Is life prying a hot hatch from your cold, dead hands? The story haunts car enthusiasts and echoes through time.
Family life has come knocking, so the go-fast hatchback must go, ultimately to be replaced by something more ‘sensible.’
Don’t worry, though, life isn’t over yet, you don’t have to kick around a dealership letting the depression sink in as you stare at SUV after SUV in a vain hope for something with a bit of spirit.
Volkswagen, the brand which likely gave you the hot hatch problem in the first place with its legendary Golf GTI and R, has the answer. While the word ‘Passat’ might not ring with much force in the minds of enthusiasts, this latest iteration, the 206TSI R-Line might just be the 'sensible family car' solution you’re searching for, and VW’s best kept secret.
Can it serve to be the next best sleeper wagon, negating the need to splash mega bucks on Audi’s S4 Avant? We took one at its Australian launch to find out.
The 9.2-inch multimedia touchscreen features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There's a 10.25-inch ‘Digital Cockpit Pro’ instrument cluster.
The Sports seats are leather-appointed.
The R-Line also scores some bespoke interior trim items and a panoramic sunroof as standard.
That’s heaps of stuff, and while it’s still missing a holographic head-up display and wireless charging bay offered by rivals, it’s not too bad at the price offered.
Again, the engine and all-wheel drive system are what you’re really paying for here, as the lion’s share of gear is offered on more affordable versions in the Passat range.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
The Passat is attractive but understated. Not a head-turner, but the kind of car which needs to be properly looked at to be appreciated.
In the case of the R-Line, VW has gone to lengths to toughen it up with its sleek bodykit. The 'Lapiz Blue' signature colour aligns it with performance heroes in the VW range like the Golf R, and the mean looking gunmetal wheels and slim rubber is enough to get those in the know rubbernecking at it.
It’s the market’s latest quiet performer, epitomising the ‘sleeper wagon’ vibe, evoking echoes of legends past like the Volvo V70 R without being as loud as Audi’s RS4. A car that's seen, but not looked at.
VW has gone to lengths to toughen it up the Passat wagon with a sleek bodykit.
The interior continues this theme with a simple but attractive design adorned with LED lighting, highlight strips across the dash, and quality trims in the doors.
The Passat has been augmented with today’s expected digital features, including VW’s stellar digital cockpit and classy 9.2-inch multimedia screen.
Volkswagen’s Audi-descended digital features are some of the smoothest and best looking on the market, and the multimedia suite slots nicely into its gloss surroundings.
The interior has a simple but attractive design.
The interior is well built and inoffensive, but in terms of its design I cant help but notice the Passat is starting to feel a little old, especially compared to the new-generation Golf and its more revolutionary interior design which also arrived this year.
While it’s nice the Passat scores the brand’s new steering wheel and logo, areas like the centre console, shifter, and some trim surrounds are just starting to feel a bit dated.
How practical is the space inside? 9/10
From one enthusiast to another, please don’t buy an SUV. Don’t get me wrong, the Tiguan is a great car, but it’s not fun in the same way this Passat is.
Even if you’ve got a significant other breathing down your neck, you can tell them the Passat is even more practical than its Tiguan sibling!
In the cockpit the usual quality Volkswagen ergonomics are present. The key for drivers will be the R-Line’s lovely bolstered seats, quality partial leather interior trims which extend into the doors for comfort, and the sporty low seating position.
The interior is well built and inoffensive.
Adjustability is excellent, and that new wheel feels great.
Unlike the Tiguan R-Line, the Passat doesn’t get the haptic-feedback touch panel wheel controls, but to be honest you don’t need them, the nice clicky buttons on this wheel are the best.
Unfortunately, this is where the collection of lovely clicky buttons ends. The multimedia and climate panels in the updated Passat have gone completely touch.
To be fair to VW here, it is one of the better executions of touch interfaces I’ve had the misfortune to be forced to use.
The shortcut buttons which flank the multimedia screen have nice big areas so you don’t fumble them, and the climate panel is remarkably easy to use, with tap, slide, and hold functions for shortcuts.
Still, what I wouldn’t give for a volume or fan-speed dial at the very least. It mightn’t look as slick but a dial is unbeatable for adjustment while you’re concentrating on the road.
The back seat in every Passat variant is superb. I have leagues of legroom back there behind my own (182cm/6'0" tall) seating position and there isn’t a single area where VW has skimped out on the quality trims which appear in the front seats.
