What are you driving?
What am I driving? I'm driving a car that you, yes you - the Irish car buyer - have ceased to care about. You, we, all of us - we just don't buy estates, except in tiny numbers. Bearing in mind that, post-Brexit, we are now considering ourselves to be more European than our near neighbours, it's a shocking (not really shocking, but y'know) surprise to see that we're so far out of lockstep with estate-heavy European tastes. Even the Brits buy vastly more estates than do we.
That will lead to an inevitable conclusion. Estates will disappear from Irish price lists. It's already happening - the excellent, versatile, VW Golf Estate is already dead and gone as far as Irish eyes are concerned - and this gorgeous Passat Estate could well be next on the chopping block.
Gorgeous? Well, let's get back to that in a moment. First off, this is the recently updated Passat in that it has just been given a mild tweak for 2020. That includes some lightly revised styling, most noticeable in the shapes of the new LED lights and the front bumper, and some extra electronic driver aids that allow it to guide itself for a few seconds at a time on main roads. The interior has been given a light dusting of newness too.
Our test car is an R-Line model, and it clocks in at a fairly pricey €47k on the road. That's thanks to top-spec R-Line trim, for which VW basically goes through the options list and ticks everything, in Sharpie for extra emphasis. Thus, it has a sporty R-Line body kit, digital instruments, the big 9.2-inch touchscreen, 'top comfort' ergonomic seats with leather and heat, ambient lighting and dynamic LED headlights.
On top of which, someone at Volkswagen Ireland broke out their own Sharpie and added ticks for stunning Lapiz Blue metallic paint, keyless entry, powered tailgate, Nappa leather for all occupant bottoms, sports suspension, grey-finished 'Pretoria' 19-inch alloy wheels and even more advanced Matrix LED headlights.
Name its best bits
Yes, it's a Passat. Yes, it's an estate. And yes, I did say gorgeous. It's not just the blue paint and the grey wheels (although they certainly push our aesthetic buttons), but it's also the basic shape of the Passat Estate. True, it's hardly a striking silhouette, but it is neat, well-proportioned, clean of line and pleasingly understated. The 2020 updates have brought with them a deeper, more sculpted front air dam (which looks nice) and the R-Line body kit looks appropriately sporty.
Inside, those extra-comfy seats live up to their billing, while the combination of crisp, clear digital instruments and exceptional build quality make for a very satisfying cabin. Better yet, the huge 650-litre boot (only the mechanically similar Skoda Superb Combi offers more) makes a mockery of any thoughts that buying an SUV means buying a practical family car. That's a good 200 litres more than you can squash into the back of a Hyundai Tucson or Nissan Qashqai.
Get the Passat into its natural habitat - lane one of a major motorway - and it excels. It's smooth, comforting and comfortable, safe (this one had active cruise control and a blind-spot monitor) and refined. It's also economical, as you'd expect of a TDI diesel, although we didn't quite manage to match the official 5.2 litres per 100km number - 6.5 litres/100km was what we saw overall. As a way of crossing even our relatively small country, it's pretty hard to beat.
It's not as invigorating to steer as, say, the Mazda6 or Ford Mondeo, but even so the Passat never feels anything less than pleasingly sure-footed and precise through corners. Not a drivers' car, then, but a hugely satisfying thing to drive.
Anything that bugs you?
There are a couple of annoyances, but they're mostly to do with spec. The combo of the 19-inch wheels and the sports suspension made this Passat just a little too stiff in the knees at times, so if it were down to me, I'd ditch the firmer springs and keep the wheels. The 150hp 2.0-litre diesel is also both a little too rough on the ears and too unresponsive to the throttle, so I'd bin that too, and instead go for the excellent (and economical) 150hp 1.5 TSI turbo petrol engine. Also, a judicious trimming of the (admittedly tempting) equipment list of this car would bring the price back down to somewhat saner levels.
And why have you given it this rating?
We need to buy this car. You need to buy it. Everyone should have a good estate car (and this Passat is most definitely a good estate car) in their lives. Honestly, the whole SUV thing is pure bunkum. You're paying top cash for bottom cars, whereas if you buy a Passat Estate such as this one, you're getting a proper, real, serious car, one that can effortlessly mix family and work life, and which looks damned good doing it. Don't let it wither on the vine.