In a motoring world filled with more style than substance, the delightfully understated Passat delivers consistently – and in ways you don’t expect.
Now eight generations in, the Volkswagen Passat nameplate is one of the oldest in the brand’s line-up. But ageing isn’t always such a bad thing, or so it seems.
Officially launching in Australia in 2015 before being treated to a comprehensive facelift in 2019, the ‘B8’ Passat range was reunited with its 206TSI range-topper in Australia last year to add some properly sporting flavour to the line-up.
With a punchy four-cylinder under the bonnet and all-wheel drive, Passat 206TSI R-Line plays on the heartstrings of the enthusiast but with a price tag of $65,890 before on-road costs, it’s also tauntingly close to a Golf R wagon at $68,990 and that presents a genuine dilemma.
Without a true head-to-head we can’t just make this decision for you, but what we can say is the Passat is a lot easier to get your hands on, with wait times on the Golf R stretching out to 12 months due to overwhelming demand.
In contrast, there are a handful of MY22 Passat 206TSI R-Line models sitting in dealerships right now (as of August 2022), though if you have a unique specification in mind, you’re looking at a wait of up to nine months.
But are you losing out on that high-performance flavour by opting for the R-Line? Well, it may not pack the same punch but then again the larger Passat wagon isn’t trying to either.
Like the rest of the Passat range, the 206TSI R-Line makes use of Volkswagen’s faithful EA888 engine, though this one is a little bit more special than most.
With peak power turned up to 206kW and torque following suit at 350Nm, the Passat isn’t hanging about. And despite its healthy outputs, the engine doesn’t feel peaky in its delivery, and in many ways feels reminiscent of a larger displacement engine.
As it turns out, Volkswagen knows a thing or two about turbocharging.
Curiously, the Passat 206TSI makes do with a six-speed ‘DSG’ dual-clutch transmission, rather than the newer seven-speed unit fitted to the Arteon, but it’s hard to fault the flexibility or smoothness from the Passat’s gearbox around town. That said, there is a small amount of engagement lag when first stepping off the line that some may find irritating.
The standard-fit adaptive dampers offer superb body control and give a direct feeling to how the Passat 206TSI drives but without compromising the ride. Even when traversing some seriously gnarly backroads on its firmest setting, the ride was impressively composed.
Pitching this 1655kg wagon into a bend reveals an engaging front end, and while it’s not as agile as a shorter Golf, the speed the Passat can carry is impressive given its size.
Much of the Passat’s pace can be attributed to its intelligent all-wheel-drive system that applies this grunt to the road so quickly, even if the open differential at the rear does little to combat the front-driven feeling.
Volkswagen’s clever new twin-clutch rear differential that made its debut on the Golf and Tiguan R models could offer a solution to this flaw. It has the ability to deploy up to 100 percent of the rear-axle torque (and up to 50 percent of overall grunt) to each individual wheel, allowing it to kick its tail around an apex at a surprising rate of knots.
But it’s important to remember that this is not a fully-fledged ‘R’ model, and the AWD system fitted to the Passat is plenty capable of serious pace if you happen upon a B-road.
Earlier this year, ANCAP made the controversial decision to expire the Passat’s five-star rating but, as Volkswagen Australia rightly pointed out at the time, in 2022 this is a significantly safer vehicle than when it launched seven years ago.
While lacking modern innovations like a front-centre airbag, the Passat features explosive pillows just about everywhere else; with two up front, beside the driver’s knee as well as side and curtain airbags across the front and back seats. In addition, standard driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist that all performed well in our testing.
It’s also worth noting that the Passat is equipped with forward and reversing AEB as standard, the latter of which is critical for family buyers and yet is still an optional extra on popular midsize SUVs such as the Kia Sportage and Toyota RAV4 – and isn’t even available on the Honda CR-V.
But with semiconductors still in short supply, Volkswagen has opted to remove some of the safety features from all MY23-badged Passat Alltrack and wagon models.
Omissions include Volkswagen’s Proactive Occupant Protection system, which takes pre-emptive action by tensioning the seatbelt and closing the windows ahead of a possible crash, along with Side Assist (blind-spot monitoring and emergency lane-change intervention) and rear-cross traffic alert.
