Volkswagen: 2014 Passat R-Line wagon review

Volkswagen: 2014 Passat R-Line wagon review

For a while there it looked like the days of that most practical and stoic of motoring beasts, the station wagon, were numbered. Yet to paraphrase a famous Mark Twain quote; ‘reports of (their) death (would appear to) have been greatly exaggerated.’

Take the latest wagon version of Volkswagen’s Passat.

Local importer Volkswagen New Zealand has big plans for Passat, particularly the wagon model/s which – with help both from head office and the exchange rate – offer the sort of bang for your buck hitherto the preserve of more prosaic models.

VW Passat 5webKey to the value offer is Volkswagen’s R-line, a spec/trim level which sees all 2WD sedan and wagon models sold here in’ sports-spec’ with prices starting at just $48,750 for the petrol-fueled 1798cc/118kW sedan and $49,990 for the wagon, and just $50,750 & $51,990 for their diesel (1968/103kW) siblings.

While the chunky, assymetrical multi-function steering wheel – with its flat bottom, stitched leather trim and extravagant thumb cutouts – is a little over-the-top for work or school-run duties the rest of the package is hard to fault.

Outside R-line models are distinguished by a new, deeper, more angular front, and a subtle chrome trim line which carries on along the sill to the similarly re-shaped rear bumper. Yes there are badges but you have to look hard to find them

VW Passat 10web(the one at the front is recessed into the grille).

Inside the basic black of the sports-style seats is offset by contrasting grey inserts – and the decorative brushed aluminium inserts and brushed stainless steel door sill trims and pedals. Note quite ‘GTi.’ But close.

The current platform is no longer a spring chicken yet it continues to provide a typically solid yet dynamic mix of room, comfort and – when needed – agility. Helping in that regard is the suspension and wheel/tyre package.

Where other manufacturers would be happy to slap on a set of mags and get the boys in the paint shop to apply a go-fast stripe, Volkswagen’s R-line takes a more VW Passat 2webholistic approach, matching firmer springs and dampers with a lower (by 15mm) ride height, larger brake rotors and calipers, (in this case) 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile 235/40 Continental self-sealing tyres (including a full-size spare).

Ride is firm on surface irregularities, particularly at round-town speeds, but compliance builds with road speed. Push the limit of those chunky Continentals and there’s more understeer than you might imagine given the spec of the suspension. That said, turn-in is as sharp as a QC and feedback and feel at the wheel as tactile as a ball of warm plasticine, a rare combination in anything less than a $100K+ sports coupe.

The day-to-day reality, of course, is that it is ergonomics and safety features – the VW Passat 4webcarbohydrates, if you like, of any modern car meal – that define the modern motor car. So it is with the Passat wagon.

Cabin wise there is more than enough room for a family of four, even my 1.9 metre tall teenager commented on how much leg room he had in the back. My initial feeling from the (multi-adjustable) driver’s seat was that there wasn’t enough room  between steering wheel and knee. A quick fiddle around the base soon sorted that though, the wheel both height and reach adjustable.

To earn its 5-star EuroNCAP safety rating the Passat comes complete (as all new cars sold here should) with electronic stability control including brake assist, as well as ABS, EDL, TCS and a trailer stabilization system.

VW Passat 3web-1Complimenting this active system are six (count them!) airbags (for driver and front seat passenger as well as curtain and side airbags front and rear) and automatic seat belt tensioning.

Needless to say (seeing as how we are talking about a station wagon here) there’s also plenty of room out back and enough flexibility in the seat configuration to take a weekend always worth of luggage, groceries, chilli-bins etc. Way more in fact than a similarly market-targeted SUV…

These are things, of course, which – while important – don’t tend to intrude on your daily drive experience. What does – or at least they will until you get used to them – are the electronic ‘handbrake’ (a simple switch mounted adjacent the gear VW Passat 8weblever), the automatic stop/start system, Park Pilot proximity warning system, reversing camera, and Bluetooth-compatible touch-screen information/entertainment package.

This is where and how you interact with your car everyday and all I can ponder is how I managed without such assistance for so long. Because you can switch it off I won’t dwell on the automatic stop/start system (which I never quite gelled with). While I understand why it is there I always seemed to fumble with it as the traffic lights went green again).

Connecting my Smartphone to the multimedia system was simplicity itself, however. In fact I was soon taking and making hands-free calls with the best sales VW Passat 9webreps and tradies.

I also lost count of the number of times the reversing camera and park-assist systems not so much saved me from scratching the pristine low-km press car but made me a better, more considerate driver.

Which brings me, finally, to the drivetrain.

Bar being both a bit flat off idle, then a little bit too eager to make amends once some boost had been built up, the turbocharged 1968c four-cylinder oil-burner in the Passat proved to be everything you could ever want from a road car engine – smooth, quiet, responsive and (a claimed) 6.3l/100km) economical.

A slight rumble on start-up was the only hint it was a oiler. That’s right, no smoke and hardly any smell to speak of (or sniff at!). Impressive. As is the 6-speed DSG transmission which, if it wasn’t for the digital readout on the dashboard, you’d hardly know it was willingly and tirelessly working its way up and down the gear octave.

So there you go. Where once you might have struggled to simply FIND a volume model Euro station wagon for ‘family car’ money Volkswagen has done the seemingly impossible, put together a four model line-up which combines the spec-level of a much more expensive niche model (think Audi) with a price point of a high volume mass market model.

I wonder what Mark Twain would say about that?

Price: $51,990
Pros:

  • Old-school station wagon versatility
  • Spec level and price points
  • Sporty look and feel
  • State-of-the art engine

Cons:

  • Engine a bit lifeless at low rpm
  • Auto stop/start system an acquired taste

Words:

Pictures: Kate MacKay

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