Eco VW Passat needs gentle touch

Drive the new Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion gently and the figures really add up, says Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer.

Volkswagen is a company very much on the ball with the latest fuel-efficiency technology. With its BlueMotion sub-brand it boasts some of the most economical cars on the market.

There's a lot of doubt about how economical these eco-specials really are, and it's true that around town and driven hard they won't return anything like the claimed figures. Few real-world situations allow the official figures to be matched, but you can still get incredible results.

Take this Passat BlueMotion. It has all the Passat benefits of space, solidity and impressive residual values, but on a 100-mile motorway run I hit 68mpg at an average of 67mph which, regardless of any claimed figures, is brilliant. This is a big old car, remember.

It hits these heights courtesy of a 1.6 turbo diesel with all of VW's eco-friendly tweaks to reduce friction, keep revs low and squeeze as much energy as possible out of every drop of fuel.

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It's a small engine for a car this size and its 104bhp and of torque won't set the world alight, but the drivetrain is tuned to be as economical as possible. It's quite highly strung in that while a gentle and thoughtful approach can return the big numbers, if it's treated a little less kindly to compensate for the power loss relative to a 2.0-litre TDI model its figures will be nowhere near where they should be.

As with all VW's latest diesels it fires up easily and settles into a quiet idle. It's very refined and smooth and that's a credit to its makers even if it doesn't improve as much as you might hope on the Passat range's peak efficiency.

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It comes in saloon and estate versions with the saloon slightly more frugal and clean, dipping to 109g/km of CO2 compared with the estate's 113g/km. Its trump card is that thanks to lowered suspension and low-friction tyres it sits a little lower on the company car tax scale than the 1.6-litre TDI with BlueMotion Technology – a car with the engine mods but not the aerodynamic ones.

The suspension is lowered to reduce the bulk the engine needs to push through the air, but the ride quality is still good on standard 16in steel wheels. Alloys of the same size and larger are available too, to smarten the look up a bit.

The seats are on the firm side, as is normal for VW, but they offer good long-distance comfort. The driving position is fantastic too, with an uncommonly large amount of adjustment particularly from the steering column. Being a Passat estate there's also a huge amount of rear legroom and boot space.

In terms of practicality space isn't everything and the Passat is a bit old-hat in the way its rear seats fold. Rather than folding flat in one motion, the headrests have to come off and the bases folded up first before the backs can be pushed flat.

There isn't a lot of standard equipment on this model which leaves it feeling a bit utilitarian. It's an excellent cruiser but lacks cruise control among other things and it feels Spartan – more like a mere tool for a job compared to some more luxurious models in the range.

Safety and security equipment is in no short supply though, including a key that differs from the usual Volkswagen style in that it pushes into the dashboard and interfaces with the car entirely electronically.

Plenty of airbags and traction and stability control systems are standard, including an electronic handbrake that won't release if you're not wearing your seat belt.

This model needs a few options adding to feel like a complete car; chiefly cruise control, alloy wheels and satellite navigation. With those added it becomes an ideal, if pricey, motorway car that can hit fuel economy figures you never thought possible from such a leviathan.

With the Passat BlueMotion, VW is striking directly at the company car market. Its CO2 emissions make it tax-friendly and its efficient diesel engine make it cheaper to keep in fuel. It's more sensitive to the way it's used than diesels of old and you need to drive it with care, but the rewards are as handsome as the car itself – with the optional alloy wheels, at least.

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