Volkswagen Passat great unsung hero

Volkswagen Passat Highline, replacing the SE model, adds more equipment to the spacious and stylish

Volkswagen Passat Highline, replacing the SE model, adds more equipment to the spacious and stylish estate and saloon car. - Credit: VW

Volkswagen's Passat is 40 this year and has made many happy returns, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Talk about iconic Volkswagens and people will cite the Beetle and Golf but few are likely to mention the Passat.

Now in its seventh generation and celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with nearly 16 million sales worldwide the Passat is something of an unsung hero.

I first drove a Mark II Passat estate in the Eighties, a leggy old 120,000-miler 1.6-litre diesel my wife inherited as a company car for a while but it was still a solid, dependable workhorse that served us well.

Ever since then I have had a lot of respect for the Passat, especially the load-lugging estate which is now so popular that it outsells the saloon in the UK where both are fleet favourites.

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The Passat has a quality, upmarket feel – hence its competitors include some lower-end premium models as well as mainstream offerings – and the latest model looks even classier with the new VW family 'face'. The styling may have evolved but every panel and glass surface, apart from the roof, is new.

Under the bonnet there are tried-and-tested engines – 122PS and 160PS 1.4 and 210PS 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol but most Passats are turbo diesel with the 105PS 1.6 and 140PS and 177PS 2.0 TDIs.

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The big-seller is the 140PS 2.0 TDI with its broad flexible power delivery and strong mid-range performance. As standard it gets a six-speed manual gearbox but my test car had the six-speed automatic DSG transmission which would be my preferred choice with its smooth, quick shifts, a sport mode and the ability to use the box manually if you want to get more involved. It's not as economical as the manual but returned an acceptable 45-50mpg in mixed driving.

It's not difficult to see why the Passat appeals to so many high-mileage drivers. It is just as happy on twisty country roads as it is hacking along motorways with the suspension giving a fine blend of ride and roadholding. And it drives just as well with a load on board.

And you can certainly carry plenty in the estate with loads of legroom and headroom in the back and a long 523-litre boot that will swallow their luggage. What disappointed me was that despite having release levers each side of the boot the 60/40 split rear backs do not fold flat unless you have manually flipped the seat cushions upright and taken the head restraints off. It's a bit of a pain if you have to do that regularly and a rather dated design when so many cars now have rear seats and cushions that all drop flat in one simple movement. With the seats folded flat maximum cargo capacity rises to 1,731 litres, including the 80-litre spare wheel recess, with a 1.96m cargo deck.

The interior oozes quality with soft plastics where you see and feel them, an unfussy fascia with clear instruments, solid switchgear, a stylish analogue clock and tasteful brushed alloy trim panels on the dashboard and doors picked up with brightwork highlights on the dashboard for a classy co-ordinated look.

Between entry S and range-topping Sport models are attractive R-Line and Highline models.

New R-Line, based on S, gets 15mm lower sports suspension, 18in alloys and sportier body styling while Highline adds to the SE, which it replaced, touchscreen satellite navigation, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and 17in alloy wheels – £1,680 worth of value for a £500 price hike over SE. R-line bodykit is a £900 option on Highline and Sport.

The latest model is another case of the Passat moving with the times and that is what has given it enduring appeal, just proving that life does begin at 40.

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