The back seat in every Passat variant is superb.
Rear passengers even get their own climate zone with easy adjust buttons and directional air vents. There are large bottle holders in the doors and three more in the drop-down armrest.
Rear passengers get their own climate zone with directional air vents.
Rear passengers also score pockets on the backs of the front seats (although they miss out on the triple pockets in the new Tiguan and Golf), and for ease of access (you know, for fitting that child seat) the rear doors are huge and open nice and wide. They even have built-in sunshades to protect little ones from the sun.
Boot space? Now, this is where a wagon shines. Despite all that cabin room, the Passat R-Line still manages to sport a gigantic 650-litre boot capacity, complete with tie-down nets, a luggage cover, and even a built-in retractable divider between the boot and cabin – great for if you have a larger dog, and safe if you need to carry around lots of luggage.
Boot space is rated at 650 litres.
There was more than enough room for the CarsGuide suitcase set.
Extra stuff includes proactive occupant protection, which prepares the cabin in the instant before an imminent collision for optimal airbag deployment and seat belt tension, and a new emergency assist feature which will bring the vehicle to a halt when the driver becomes unresponsive.
The Passat range has the full array of airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, as well as the expected electronic stability, traction, and brake controls, for a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, carried over from the pre-facelift model in 2015.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Volkswagen continues to offer its five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty across its range, placing it alongside most of its Japanese and Korean rivals, but behind Kia and the latest batch of Chinese up-and-comers.
Still, none offer a performance wagon in this space, so the Passat remains the standard here.
Volkswagen offers its cars with pre-packaged servicing which we recommend as it comes at a significant discount overpaying as you go.
The Passat is covered by VW's five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
In the case of the R-Line this means $1600 for the three-year pack or $2500 for the five year pack, saving you a max of $786 against the capped-price program.
It’s not the cheapest we’ve seen, but it could be much worse for a performance-focused European car.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
If you’ve driven a VW in recent years the Passat R-Line will be a familiar experience. If you haven’t, I think you’ll welcome what’s on offer here.
Put simply, this car in the 206TSI grade is one of the best engine and transmission combinations Volkswagen offers across its whole range.
This is because the brand’s signature dual-clutch automatics, which are fraught with minor issues when paired with lesser engines, shine when paired with torquier performance options.
In the case of the R-line, this means snappy performance typified by a strong turbo surge, angry engine note, and a responsive transmission.
Once you’re over the initial moment of turbo-lag, this big wagon leans back on its haunches and simply bursts to life out of the gate, with strong low-end torque controlled through momentous grip as the all-wheel drive system balances drive across the two axles.
The dual-clutch responds nicely, whether you leave it in automatic mode or choose to shift yourself, in one of the few instances where paddle-shift systems shine.
The R-Line’s progressive steering program shines when it comes to tilting this wagon into corners, giving you an unforeseen level of confidence, and it’s all backed by superb grip from the performance rubber and again, that variable AWD system keeping everything well and truly under control.
Despite the large power on offer, I struggled to get so much as a peep out of the tyres. And while performance is not quite Golf R level, it’s certainly somewhere between there and the Golf GTI, weighed down quite literally by the heft of the Passat’s larger body.
The trade off is well worth it. This is a car that allows the driver to have an absolute blast behind the wheel while also ferrying passengers in relative luxury and comfort.
Even the ride is finely finessed despite the large 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. It’s far from invincible though.
The Passat R-Line wears 19-inch alloy wheels.
You’ll still want to steer well clear of potholes. What’s unpleasant in the cabin will be doubly so for the poor (expensive) tyres, and this makes the low-set ride not quite as ready for the trials of the suburbs as many of its more comfort-focused rivals.
Still, this is a performance variant by name and nature and while the goalposts are still way up in RS4 territory for hot mid-size wagons, this is the kind of reasonably-priced, warmed-over wagon which hot hatch lovers will be craving.
Suffice to say it’s more fun than you’ll have in pretty much any SUV.
Dear former hot-hatch owner and wagon appreciator. The search is over. This is the anti-SUV your heart desires at a fraction of the cost of Audi’s S4, or bahn-storming RS4. It’s as comfortable as it is fun, with subtle looks to boot, just don’t expect it to knock your socks off in quite the same way as a Golf R. You’ll have passengers to think about, after all.
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