The Passat is a current VW hit. Crisply-cut lines are classy and conscientious, a well judged interior provides feel-good vibes, while the vast majority are sold with diesel units. Oh yes, the world just love. TDIs: and now they come in 170 bhp ‘sport’ garb
To build upon the Passat’s enviable reputation, and also help take it further upmarket, VW has fitted an engine with BMW-beating power. 320d, with a price tag from £23,995 but just 163PS to show for it? Pah!
£21,195 not only buys you a Passat Sport with more standard kit, but a juicy 170PS of diesel firepower to boot. £2,800 in the bank (or, more likely, less to pay every month to the company car tax man) and a smidgen more torque for the fast-lane dice? Makes sense… … Particularly given the reality of those fast lanes. Not so fast. In fact, the only thing getting a workout is your left leg on the clutch pedal. What sense, therefore, to choose an auto, despite the extra fuel they consume and, therefore, the extra money you have to pay on your emissions-based company car tax scheme.
But, “Ah ha!”, goes VW. What if you could use some of that ‘money in hand’ over the BMW, and have an auto that was actually as quick as the manual, plus the speediest, most intuitive gear-changer this side of an F1 car? Welcome, readers, to the Passat TDI 170 DSG. A car that looks like it could blind with common sense those it attracts. The engine seems, on paper, a tuned version of the 2.0-litre TDI 140 fitted to oh-so many cars (VW, Seat, Skoda, Audi, Mitsubishi, zzzz…). Same 1968cc block, same pump-jet injection (as opposed to common-rail, which rumour has it will supplant pump-jet in the next few years).
The only apparent difference is hi-tech Piezo fuel injectors – a filter-down from the 3.0-litre TDI and, apparently, hugely expensive. A red ‘I’ for the TDI badge signifies the 170’s presence. Nowadays though, the badging is so small, onlookers are likely to miss this. What will be the giveaway is when you utilise that 258 lb ft of torque and zap away from them, relatively lag-free, with added vigour, but little of the usual TDI black smoke. That’s because TDI 170s come fitted with a particulate filter as standard (it’s optional on the 140), for proper clean-air-ability. In operation, this is the smoothest four-cylinder TDI engine ever.
One of VW’s German engineers told me the Piezo injectors help with this by honing the combustion process more precisely and operating more quietly. But a bigger help is another significant addition: twin balancer shafts. These counter-rotate and reduce secondary vibrations by up to 80 per cent. And you really can tell the difference. The TDI, stripped of resonance, is now here. Another VW acronym, DSG, is usually miraculous. VW Group’s twin-clutch gearbox has been discussed at length in these pages, usually positively, and rightly so. But the £1,345 unit is not quite brilliant here. Most annoying is the delay to the accelerator at low speed.
Shuffling into a parking space, where you’re on and off the throttle, sees the Passat take a breath before every response, then surge forward. Alarmed, you lift off, and the Passat runs out of puff; drive is disengaged so you have to do the same again. Parking close up to walls and pillars is a nightmare.And while shifts remain brilliantly quick, it can be confused if you, say, roll slowly up to traffic lights, then boot it as they change. It was surprising to feel snatched shifts at times, too. The magic is there but a few warts can be felt. And aren’t DSG ’boxes meant to offer better economy than manuals? Not here: 43.5mpg is 2.8mpg down on the six-speed manual. As for suspension, I like the standard Passat’s set-up.
For long-striding comfort, it’s superb; great ride, fluid manners and a non-sporty edge that suits it perfectly. For Sport models, in lowering and stiffening the suspension and fitting 17-inch alloys, VW has upset the balance. The ride is much jigglier and irritable, thumping loudly over bumps at times and never really settling, even on the motorway. Yet the benefits in handling prowess don’t seem worth it. Yes, it has lots of grip and less roll, but it’s still not a BMW-like indulgence. Faster the steering may be, but it’s also rather cloudy, and generally, the rightness of the standard car feels pegged-back somewhat.
An SE is preferable, and strikes a better trade-off. Inside, things are also mixed. Sporty seats are deep, comfortable and have lots of thigh support, but exiting them can be a bit awkward; taller drivers will find them positioned slightly behind the B-pillar. There’s plenty of space in the back, and the remoteopening boot (press the keyfob and the bootlid releases and then springs open) is more useful than you’d ever imagine. But while it’s very well-assembled and designed simply and attractively, the dashboard lacks some of the bulletproof solidity that Passats were once noted for. Insert the keyfob, and the surround echoes tinnily, while hard plastics reveal themselves elsewhere.
They keyfob itself irritates at times, too. You press the remote itself to start the car, but if it doesn’t catch, you must jab again to release, then reinsert and press down to engage starter. What’s wrong with a key? The space it eats is what’s wrong with a regular handbrake, and the Passat’s huge centre console is certainly useful. But they don’t seem to have quite perfected the electronic handbrake, which sometimes doesn’t quite do what you expected it to. More brake wobblies, too: DSG models feature ‘auto hold’ as standard. Press it, and brakes are locked after you come to a halt, so you can take your foot off the brake pedal. This works well (apart from jamming on at very low speed in traffic when I was quite happy to continue rolling). It does, however, need to be turned on each time you restart (if you forget, you’ll wonder why you’re rolling into the car behind) and the DSG lever hides the button. Set up for LHD, it’s not been swapped over for RHD. Penny-pinchers…
Overall the Passat TDI 170 Sport DSG is a mouthful, and a curious car. The smooth, rapid engine is brilliant, but what makes the standard car so good seems to have been slightly jumbled. I suspect the mammoth torque of the TDI also upsets the DSG ’box, taking the edge off its talents. Be in no doubt, it’s capable. But the extra you pay here leads you to follow VW’s hint and compare it to the 3-Series… yet the bits that they’ve ‘enhanced’ to justify this come with niggles that mean it’s not quite up there. A TDI 140 SE is slower, less smooth, but nicer – and likely to mate more comfortably with the DSG ’box, too.
On sale: Now // Price from; £21,195 //
Main rivals: Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Ford Mondeo
- Price: £22,540
- Engine: 1968cc, four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel
- Max Power: 170PS at 4,200rpm
- Max Torque: 258lb ft at 1,750rpm
- Combined Consumption:43.5mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 172g/km (E)
- 0-62mph: 8.6secs
- Max speed: 136mph
Electric front/rear windows
Electronic parking brake with hill hold function
Climate control with cooled glovebox
LED rear lights
Remote central locking
Automatic dimming interior rear-view mirror
Driver’s seat with electric 6-way adjustment automatic lights
Front centre armrest with two rear air vents
Front fog lights
Darkened rear glass
Leather steering wheel and gear knob
Single CD player
Sports suspension, lowered by approx.15 mm
White turn signal lights
Excellent engine is a current four-pot TDI zenith, with impeccable manners and impressive haste. It’s wellbuilt, good-looking and makes drivers proud
DSG not the star we remember, while electronic aids are useful but niggly. Ride is spoiled and the fluidity of the standard car has been diluted