Toyota Camry VS Volkswagen Passat
- Outstanding safety tech
- Good value
- Bending to strap kids into their seats
- Not overly engaging to drive
- Conservative styling
I've got a line of Camry jokes that stretches to Mars and back, and I'm not alone. Heck, even Akio Toyoda sledged his own company's products when he famously delcared it would produce "no more boring cars". To be fair, the company is still struggling with that promise.
The new version has, sadly, knocked some of the stuffing out of my established Camry repartee. Until today, I had not yet had a go in the new car, and thus it was something of a shock to realise that it doesn't even look terrible any more.
My cruel colleagues, however, muttered darkly that this was still a Camry, just not as we've always known it.
Hmmm. I'm getting too old to deal with change. This Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid had better be boring.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
As if the Passat couldn’t look any more like a company car, when it was updated late last year Volkswagen named the new version of its large sedan and wagon the ‘Business’.
It makes sense. I mean calling the Passat something it’s not would be silly. Can you imagine the Passat Arouse? The Passat Danger King? The Passat Wrestle? Nope, this is not Peugeot, it’s Volkswagen.
Yes, in the history of aptly named things, nothing has been more aptly named than the Passat Business, especially the wagon.
For formal occasions this Passat calls itself the Passat 140TSI Business and I’ll explain what that all means below.
So, along with the new name what else is new for the updated Passat? Is it all just business as usual or could the Passat wagon be the best reason not to buy an SUV for your family?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's a pity families don't buy sedans any more, because this is a terrific family car, particularly if you're not bothered by badge cache or speed, but do like an easy-to-drive, cheap-to-run car. Just a few years ago it would have been almost laughable to contemplate a car this big, for this money, being so cheap to own and run.
I'm also really annoyed that my hackneyed Camry jokes are no longer just not funny, they're not funny because they're not (as) true. No, it's not a super-fun excitement machine, but that's not the point. It is a very good car, with all the Toyota goodness of old, added warranty and the bonus of genuinely feeling good to drive. And you're a mild shade of enviro-green to go with it.
Is it true? Has the Camry shaken off most of its dowdy image?
The Passat 140TSI Business wagon is one of the best excuses for not buying an SUV like seemingly everybody else. Not only is it effortless to drive, its updated safety tech is outstanding, it’s practical and the value is excellent. More than just business class, it’s family proof, too.
Some key changes to the design approach on the new Camry means it's not as knock-kneed and simpering as the last, um, six or so generations.
To be fair, the previous one wasn't terrible but there are actual hints of mild bravery, with an angry front-end look, some interesting surface detailing and, even what might be called a "Lexus-lite" look for the rest of it.
The new Camry is lower, has big wheel arches that the 17s struggle to fill but it has some genuine style, rather than looking like the clay modellers knocked off before lunch. The dual exhaust seemed incongruous to me, but is, in fact, a styling win.
Jokes aside, I don't mind it at all. It's no Supra, but it's no mid-90s Camry, either. Yeah, I bet you don't remember which one I'm talking about, either.
I really like the cabin. The dash design is quite something and shows some real flair. William Chergowsky told me last year that this interior was going to be more emotional and memorable. And it really is, along with Toyota's impressive build quality. Even the volume knob feels substantial, the materials are nice but the steering wheel is... well, more of that later.
The updated Passat had more changes made to its cabin technology and safety equipment list than to its appearance, but there are a couple of cosmetic tweaks.
The front bumper and grille have a new design with a ‘pinched’ effect to the styling of the fog lights compared to the more horizontal and squared off look of the previous Passat.
The rear of the wagon was refined further with sleeker tail-lights and the letters P A S S A T spaced across the centre of the tailgate, using a similar typeface to the font applied to the new-gen Volkswagen Touareg.
Despite the styling changes the Passat wagon remains the most sensible, most conservative, most business-like model in Volkswagen’s line-up, especially in our test car's 'Pure White' finish.
That’s not a bad thing, unless you’re looking for something more emotive, or in another colour, like grey, or blue or black, which is the Passat’s entire paint palette. These are also the colours of the suits in my wardrobe. Apart from white, that is.
Again, the cabin of this new Passat is much like the previous one: business class all the way, with premium but restrained styling applied to the broad flat dash, comfortable but not lounge-like leather seats and modern media system.
The Passat wagon is 4773mm in length, 1832mm wide and 1477mm tall. How does that compare to the sedan version? Well the sedan is about 2.0mm longer, the same amount wider and about 20mm shorter in height. All riveting facts which will stun and amaze your friends, I’m sure.
The new, stretched wheelbase has meant a lot more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear. The Camry hasn't really been small for a very long time, but this one's generous rear legroom is probably why it's a smash-hit with the Uber crowd. The seats are comfortable too, if trimmed in what appears to be neoprene.
Front and rear passengers each have a pair of cupholders for a total of four, plus there's a deep central console bin and a space under the stereo for a phone. There's even a coin slot. Each door also has a bottle holder.
The boot in the Ascent Sport is a voluminous 524 litres - the Ascent has a full-size spare that swallows up 30 litres of that space. The seats fold down 60/40, but the cargo volume when they are down is not readily available.
Nobody buys a wagon accidentally. Nope, they’re bought by those who need cargo space almost as much as they need room for people. But not all wagons offer as much utility as the Passat version.
See, while the Passat loses points for its lack of sleekness and sporty styling it makes up for it in interior space thanks to its almost panel van, slab-like dimensions.
The Passat is a five-seater and with the second-row seats in place there’s 650 litres of boot space.
Take a look at the images to see what that means in real-world terms – we were able to fit the CarsGuide luggage and pram in with room to spare.
The low load lip, wide boot opening, handy bag hooks, partitioned storage areas behind the wheel arches, and an extendable net to divide off the second row from the cargo area make the Passat wagon’s boot truly useful. I’d definitely buy a cargo net, though, to stop your groceries rolling around.
Quick release levers unlatch the back seats to fold them flat and then Passat offers a cavernous 1780 litres cargo capacity.
Cabin storage is also great with three cupholders in the second row and two more up front, a decent sized centre console bin and super large door pockets all around.
People room is excellent. The cockpit is open and spacious, even for me with my 2.0-metre wingspan, while I can sit behind my driving position with about 50mm to spare between my knees and the seat back.
As a dad, the first things I look for when gauging a vehicle's family friendliness are directional air vents and sunshades in the rear.
In Australian summers, these are good to have, and the Passat Business wagon comes standard with both. There’s climate control in the rear, too.
For charging and power outlets older USB-A ports were phased out in this update, replaced by the new USB-C sockets – two in the front and one for the second row.
Keeping it old school are three 12-volt outlets – one in the front, another in the second row and a third in the cargo area.
The Passat’s ride height means my five-year old could climb in easily, but meant I had to bend more than I would for an SUV to buckle him into his seat.
So, while the Passat wagon ticks many family boxes, parents may find the bending literally a pain in the back.
Price and features
The hybrid drivetrain is available on the Ascent, Ascent Sport and SL. I had the $31,990 Ascent Sport for the week.
It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo (with CD player!), dual-zone climate control, cloth trim, with space-saver spare wheel, electric driver's seat, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, reversing camera, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, an impressive safety package, power mirrors and windows. Did I mention the CD player?
The six-speaker stereo is powered from the 8.0-inch touchscreen and the software is...um...not great. Which wouldn't matter if it had Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay but Toyota Australia stubbornly refuses to include them. The damn Seppos get it in their Toyotas, so it's not like it's impossible. But our version does have a CD player. Hipsters rejoice!
The 140TSI Business has a list price of $47,990. You’re essentially paying $2K more than the sedan for the privilege of having a really big boot. How big? We’ll get to that in the practicality section below.
For now, let’s look at the standard features which include a new multimedia system with an 8.0-inch screen and wireless Apple CarPlay (you’ll need a cord for Android Auto), there’s sat nav, an eight-speaker stereo, leather upholstery, three-zone climate control, proximity key, tinted glass, roof rails and 18-inch alloy wheels.
That’s good value and we haven’t reached the new safety tech, yet - keep reading or skip ahead to that bit.
What are the Passat 140TSI Business wagon’s rivals? There’s the closely related Skoda Superb wagon, which in 162 TSI form is a smart buy for $45,690.
Also have a look at the Mazda6 wagon, the GT lists for $47,290. I reckon you could get a pretty great deal on a Holden Commodore Sportwagon RS-V which normally list for $49,190. That is provided you’re reading this before Holden closes up shop at the end of 2020.
Engine & trans
While the standard Camry packs the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder, the Hybrid's ICE output is slightly lower, at 131kW. When paired with a hybrid motor, the total power figure is a pretty decent 160kW, but the torque figure appears to be unaffected, at 202Nm. Toyota doesn't quote combined torque figures, because it's tricky with the type of transmission it uses.
The front wheels are driven by Toyota's favoured e-CVT, with six artifical steps to make it feel like a proper auto, if you're feeling racy.
The update to the Passat late last year brought more than just new USB ports, there’s a new engine, too.
The 1.8-litre was swapped for 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol making 8.0kW more power at 140kW (that’s where the 140TSI in the name comes from) and 70Nm more torque at 320Nm.
That’s quite a stack more grunt and it all goes to the front wheels only.
Shifting gears is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It’s fairly smooth in slow traffic but better suited to motorways and country roads where fewer gear changes cause less hesitation in the transmission.
Acceleration is swift for the class with 0-100km/h coming up in 8.1 seconds.
The Hybrid's windscreen sticker makes the bold claim of 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, which is amazing for a big sedan. Reality isn't quite so amazing. In our week with the car, 5.7L/100km was the best I could get, but it was mostly city driving, the weather was really humid and, it turns out, this isn't a bad thing to drive, which means you're tempted to hit the throttle regularly.
The Passat wagon got the full family workout in this test. Specifically, 249.5km of Newcastle to Sydney motorway back from the grandparents, daily work commutes into the city, preschool drop offs and pick ups and the weekly shopping trip.
Filling the (66-litre) tank back up to full needed just 23.10L of premium unleaded which works out to be 9.3L/100km. Not bad at all, although Volkswagen says over a combination of open and urban roads you should see 6.6L/100km.
All the Camry markers are here. It's easy to get in and out of and easy to get comfortable. The dash isn't too high and, uh, the steering wheel is plastic, which is genuinely disappointing. A Mazda6 (no, not a hybrid, I know) doesn't have a plastic steering wheel. The Toyota one is pretty cheap-feeling.
Pressing the start-stop button, you hear the electrics switching on and, if you're backing out of the drive, you won't hear the engine until you're on the gas driving away. You may not hear anything, but your passengers might hear your tutting. The brakes are very grabby when you're in stealth, I mean, electric mode, whether you're going forward or backwards. No doubt it's something you will become accustomed to, but it's there. Toyota hybrids seem to be behind the game on this particular score.
In every other way, the Camry is exactly as it has always been. Except it isn't. Toyota kept all the good things - it's smooth, it's quiet and it rides well. Everyone is comfortable and everything works. I've already mentioned it was stinking hot the week we had it and the Camry's air-conditioning was super-fast cold.
The bit that's different, though, is that, just like the styling, things are better. Camrys past had over-light steering, marshmallows for suspension and as much grip on the road as Kanye West has on reality. This one has body control. The steering feels good. There is actual grip and you feel like you're driving the car rather than just steering it around.
Really, the true sports utility vehicles are wagons because they have as much utility as an SUV but in most cases are more naturally sporty thanks to their lower centre of mass.
That was the case driving the Passat wagon which was far more planted and stable than any regular SUV.
True to its name, the 140TSI Business wagon is an easy, comfortable and effortless car to drive.
But, let’s say you’re running late for a radio interview and you need to get where you're going as quickly (and legally) as possible. The Passat is able to match that urgency with the dynamics and performance needed. I made it by the way, with time to spare.
There’s a decent amount of torque, all going to the front wheels and if that accelerator pedal is poked with a bit too much enthusiasm it's not hard to cause a loss traction. You just have to remember not to be so heavy footed. The Passat I tested wore 235/45/R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 which are an excellent tyre.
An 11.7m turning circle isn’t fantastic, but I didn’t notice it hindering my daily use.
As for towing, although I didn’t do any, Volkswagen says the Passat 140TSI Business wagon has a braked towing capacity of 1800kg.
The Ascent Sport ships with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, active cruise, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, forward AEB, reverse cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
The Camry scored five ANCAP stars in November 2017.
The Volkswagen Passat scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015, but more advanced safety features were added when the car was updated last year.
This included the 'Travel Assist' system which is a higher level of adaptive cruise control combining lane keeping assistance and speed recognition of the car in front.
Also standard is AEB, which operates when maneuvering forwards and backwards, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto parking (parallel and perpendicular) driver fatigue detection, a reversing camera, plus front and rear parking sensors.
For child seats you’ll find three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
That’s an outstanding armoury of potentially life-saving equipment, topped off by a full-sized spare alloy wheel under the boot floor.
In news that still has me all a-tingle (okay, not really), Toyota now offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There's till no roadside assist offered for free, though, so you have to pay extra for it.
The first five service intervals are capped at $195 each so, if you're lucky, five years of servicing will only sting you $975. Intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km.
The Passat is covered by Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended at 12 month/15,000km intervals and you can expect to pay $458 for the first service, $660 for the second, $552 for the third, $873 for the fourth, and $458 for the fifth visit.