2016 Passat Sport: The straight-laced sedan

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2016 Passat Sport: The straight-laced sedan

Volkswagen's mid-sizer gets a mild refresh inside and out to help keep it competitive against the likes of the segment's heavyweights, such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Fri 15 Jul 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 15 Jul 2016, 2:00 AM

Volkswagen has been held up on emission-related allegations on their diesel cars in the past year, but they still offer potential customers a competent range of petrol-powered affordable sedans, hatchbacks and crossovers to choose from. So, in this week's issue, we turn our focus to the range-topping Sport trim of the newly refreshed 2016 Volkswagen Passat.
Believe it or not, the Passat - named after a trade wind in German, like many other Volkswagens - has been around since 1973 and we, in the Middle East, have seen at least seven generations of the car. Now, VW would like you to think that they have perfected the idea of the family sedan but, as we all know, the Passat belongs to (arguably) the most competitive segment in the auto-industry: the mid-size sedan - a segment that is ruled by best-sellers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. So, how exactly does the Passat stack up against them? Here's our take on the family-friendly sedan.

Originally, the Passat was offered in several formats. It came as a 2-door, a 4-door sedan and similar looking 3- and 5-door versions, all of which shared a fastback style roof design. It was styled by the great Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who has also designed Nikon cameras, Apple computer prototypes and some great cars like the Lotus Espirit and a few Ferraris. In any case, the standard issue Passat we have today is a 4-door mid-size sedan.
Let's talk size. From the outside, the Passat looks like a fairly large sedan, seemingly larger than the Accord and Camry. To be precise, it's 4,858 mm long, 1,832 mm wide and 1,472 mm tall. It shares a profile that is neither obtrusive nor annoying, but it isn't daring like some other cars in the class. It has a simple and straight-laced three-box design (obviously not as boxy as they once were).
The transformation we talked about starts with the hood. What was once a flat sheet metal no more illustrious than a serving tray, on the predecessor, now has extra creases that add character to the car. To create a more emphatic frontal design, the VW boffins have managed to run a chrome strip along the front edge of the hood right above the headlamps; its brows are on point, as they say. Along with the new domed hood, with the converging creases, comes a more substantial four-bar grille; and, with the SEL and Sport trims, you get the GTI-style LED-powered lamps and tail lamps. Other not-so-significant changes include those to the front and rear bumpers.
The base "S" model comes with 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers to which we say "No, no". If you wish to get a Passat, upgrade to the more muscular 16-inch and 17-inch alloys choices you get with the SE or SEL trim, respectively. The 18-inch "Chattanooga" alloys are reserved for the Sport trim, named after the fourth-largest city in the US state of Tennessee. Interestingly, the other alloys' names, Knoxville and Carolina, are also American places. We were expecting names like Bavaria or Nürburg, until we found out that most of these Passats are actually made in the US. That explained it!
All in all, the new Passat is a sober-looking sedan with a few visually engaging features. It may not scream pomp and wealth, but is well aligned with styling asked for by a mature and responsible audience. We only wish the Middle East would get the eighth-generation sedan, which, in today's scene, could very well be the best in its class.
Step into the cabin and you're transported to an 80's-style interior in a rather appeasing way - with a focus on simple horizontal lines and rectangular fixtures. The seats upfront are large and comfy. But only with the top-spec Sport trim do you get seats upholstered in supple hide and 8-way and 6-way power adjustability, for the driver and passenger respectively. Speaking of leather, this car has the softest, silkiest arm rests on the door that we have ever seen on a car.
To our surprise, the Passat has a rather welcoming rear cabin too. My friends who got in the backseat found themselves swimming in a vast expanse of space, thanks to the enormous legroom and more-than-sufficient headroom. Feel free to play soccer or get yogic in there! Also, if you have a child strapped into a child seat, you won't have a problem of them kicking into the back of the front seats - their legs just won't reach.
As for the Passat's storage facilities, you have fairly
large cup holders, map pockets in the doors and a deep central cubby to stash away semi-precious items like shades, papers etc.
From the driver's seat, we like the very GTI-esque 3-spoke steering wheel that was a good hold in the city and on the highways; the borrowed instrumentation is simple and legible too. We also like the frameless rear-view mirror. What we don't like is the faux wood trim - it lacks conviction. But, overall, we do appreciate the quality of the fixtures; the feel you get from clicking a button and turning a knob is top-drawer, though the size, or the lack of it, in some of the switchgear is questionable.
On the technological front, you have a 6.3-inch display that is usable but, in this day and age, they can use a screen bigger than a phablet, especially since every other manufacturer is doing it. The display, however, is a responsive unit that utilises a capacitive touch sensor, like that on smartphones, which enables gesture controls like swiping and pinch-zooming.

