What makes a great car? Is it the performance? Is it the size? Is it the features and the gadgetry it has? Is it the price? Is it the number of seats? Is it the fuel economy? Or is it the leg-room or something else all together? Well, to me, it is all about the package, and if a car can meet the needs of the people it is targeted at, then it becomes successful.
The new Volkswagen Passat, which will be unveiled to the Malaysian public in a matter of days, is one car that I think will fit a particular niche very well, and the reason I am so very excited about it is that it seems to be the perfect fit for someone who is just like me – a person who likes to drive, but who also needs a car of a certain size, a person who demands sporty performance from his ride, but also needs comfort, because he needs to carry passengers and also needs a sizeable boot to carry luggage. Quick acceleration, a decent top speed, good handling characteristics, high speed stability, and reasonable fuel consumption also play a part. The final factors would be the overall looks, and of course the retail price.
Many cars that are available in the market right now would fit the above ‘requirements’, but the one that is the closest fit, at least as far as I am concerned, would be the all-new VW Passat. Here are the reasons why:-
Affordable Price Expected
VW have not announced the price, but the current Passat, which is locally assembled, retails at RM173,888.00. Based on the current ‘soft’ market situation, and the fact that many car makers are in fact reducing their car prices, I do not expect a huge jump, if any, in the retail price. The new Passat will be also locally assembled, and will be available in three variants, namely, the lower specked 1.8 litre Trend Line, the mid-specked 1.8 litre Comfort Line, and the top-of-the range 2.0 litre High Line. This is just my guess, but in the best case scenario, I would venture to guess the base model to be priced around RM160+k, and perhaps an RM30k difference to the top model.
One of the factors influencing this ‘guess’ is a statement by a VW representative that the Passat has been qualified for ‘EEV’ status (Energy Efficient Vehicle), the benefit of which is some discounts in duties. We will know for sure in a few days. I have also heard that order-taking based on ‘estimated prices’ will begin shortly. Depending on your own specific needs and the size of your pocketbook, you can take your pick of any of the three available specifications.
Right Sized Sedan
Actually there is no ideal size for a car – a large car would suit some, but could be too bulky for others, while a small car would be lighter and more agile, but space would be compromised. In my context of right sized, it means a car that is ‘balanced’ – neither too small, nor too big (and somehow this brings to mind Goldilocks and the Three Bears). As a point in comparison, the new Passat has a longer wheelbase of 2,791mm which is 79mm longer than its predecessor, and the new Passat’s overall length of 4,844mm is exactly 97 mm longer than its predecessor. The new Passat is also 12mm wider, at 1,832mm, while being lower by 25mm.
The current convention amongst Japanese automotive makers is a wheelbase of 2,700mm, which can be seen in the Mazda 3, and the Corolla Altis. Compared to the European cars, the Passat’s wheelbase is 29mm shorter than that of the current Mercedes-Benz C Class, and 19mm shorter than the current F30 BMW 3 Series. However, the Passat is wider than both the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C Class, and is marginally longer than the BMW 3 Series as well.
As a note in passing, there is no fixed convention for car dimensions, but for easy understanding, I would venture to say that the Passat is a C segment car. What I like about the Passat, which I do not have in my current car, is the expansive interior room, with good ‘living space’ for all occupants, plus the large boot – now I don’t have to bring my truck whenever I have to pick up guests with luggage at the airport. At the same time it is not big to the point of being ‘clumsy’.
Whatever You Want, Whenever You Need it
The Passat is a car that can be whatever you want it to be, whenever you need it. If you have a need for power, there is 220 horsepower on tap, backed up by 350Nm of torque, thanks to the 2.0 litre turbo-charged TSI Engine which is essentially the same engine that powers the Golf GTi. Mated to this engine is a 6-speed DSG, the same one that is found in the Golf GTi too. I have always been a fan of the Golf GTi, but what has kept me from buying one is its size – quite right for some, perhaps, but I need something a little larger. Now that VW has put the mechanicals of the Golf GTi into the Passat, it’s a boon to me. Before I forget, the new Passat is built on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, which allows more flexibility in terms of drive train combinations.
Okay, so I have got GTi power in a Passat sedan – the turbocharger gets me the power of a 3.0 litre engine, but if I go ‘easy’ on the throttle, I can enjoy frugal fuel consumption. No official figures have been released as yet, but an overseas website cites ‘About 5-6L/100km in motorway cruising. This climbs to 7-10L/100km around town‘. These quoted numbers are probably without the air-conditioner on, and in the Malaysian context, expect a little higher number than that.
The point is, you have a choice – you can choose to drive hard and thoroughly enjoy yourself, or drive sanely and sedately to get excellent fuel consumption.
In the High Line (2.0 litre model), there is a Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) feature in which there are five ‘Driving Modes’ for the driver to select. There is ECO, COMFORT, NORMAL, SPORT and INDIVIDUAL. With each mode selection, the engine mapping, the transmission mapping, and steering and suspension characteristics change accordingly, and on INDIVIDUAL setting, the driver can make his own combination of settings and save it. Thus the Passat is a car that can be set, all on the Touchscreen display, to suit your mood and fancy.
We had a short stint with the all-new Passat in Langkawi island – this included a hectic climb up a hilly road, and the Passat was a great pleasure to drive. We drove both the 1.8 litre and 2.0 litre variants – the 1.8 litre is already very impressive, with very quick acceleration thanks to 180 horsepower and 250Nm of torque, delivered to the front wheels through a 7-speed DSG. The DCC feature is not available on the 1.8 litre variants, but the standard suspension setting is a very good balance between ride comfort and overall handling.
The 2.0 litre has a 40 horsepower advantage (220 horsepower) and an additional 100Nm, which makes a great difference – DCC allows you to select a more sports-oriented suspension setting, and the larger 18-inch wheels with lower profile tyres help with the handling – I keep getting the impression that I am in a Golf GTi (a more comfortable version).
I won’t bother you with the other details – there are many features, especially in the 2.0 litre model, such as a hands-free boot opener, park assist that works for side parking as well as for straight parking, both forwards and reverse parking, leather seats, paddle shifter, etc, etc, that makes it my pick – so if you are in the market for some good driving, check out the new Passat – the 1.8 is a great car that can easily satisfy 80 to 85 percent of the people who are looking for a car in this category – you will like the way it drives, the smooth power delivery, the creature comforts, and the ride, amongst other things. If you are like me, as in, you belong to the 15 or 20 percent that demand a little more, the 2.0 litre model is the one to select. Better still, if you have a Golf GTi, but need something bigger, the Passat 2.0 is a natural choice.