeo 2.0 Ghia, pounds l5,995: Just revamped with huge headlights, but lacks VW's class.

Nissan Primera 2.0 SLX, pounds 16,155 on the road: New car that is fun to drive, but looks just like the old one.

Peugeot 406 2.0 GLX, pounds 16,520 on the road: Best ride and handling, well built, roomy, not so quick.

Sport
The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby union All the latest from Twickenham
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
News
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor