Beset with seemingly endless issues plaguing its vehicles, the last two years have been a nightmare for the Volkswagen brand. Locally, the brand is under fire for reliability and aftersales, whilst on a global stage, the company is still reeling from the dieselgate scandal that is set to plague its image for years to come.
Rebuilding a battered brand image is a challenging undertaking, but for Volkswagen, the journey starts now. A new distributor is in place to start with a clean slate, and this year, the brand also has a fully refreshed its core sedan line-up having replaced the Polo Sedan with the Vento, facelifted the Jetta, and all but ready to launch the all-new Passat B8.
Between the three major launches, the Passat is arguably the most crucial. Being a full model change, it gives the public a first glimpse at VW’s next chapter in this country. Success for the Passat is absolutely crucial in VW’s quest to rebuild the public’s trust in its products. At a glance, the car radiates off a positive first impression, but does it have the substance and resilience to revitalize Volkswagen’s fortunes? We flew to Langkawi to find out.
Engine: 1.8-litre, Inline-4 Transverse, Turbocharged Petrol
Power: 180PS @ 5,100 – 6,200rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1,250 – 5,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dry dual clutch automatic
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline-4 Transverse, Turbocharged Petrol
Power: 220PS @ 5,600 – 6,500rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,700 – 5,600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed wet dual clutch automatic
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, electronic stability control, hill start assist, ISOFIX
Origin: Locally-assembled at Pekan, Pahang
Like the Vento and facelifted Jetta launched earlier this year, Volkswagen is speccing the Passat with a choice of three variants for the Malaysian market. Spearheading the range is the 2.0 TSI Highline model pumping out 220PS and 350Nm from its EA888 four-cylinder turbo, immediately propelling the Passat to the forefront of the segment’s power stakes.
Below it, the 1.8-litre version of the same engine powers the Trendline and Comfortline models with a not too shabby 180PS and 250Nm. Compared to the preceding model’s engine of the same capacity that was offered as the sole powertrain, the new one gains an additional 20PS, but makes do with the same amount of torque. In any case, these are outputs that rival 2.4- to 2.5-litre Japanese D-segment sedans, so either way you choose, you won’t be short on pace.
Both engines come standard with dual clutch automatic transmissions – 7-speed dry clutch for the 1.8; 6-speed wet clutch for the 2.0. The 2.0, it is worth noting, is effectively the Golf GTI engine and drivetrain packaged into an executive sedan. Performance-wise, it puts the Passat firmly in the mix against mid- to high-spec versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
In addition to its superior outputs, the 2.0 TSI also additionally gets adaptive dampers as part of its Dynamics Chassis Control package together with the XDS+ electronic differential torque vectoring system.
Trim levels are decent across the range. The Trendline starts off with a rather austere equipment roster, but things improve as you move up the range, culminating in goodies such as keyless entry, handsfree bootlid opening, and Active Info Display - a 12.3-inch TFT screen functioning as a virtual instrument cluster. Follow this link for a more detailed breakdown of the Passat’s equipment by variant.
As part of Volkswagen’s new badging convention based loosely on the engine’s torque outputs, the 1.8-litre variants wear 280 TSI badges on the bootlid; the 2.0-litre models, meanwhile, carry the 380 TSI designation. For this media programme, VPCM gave us two variants to sample – 1.8 TSI Comfortline and 2.0 TSI Highline.
Volkswagen has yet to announce official prices for the Passat, but expect them to be competitive. Being locally-assembled, the 2.0 TSI variant should still be priced within the near side of RM200k, whilst the 1.8 TSI variants can potentially start from RM150k – RM160k thereabouts. Stay tuned for the official launch scheduled to happen on 16 Nov.
Whereas the previous Passat B7 was an extensive update of the preceding Passat B6, the latest Passat B8 is entirely new; not that this is immediately obvious at first glance. Like the Golf 7 which provided its MQB platform for use here, the B8 is styled with seemingly deliberate restraint and with a conscious effort to create an evolutionary leap from the B7.
Overall length of the Passat has contracted by 2mm from the B7’s size; in a field occupied by 4.8-metre-plus vehicles, the Passat’s 4,767mm length ensures that it has the most compact footprint within the D-segment. Compared to the B7, the B8 is wider by 12mm but shorter in height by 14mm. Crucially, the wheelbase has gained a substantial 79mm to measure 2,791mm between the axles.
The result of these dimensional alterations is a more dynamic and purposeful stance with shorter overhangs and greater width. The strong character line running along the flanks further add tension to the side profile surface whilst visually emphasizing its reduced height. For occupants, the longer wheelbase also translates to a more spacious cabin and better stability on the move.
Wheels start at 16 inches for the Trendline model and going up by increments of an inch with each jump in grade. Exhaust configurations differ too – the 1.8 TSI get dual circular pipes on the left, whilst the 2.0 TSI have integrated outlets either side of the bumper.
Both the Comfortline and Highline test cars we saw in Langkawi get LED headlights with active swivelling function. In the Trendline, this is downgraded substantially to halogen reflector units. Volkswagen’s global catalogue curiously does not provide an intermediate option, xenon projectors for example, between these two extremes, which is unfortunate. Whilst we can excuse VW dropping the costly LED headlamps for the base model, reflector-type headlamps at this price simply doesn’t cut it for the tastes of our market.
Note: Halogen reflector headlight image on left from carsales.com.au.
