It's a little bit buttoned-down in character terms, and feels like something carefully honed, rather than entirely new, but there's no denying the new Volkswagen Passat's comfort, refinement, quality and style.
In the metal 4/5
As soon as you see the new Passat, it's very obvious that here is something designed to be familiar. Volkswagen really hasn't deviated at all from the styling recipe of the previous Passat. Then again, why would it? Not only is the Passat a big seller worldwide, it was also the best-selling car in its segment in Ireland last year, and that was a run out model. Familiarity apparently breeds content, not contempt.
There are some nice styling flourishes though. While it's clearly similar to the outgoing model, park them side by side and you'll see the cleaner, more muscular lines of the new model come very much to the fore. The new front end in particular is rather successful, taking elements of the old Volkswagen CC to give the Passat a lower, meaner and sleeker look. It's only at the back where it all gets a bit samey-samey, looking very much as the old car did, with a hint of Volkswagen Phaeton thrown in.
Inside, it's the same. By which I means it's very similar to what we were used to in the old Passat, but it has become more honed, more slick. The main dials look pretty much identical, as do many of the switches and buttons. But the central touch screen is now quicker and easier to use, the clumsy old push-the-key-in-to-start system has been replaced by a more sensible keyless button ignition and the way the lines of the air vents are carried in chrome strips for the full width of the dash is a touch that just gets more attractive every time you look at it.
Volkswagen hasn't skimped on the practical bits either, as you would expect. The seats are big, broad and wonderfully comfy, even if the driving position does feel a bit high and perched up at times. An extra 78mm in the wheelbase translates into much more legroom for rear seat passengers and up front the driver definitely has more space. The boot is a whopping 586 litres and still has the useful swing-down shopping bag hooks - a small but significant touch that is emblematic of how easy the Passat is going to be to live with.
Driving it 4/5
That easy nature shines through on the dynamic front too. The six-speed manual gearbox (one more gear than you got on the old Passat 1.6 TDI) snicks around its gate with ease and precision. The steering has a wonderful sense of both weight and a free, fluid motion too as it slides from lock to lock. There's not much actual feel though, so you do end up being rather detached from the driving experience - the Passat is far more about comfort and quietness than it is about engaging the driver. A shame? Yes, a little, but the upside is strong enough that we can forgive it.
Ride comfort is generally excellent, although sharp-rimmed road imperfections can send a judder up though the structure of the MQB platform - familiar from the Golf and so many others, but used in its largest form thus far here. Overall refinement is generally very good but there's a noticeable gap between this 1.6 TDI diesel and the 2.0-litre version we tested on the same day. The bigger engine is noticeably quieter but it also seems to suppress such things as tyre roar and wind noise a little better too.
That apart, there's little point really in upgrading to the 2.0-litre engine, other than for bragging rights. The 1.6 TDI has found an extra 15hp from before, bringing it to 120hp and even if its torque curve feels a little under-done at times, really the bigger engine doesn't offer you an awful lot more real-world performance. You will have to work hard to get the official economy out of the 1.6 though. Of the 78mpg figure there was no sign, but 60mpg should be a realistic target for everyday driving.
What you get for your money 4/5
The new Passat is a little more expensive than the outgoing model, by about €1,100 on average, but Volkswagen defends that position by pointing out that it's an entirely new car (the last one was an update of the 2005 model) and has a great deal more technology on board. Standard specs have gone up a little across the board and Volkswagen currently has some tempting PCP and other finance offers in play at the moment, including a 1.9 per cent APR PCP offer on Highline models.
Certainly there's a lot of tech on display, including a very subtle radar-controlled cruise control on our test car, and the promise of more to come - a system that helps you reverse a trailer or caravan for example, plus a more advanced self-parking system will both be available later in the year and that's not even mentioning four-wheel drive, a twin-turbo diesel and the GTE plug-in hybrid option.
At first the new Passat seems a little too reheated, a little too much like we've seen it before. Dig a bit deeper though and its qualities start to come through. This may not be a sports car disguised as a saloon but it's going to be wonderfully easy, comfortable and smooth to live with. As slow-burners go, it's a very good one.