Volkswagen Passat 1.4 TSI driven
When the eighth generation of Volkswagen Passat was launched in the UK towards the end of 2014 it was not thought there would be sufficient demand for a petrol-engined variant for it to be worth offering one. At the time it was no great surprise, what with 80 per cent of Passats going into the fleet market, where diesel’s low CO2 emissions and the resulting strong residual values made it the obvious choice.
Three years later, following a perfect storm of a self-inflicted emissions scandal backlash and chronic uncertainty over what future legislation could mean for diesel, VW has decided that actually a Passat powered purely by petrol might be a very good thing indeed for the UK market, where it also joins the plug-in hybrid Passat GTE.
You might think the best engine for this would be the company’s new 1.5-litre TSI Evo, which has just gone on sale in the Golf and recently launched Arteon. However, that engine is yet to reach the Passat range in other markets (although its time will surely come), and so VW has instead gone with what is available elsewhere.
Specifically, that’s a pair of 1.4-litre units with 123bhp or 148bhp, a 178bhp 1.8, or a 2.0-litre with 218bhp, all of which are turbocharged. If you fancy either of the latter two it’s worth noting they can only be ordered in conjunction with the more expensive GT and R-Line trims.
Not that you are likely to according to VW, which says that the majority of petrol sales will go to the higher-powered of the 1.4-litre engines.
This is a unit we know from cars such as the Golf and Audi A3, where it has impressed with its use of Active Cylinder Technology to run on only two of its available four cylinders when possible. This is a function you simply cannot detect from the driver’s seat unless you have the average fuel economy display open on the instrument binnacle, in which a notice pops up saying ‘2-cylinder mode’.
Also impressive is that peak torque is available from 1,500rpm to 3,500rpm, which is a pretty diesel-like range. Where it can’t match a diesel is in the torque of an equivalently powerful engine (VW’s 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI generates 251lb ft compared with the 1.4 TSI’s 185lb ft), which you will notice as you accelerate in-gear, particularly if the car is fully laden.
However, the petrol fights back by being perceptibly more tractable below its optimum torque window, as well as much quieter. In fact, below 4,500rpm it’s hard to think of a four-cylinder engine that beats it for smooth, quiet running.
It’s also genuinely economical, not only going by the official Combined consumption figure of 55.4mpg in EU tests, but in the real world too, where a long journey on mixed roads can be completed at more than 45mpg. The result is a range from a single tank of petrol that is well in excess of 400 miles.
What’s more, the fact it can effectively run as a two-cylinder engine for some of the time helps to keep CO2 emissions below 120g/km, making this the cleanest of the petrol-engined Passats, not to mention a match for the less powerful 1.0-litre Mondeo.
Compared with a diesel Passat of the same power output it’s also about £1,900 cheaper to buy. It’s a point that should get the attention of company car drivers, particularly when you also factor in not paying the 3 per cent diesel surcharge on BIK (going up to 4 per cent from April 2018), all of which means you’ll need to do a lot of miles in your diesel Passat for it to be the cheaper option.
All petrol engines can be ordered in the saloon or £1,600 more expensive estate, and it’s the latter we’ve tested complete with a manual gearbox and in best-selling SE Business specification. Aimed at company car drivers - who’d have thought it? - this trim level has just about everything you could conceivably want for life on the road, for which read air-conditioning, keyless go, front and rear parking sensors, satnav via a 6.5-inch touchscreen with live traffic updates, and an upgraded driver’s seat with electric backrest adjustment.
You notice just how good that seat is the moment you drop into the Passat, and it continues to impress regardless of how long you spend in the car. In fact the same can be said of the interior in general, which still demonstrates a sense of understated class that few others can match, as well as knocking spots off mainstream rivals such as the Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport for perceived quality.
The availability of VW’s Active Info Display digital dials helps here, replacing the conventional rev counter and speedo with a 12.3-inch digital display that can be customised to show almost (but not quite) exactly what you want. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit still does the same thing with an added layer of polish, but the improvements VW has made since the system first launched are certainly worthwhile.
This is grown up technology in a very grown up car - the kind that has you tuning into Radio 3 and treating every journey like a sanctuary to escape the stresses of daily life. That also means it isn’t in any way exciting, even when you extend the engine into the upper reaches of the rev range, but then nor is it trying to be.
The steering is not particularly quick but always smooth, the gearbox is precise and easy to use, and on 17-inch wheels with standard suspension the Passat rides in a calm, assured manner. All very… predictable.
Speaking of which, being a Passat Estate it also ticks every conceivable box as far as practicality goes, whether it’s the large door pockets (lined with felt so your house keys don’t rattle around), the numerous lidded storage compartments, generous rear legroom or huge boot with dual-height floor.
Some will still prefer the added range of a Passat diesel, while others will be drawn to the zero tailpipe emissions potential of a frequently charged GTE. However, with anti-diesel sentiment growing by the week and high costs and limited charging options slowing the uptake of electric vehicles, it’s hard not to conclude that the Passat that currently makes the most sense for most people is the one powered by petrol.
Volkswagen Passat Estate SE Business 1.4 TSI 150
TESTED 1,395cc turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE From £25,375, as tested £29,670/Now
POWER/TORQUE 148bhp @ 5,000-6,000rpm/185lb ft @ 1,500-3,500rpm
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.6sec
TOP SPEED 135mph
FUEL ECONOMY 45.6/55.4mpg (EU Urban/Combined). On test 48mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 119g/km
VED £160 first year, then £140
VERDICT Smooth, quiet and with perfectly reasonable performance, a 1.4-litre petrol-engined Passat is much more appealing than it might initially sound. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made for it being the best model in the range.
TELEGRAPH VERDICT Four out of five stars
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