The Passat is perfectly pleasant to drive and be driven in – smooth, natural and strong-feeling

Price: £35,505 (range spans £22,215-£37,035)
Engine: 1,984cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 240bhp
Transmission: seven-speed auto gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 149mph, 0-62 in 6.1sec, 53.3mpg, CO2 139g/km

The coolest cars, on the whole, are those that don't wear a rictus grin. For years, car designers have defaulted to a front grille shaped to suggest a smile; even that one-time bastion of automotive seriousness, Mercedes-Benz, now does it. Guys, it's getting tedious.

So Volkswagen's new Passat, pictured here, and Ford's new Mondeo, to be reported on soon, herald a new era of intent, of automotive frowns. It is no coincidence that both cars also shake the ludicrous wardrobe of emperor's new clothes that dress the so-called premium brands – those that too many buyers think are a) the only ones they can be seen driving and b) the ones to which they are entitled.

This premium/mainstream divide is a very profitable delusion. Did you know, for example, that some Audi interiors are manufactured by Faurecia, a Peugeot-Citroën subsidiary?

Get past the gloss of branding and into the rational, classless world of Volkswagen and you'll see that this almost predatory-looking new Passat plays the part of the premium car very well, especially if ordered in a high trim level and with the right options. Yet it will also, in its cheaper guises, make an excellent taxi just as its predecessors have done over the past seven generations since 1973.

Generation-eight Passat is fractionally shorter than the previous one but has a longer wheelbase, so sits more comfortably on its wheels, with less overhanging bodywork. It looks crisply handsome, the saloon bearing the domed, rounded roofline typical of Passats since 1996, the estate car managing to look sleek and dashing while still having the squared-off, near-vertical tail that signals plentiful carrying space. And it weighs less than the previous Passat, by up to 85kg.

The roomy impression inside is magnified by the dashboard design, the blades of the air-vent grilles stretching right across the cabin in imitation of the wide front grille outside. The normal instruments, crisp, round and simple, can be optionally replaced by virtual versions on a screen where a configurable information panel can show a sat-nav map, so you don't have to move your eyes to the centre panel.

Other optional clever stuff includes automatic last-minute braking if the Passat detects a pedestrian in the road; Traffic Jam assist, which lets the car take over in stop-start traffic; and Trailer Assist, which enables you to reverse-park a trailer or caravan by letting the vehicle steer the ensemble itself.

The Passat is also perfectly pleasant to drive and be driven in – smooth, natural and strong-feeling, if not the last word in driving thrills. For the UK, there will be diesel engines only at first, petrol units having accounted for just 1 per cent of Passat sales in their final year on sale here – but a plug-in hybrid with a 1.4-litre petrol engine arrives next year.

Those diesels are a 1.6-litre with 120bhp and three 2.0-litre units, with 150bhp, a hefty 190bhp and – fanfare for the Passat USP – 240bhp, with more power per litre than any other production diesel bar BMW's M550d. Its effortless thrust and ability to pull quickly and cleanly from very low engine speeds are quite beguiling, and made possible by a pair of progressively acting turbochargers. Sadly, you must pay at least £34,510 for the privilege. See? Volkswagen is a premium brand after all.

Search for used cars