Volkswagen has offered a $900 discount on the price of the Passat as consolation but the end result is disappointing for buyers. Reflecting a trend that is sadly common when purchasing a new car.
If the removal of these safety features is a deal breaker for you as a buyer, check Volkswagen’s website for MY22 stock, with broader safety equipment fitment, as some still remain at the time of publication in August, 2022.
Although getting on in years, the interior of the Passat is a lesson in why good design never dates and knowing when enough is simply enough.
Although the R-Line variant is fitted with Volkswagen’s last-generation infotainment system, the 9.2-inch display is crisp, bright and (unlike rivals from Mazda, Hyundai and Kia) doesn’t require a cable to connect to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
This setup is a reminder that Volkswagen can still make a snappy and well-thought out infotainment that works with you. And unlike the latest-generation system in the Mk8 Golf it doesn’t relegate all climate controls into the touchscreen, instead using touch-capacitive sliders and buttons that are quite satisfying to use.
While other carmakers persist with old-style USB A ports, Volkswagen has long since switched to USB C ports and the Passat of the cabin is all the better for it, building on this equipment with modern features such as ambient lighting, a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display and a panoramic roof to create a more modern and airy space inside.
That’s not to say there weren’t some misses. The lack of a wireless phone charging despite the implementation of wireless Apple CarPlay is odd and the 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system fitted to our test car had distortion issues in the front left speaker, perhaps due to user abuse. This is a shame, because it showed an impressive depth of sound and quality at all other times.
Being the sporty R-Line model, you shouldn’t be surprised to find Volkswagen’s Nappa leather ErgoComfort bucket seats up front. The pair do a great job at holding you in place when driving dynamically, though some may find the aggressive bolstering make entry and egress a bit theatrical.
Once sat in place, however, the 14-way adjustable front seats are incredibly comfortable and allow the user to tinker with lumbar adjustment and use the massage function. The front row also benefits from seat heating, though unlike the 162TSI Elegance, it misses out on cooling.
It’s a similar story in the backseats, which offered plenty of room to sit behind my own driving position at 183cm and solid under-thigh support. Rear air vents and pull-up sunshades should also make this a very child-friendly space.
The boot of the Passat measures an impressive 650 litres with all the seats up, but fold the 40/20/40 split back seats down and it measures a huge 1780 litres in size.
During our time with the Passat 206TSI R-Line across a variety of highways, suburban and performance testing, we saw an average consumption of 9.6L/100km which isn’t too bad but you do need to fill up with 98-octane fuel.
Volkswagen offers an industry-standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for the Passat which is good but it’s worth considering that the Skoda Superb can be had with a longer seven-year warranty if you purchase pre-paid servicing of the same length.
Service intervals for the Passat 206TSI are every 12 months or 15,000km which isn’t bad for a car with this sort of mild performance application.
Like many manufacturers, Volkswagen offers a capped price servicing program but it’s worth mentioning that it also offers a choice of pre-paid servicing plans.
Buyers can opt for a three-year plan for $1650 or a five-year plan $3000, which discounts the cost of the first service. Volkswagen says the packs save $165 and $963 respectively in comparison to paying for each service after the fact.
Seen here in a handsome shade of Lapiz Blue, the Volkswagen Passat 206TSI R-Line presents as a more aggressive take on the classic wagon format and perhaps that’s exactly what it needs to survive.
Volkswagen offers more wagons than just about anyone else and while the Passat isn’t the fastest of the lot, what it lacks in outright pace it pays back in spades through its inherent maturity and sheer breadth of ability.
The Passat may have been around for a while, but Volkswagen has clearly been honing this family wagon over time, ushering in important updates to keep its technology suite in sync with modern demands and an alluring, if temporarily compromised, safety package.
With Australian buyers focused so intently on a car that can ‘do it all’ the Passat is a left-field option in the eyes of the general population. And yet it ticks more boxes than many popular SUVs and does so while retaining a distinct on-road personality.
And if you really need that extra ground clearance, just get the Alltrack.
Variant tested 206TSI R-LINE
Key specs (as tested)
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