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VW Passat 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
8

THE plumage of a Norwegian Blue parrot is of such beauty that even a dead specimen for sale in a pet shop would unzip the wallet of any obsessive bird lover. Beautiful things do that to people. Unfortunately, beneath the glossed veneer of some cars lies a lifeless character as irretrievable as the heartbeat of John Cleese's Norwegian Blue.

But not so with the Volkswagen Passat. Now in its fourth decade in Australia, the Passat has been dosed with an efficient engine range and a strong chassis. It's a competent handler, is strong on fit and finish, is great to drive and just makes a lot of sense. It will do anything asked of it and will reward you with low-cost motoring and even put a smile on your face.

Put it on a pet shop perch, however, and the pretty-boy rivals - with or without a heartbeat - will probably outsell it. The latest Passat, like the new Jetta, is a very polished performer but you have to first get over the fact its body has clinical lines that would better befit a Camry.

VALUE

Better than expected, actually. The 1.8-litre 118TSI sedan costs $38,990 - the same price as a 2-litre Jetta - and equates well to rivals such as Ford Mondeo ($37,740), Subaru Liberty ($37,990), Mazda6 ($40,905), Camry Grande ($39,990), Hyundai i45 ($37,490) and Kia Optima ($36,990).

Fit and finish is damn near perfect, the equipment level is substantial and the sense of solidity and security on the road is hard for rivals to match. Power-focused nomenclature is confusing - the 118TSI here isn't the same as the 118TSi (note the lower-case "i") of the Golf which has a 1.4-litre engine.

DESIGN

On the one hand it looks purposeful and neat and clean. On the other, it's bland. It doesn't stand out on the road and could be made by any of a dozen mid-size car makers. If you like coloured baubles and shiny metal, this may not be your car. But the pragmatist sees that it is exceptionally functional. The boot is big and flexible, the cabin is not to big and not too small, the design of the dashboard is simple and very workable and materials such as the soft-feel dash and leather seats are subtle hints that this is a quality product.

TECHNOLOGY

The engine is new. Passat is the only Volkswagen to use this 1.8-litre in Australia and is an odd inclusion given it could have picked up the Eos' 155kW/2-litre petrol engine which gets practically the same fuel consumption (7.7L/100km vs Eos' 7.9)  and emissions (180 vs 184g/km CO2) with a lot more poke. Not that there's anything wrong with the 118kW/250Nm 118TSI which may better suit a gentler life in the suburbs. There's no manual, just the slick seven-speed DSG auto. Everything else is as per previous Passat, making this an evolution model that hints at being the breather before an all-new version in four years.

SAFETY

Five star crash rating, electronic stability control, eight airbags and lots of aids in the chassis to keep your life on track. Good news for travellers and those who don't want to spend hours on the side of the road is the full-size spare.

DRIVING

It has a chassis so taut it feels like a stretched wire - but there's no hint of breaking. This is Volkswagen's chassis boys at their best, providing a rock-solid platform for a family sedan that feels more like an agile racer. The steering is electric but is very good - it feels just a bit numb when slightly off centre - and the driver soon adapts. Designed for the family, the Passat 118TSI is not particularly quick immediately off the mark - due probably to the DSG's slight lag - but soon picks up the ball and can turn in a respectable 8.5 second 0-100km/h acceleration time. The joy is more in its free-revving nature and excellent responsiveness, helped by its selection of the transmission's seven ratios. Ride comfort is also very good and handling is very good, with very low wind noise being one of its most redeeming features.

VERDICT

New Passat is a quandary as it competes with Volkswagen's own Jetta that is only slightly smaller and less expensive. But the German-built Passat's quality is excellent and the performance is a nice mix of economy and vroom. Pity that it looks like Plain Jane at the school dance.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 118TSI SEDAN

Price: $38,990
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited km
Resale: 48%
Service interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Economy: 7.7 l/100km; 180g/km CO2
Equipment: eight airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC.
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 118kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG auto
Body: 4-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4769 (L); 1820mm (W); 1490mm (H); 2711mm (WB)
Weight: 1482kg
Tyre size: 235/45R17, full size spare.

Pricing guides

$13,990
Based on 60 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,888
Highest Price
$19,800

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
R36 3.6L, PULP, 6 SP $13,200 – 19,140 2011 Volkswagen Passat 2011 R36 Pricing and Specs
R36 3.6L, PULP, 6 SP $12,800 – 18,590 2011 Volkswagen Passat 2011 R36 Pricing and Specs
125 TDI Highline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $9,200 – 13,860 2011 Volkswagen Passat 2011 125 TDI Highline Pricing and Specs
118 TSI 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $6,800 – 10,560 2011 Volkswagen Passat 2011 118 TSI Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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