The Passat is a surprising performer - and not in the conventional sense. Yes, it lacks turbo charging and stop/start functionality; yet, it delivers fuel economy figures very close to the claimed 7.35l/100km. If you go easy on the right pedal, it will surprise you even further. As for range, not all responsibility falls on the shoulders of efficiency and technology - the Passat has a large 70-litre tank, which will take you places. without a refill.
How about the drivability - does it gain a few brownie points? With one person in the car, it cruises along fine, pulling you forward and past traffic with a light nudge from the right foot - but, as soon as you add occupants and luggage, it can seem to run out of breath from time to time. We did expect more oomph from the 2.5-litre inline 5-cylinder engine. The 168 bhp it churns out is roughly 10 to 15 shy of its competitors, hence the slight performance deficit.  But forward motion isn't everything; the steering provides good tactility and decent communication between road surfaces, rubber and your left-right inputs.
On the go, the traditional 6-speed automatic transmission does a good job of seamlessly swapping ratios. It even provides a quick kick-down and skips a few ratios, if and when necessary. The smoothness in the powertrain combines with a well-sorted suspension that rides over bumps oh-so-casually, with a little help from its 2,810 mm wheelbase to provide a fuss-free journey.
As for braking - the most underrated KPI - the Passat provides for predictable stopping power and dynamics, whether it is casual braking or emergency braking. No cause for concern there!
In the end, the 2.5-litre motor - which is the only option available for Middle Eastern customers - does a fairly competent job. The disappointment is that, even though Volkswagen has a turbo 1.8-litre engine with more torque and better fuel efficiency that powers Passats in other countries, it is not available to us even as an option.

Volkswagen has owned the term "practicality" with the Passat. Besides the extra-large rear cabin, there is also a ginormous 568-litre boot, to boot. It's the largest we have seen in its class or any sedan. The trunk opening is rather welcoming too.
The good news is that even the base "S" model comes with the essentials, such as cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel, an audio system with a CD-player, SD-Card reader, AUX-IN and USB interface, as well as the latest Mirrorlink technology. In addition, you also have Bluetooth, voice control and parking sensors, front and back.
This base trim may seem like all the Passat you want. But if you want to get the comforts of a leather-wrapped steering, and the convenience of fog lamps and rear camera, which we think is necessary, you need to step up to the SE trim.
The higher SEL trim brings two-zone climatronic air conditioning and a more vocal Fender sound system with subwoofer. Speaking of air conditioners, it may not have been Volkswagen's forte car in the past but, surprisingly, the Passat delivers decent cooling with a good breeze and chill overall, exercising good control over cabin comfort.
If full-options is the way to go (and the only way you know), you have the Sport trim that adds leather sport seats, navigation system, more USB slots and easy-open keyless access that opens the trunk via shaking your foot under the rear bumper.
Besides those mentioned above, Volkswagen offers a range of safety features as standard to keep your family safe, such as airbags, ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Automatic Post-Collision Braking System - a technology that acknowledges that a collision is rarely a single unfortunate action, but rather a sequence of events. The system helps apply the brakes after a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, thus preventing the car from crashing into other obstacles in its way.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is the family man's (or woman's) accomplice. With great rear cabin space, a big boot to carry your luggage and decent fuel economy to keep the overheads low, the Passat is a rolling exposé of what the practical sedan should be. And with the current scene, Volkswagen offers deals with a 0% down payment and 0% interest, so it's a good time to consider one. However, if you're looking for quicker getaways and loud new age styling, look elsewhere!
Body type: 5-seater; 4-door mid-size sedan
Engine: Front-engine; 2.5-litre inline 5-cylinder; front-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed tiptronic (automatic)
Peak output: 168 bhp @ 5,700 rpm; 240 Nm @ 4,250 rpm
Price: Starting at Dh87,900

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