Compared to the outside, in-cabin revisions of the Passat are significantly more substantial. We spotted some very subtle cost-cutting measures. Most notably, the B7’s floor-hinged accelerator has been changed to a top-hinged unit, but this could simply be VW standardizing the pedal box for all its MQB cars.
Overall, however we commend VW for cleverly reinvesting those savings into other areas that, in general, elevates the B8’s cabin perceived quality not only above its predecessor but also approaching that of premium marques. A BMW 3 Series cabin, for example, cannot claim to feel like a more expensive place to sit in.
Selection materials, for example, cannot be faulted, be it the wooden dash inserts of the 2.0 or the brushed metal finish in the 1.8; both are tastefully applied and feel convincingly premium. The frameless rear view mirror, in particular, look like a properly upmarket item. Overall fit and finish is excellent to the eyes of this writer.
Ergonomics, in typical Volkswagen fashion, are difficult to fault. Be it the regular dials of the 1.8 TSI or the Active Info Display of the 2.0 TSI, instruments are clear and legible with all relevant controls within easy reach. Small item storage is decent, but not as great as before – the lidded cubby on the centre console has ostensibly shrunk from what it was in the B7 to accommodate a relocated parking brake switch. Still good enough to swallow your phone and keys though.
As required of the segment, particularly in our climate, rear air-con vents are provided and all variants get triple-zone climate control as standard where dual-zone systems are the norm.
Volkswagen Group vehicles underpinned by the MQB platform typically offer decent dynamics and the Passat is no different. Whilst the subtle nuances are tuned to deliver the classic Passat driving experience in assigning greater priority to comfort and refinement, the distinctive traits of MQB-based vehicles are present – a firm yet well-damped ride, controls sensibly calibrated for easy modulation, and progressive behaviour at the limit.
This collection of characteristics give the latest generation of VW cars wide appeal to drivers of varying skill levels – they can be pushed to the limit with confidence, yet easygoing enough to be a friendly day-to-day companion. The brakes encapsulate the new tuning mindset perfectly; previous generation Volkswagen brakes tend to lack finesse in their calibration – biting abruptly even when you feather the pedal; the Passat, like more recent models, responds to prodding of the middle pedal in more linear fashion yet still stops the car with convincing authority.
The narrow village roads of Langkawi precluded serious examination of the Passat’s stability at sustained high speed cruising, but there were sufficient kilometres of winding roads for us to test out its chassis balance around corners. Body roll is present but manageable, as the chassis meets changes in direction with progressive poise. Steering responds predictably with decent communicativeness.
In regular driving conditions, the 1.8 TSI is an adequate performer. Its outputs are competitive against 2.4- to 2.5-litre D-segment sedans with competent handling to match. Only at the limits and driven back-to-back do the 2.0 TSI’s superiority really tell – the XDS+ system provides keener turn-in around bends whilst the 100Nm torque advantage make a noticeable difference when overtaking. In fact, the 2.0’s acceleration can be described as explosive when you bury the throttle.
There can be no doubt that where the driving stakes are concerned, the Passat is among the field’s leading pack. It has the performance and handling to trump most D-segment cars and trouble a few premium compact execs along the way. Only the Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6 can really claim to exert any superiority over the Passat in this area; both of them giving the driver a greater sense of involvement. The Passat, for its impressive breadth of talents, can feel disconnected at times; not a deal-breaker for regular drivers though.
Comfort & Refinement
The new Passat seems to ride slightly firmer than its predecessor, but it’s still comfortable enough within the context of the segment. On the DCC-equipped 2.0 TSI model, dialling the adaptive dampers to Comfort mode brings about a truly plush ride quality, although we found the 1.8 TSI entirely adequate in most situations during the drive.
Road roar can get surprisingly loud, but other sources of noise are well muted. This shortcoming can be addressed easily enough by quieter tyres or aftermarket sound-deadening materials near the wheel arch.
Of note is the impressive damping of vibrations that allow the auto stop/start system of both models to operate almost imperceptibly.
Recent reliability issues have burned Volkswagen badly enough that they do not care for a repeat of that episode.
One reason why the B8 is launched in Malaysia more than two years after its global debut was that the local team had spent 18 months testing the vehicles on our local roads. Some cars in the test fleet had clocked as much as 200,000km during that short period and did not suffer anything beyond regular wear and tear. The cars were given regular mileage-based maintenance.
We will have to wait and see if any improvements are forthcoming at the service centres, but at least the homework has been done at product level.
Without an official price to work with, it is difficult to come to a proper consideration of the Passat B8’s case. We’d hazard a guess that the mid-spec Comfortline model will take over where the B7 left off at RM170k thereabouts. Ideally, we’d like to see the Trendline at the RM150k ballpark and the Highline to stay on the near side of RM200k.
Evaluated without the baggage of Volkswagen’s recent troubles, the Passat is without doubt an excellent vehicle. It boasts a timeless design outside, nicely-appointed cabin inside, well-equipped, decent to drive, and superbly engineered. We’d say it has a claim of being pseudo-luxury vehicle, and can be legitimately considered as an alternative to cars in the C-Class and 3 Series segment.
Can the Passat be the saviour of Volkswagen’s fortunes? Perhaps it can, but not likely to through sales numbers. What this new Passat needs to accomplish is to go through an entire model cycle without any major technical issues cropping up. This is the model that needs to consign the infamous DSG failures to the past, and rebuild consumer confidence in the brand. Once positive word of mouth spreads, the journey to rebuild Volkswagen can truly begin.