This is the second part of a review of the 2007 Volkswagen Passat TDI. Yesterday we covered the Passat's pricing, appearance and some of its many features. Click here to read part one.
Today we cover the interior, safety, economy and on-road performance.
Probably the first thing you'll notice if you hop in and go to turn the car on though is the key fob itself. Instead of a traditional key, the entire key fob slots into the dash for push-button electronic on / off operation. VW thought of everything though because hidden inside the key fob is a "conventional", plastic key which can gain you access to the vehicle but will not start it up. This allows you to leave the (expensive - $500!) key fob locked in the car while you go surfing and just take the plastic key into the water.
Like the on / off control, the parking brake is also a push-button job located close to the ignition switch, and must be engaged for the car to be turned off. An associated feature is the Auto Hold function which neatly answers the question, "I'm on the side of a hill and I don't have a hand brake to stop me rolling back down, what do I do?" Again a push-button operated feature, this time flanking the transmission, Auto Hold automatically activates the electronic parking brake for painless hill starts. Eliminating the hand brake has the added benefit of freeing up room around centre console, resulting in a simple, uncluttered layout.
Continue reading part two of the review after the jump.
The steering wheel is attractive and comfortable with yet another shiny, silver VW logo in the middle. Seriously, you're not likely to forget what you're make of car you're driving! Unfortunately VW cut costs by not reversing the steering wheel stalk controls for this right hand drive model which is pet niggle of mine. This means that your muscle memory is likely to have your hand turning on the windscreen wipers the first few times you go to indicate before your brain figures it out. How ironic, because the Passat is fitted with a fantastic automatic windscreen wiper system that means you don't ever have to manually engage the windscreen wipers from the stalk.
Another hang-over from its European heritage is the phone button on the steering wheel which is supposed to allow bluetooth hands-free communication with your suitably equipped mobile phone. The button is completely inert in Australia and will react with nothing down here. Wheel-mounted buttons for navigating the car's menu system and changing speaker volume are fully functional and work well however.
The switches and materials in the car feel solid and reliable although the swath of hard plastics across the dash does detract a little from the European luxury pretensions of the car. Two-tone, carbon fibre-esque highlights and the chrome around the transmission gate prove to be more successful in setting the mood. The instrumentation panel is clear and useful, giving variously the fuel range, fuel economy, current gear, outside air temperature, date, time, current cruise control speed, etc. Lit up in red and blue at night, the instruments, as well as the radio controls and all the switches, look fantastic and make you feel like you're driving a really fancy car.
Other interior features of note before we tackle the Passat's on-road performance are the great 6 CD in-dash changer stereo which pumps out your tunes via 8 speakers front and rear; the brilliant auto-dimming rear view mirror; the funky, pop-out cup holders hidden in the rear, centre armrest; the chillable glove box; and my personal favourite, the umbrella holder with drainage hidden inside the driver's door. Unfortunately it's a case of BYOU - bring your own umbrella - because an appropriately sized, VW badged umbrella is not available in Australia, even as an option. Luckily this afforded my mother a great opportunity to get my father a Passat-sized umbrella for Christmas and now everyone is happy.
The Passat's commitment to safety is outstanding. Every safety feature on offer is provided as standard equipment on all Passat models. The full gamut of modern acronyms is present including Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP), ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-Pressure Distribution (EBD) and Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) which combine to make sure you have every chance of avoiding an accident in the first place. And if you are unlucky enough to be in an accident, there is a total of eight airbags to protect you inside the modern passenger safety cell - driver and passenger front and side airbags, rear seat passenger side airbags and full length curtain airbags. Add in pedestrian protective zones at the front and rear bumpers, and a tire pressure warning system, and you have a car that rated 5 star for safety by the European New Car Assessment Programme.
On the road the Passat is an enjoyable drive. With 0-100 km/h / 0-62 mph times of 9.8 seconds, it's not likely to drag anyone off a standing start at a green light, but that's only telling half the story. Because what the oil burner lacks in power, (103 kW / 138 hp) it more than makes up for in torque (320 Nm / 236 ft-lbs). This means that the TDI not only gets outstanding fuel economy out on the highway, but right through the key overtaking range of 80-120 km/h / 50-75 mph, it overtakes in a rush. Even while driving up a reasonable gradient doing 100 km/h with the engine ticking over at 1,500 revs in sixth, there is torque on tap to blow past other cars without the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) even needing to switch down if you bury your foot.
Driving a DSG 'Dub is an interesting experience. It isn't always perfect; there is a steep hill directly outside of my father's driveway that the over-eager DSG will have already changed into second for that throws it. So not perfect, but damn close. And for times like this hill when you know the problem the transmission is going to get itself into, you can always shift it briefly into manual mode, overcome the obstacle, and then back into "automatic" again for the commute. As efficient as a manual, as convenient as an automatic, and faster than a human, DSG transmissions are pretty cool. I don't doubt VW's claim of 3-4 milliseconds for each gear change either, watching the tacho spring from one acute angle to another almost instantaneously is proof enough to me that two clutches are better than one.
Australia is not known for its great road quality - there's just too few tax payers and too many roads to cover our large country to expect anything more. The Passat does a good job of soaking up the lumps and bumps, offering a comfortable ride while still maintaining touch with the road to give plenty of feedback to the driver. Despite the diesel under the hood, engine noise is negligible except at very low speeds. Unfortunately it is at high speeds that I found road noise a bit high and wearisome on the plentiful course-chip bitumen surfaces.
A situation where the 'Dub really pulls its weight is cornering, it's like the thing's on rails. Negligible body roll combined with fast, light and accurate steering combine to encourage the driver to throw it around and enjoy the results. Pick your entrance angle, keep the throttle flat and hang on! Windy roads, especially through mountainous country, suddenly become a real driving challenge to look forward to. On standard flat, straight highways though, just flick on the very well thought out cruise control and sit back and relax as you glide past other, less-efficient vehicles.
In practise, fuel economy has been pretty much spot on with the advertised combined city / highway figure of 6.6 L per 100 km / 35.6 mpg. A full tank yields a range of around 950-980 km / 590-609 miles, even when driven quite aggressively around the city and always at the highest legal speeds on the highway. On long highway legs, I've seen the current fuel economy drop to 5.5 L per 100 km which is outstanding for a vehicle this size. To put that into perspective, Toyota's top selling Camry has an official fuel economy rating of 9.9 L per 100 km for the automatic, and GM Holden's new foray into the competitive medium sized car market, the Epica, has an official fuel economy rating of 9.3 L per 100 km. Manual variants of both the Camry and the Epica have fuel economy around 8.5 L per 100 km.
Traditionally diesel is more expensive than petrol in Australia but its price tends to fluctuate less. With the recent rises in petrol prices, diesel is virtually the cheapest fuel option going excluding liquid petroleum gas. Currently regular unleaded is around AUD$1.09 per litre; premium unleaded, which is required in the Passat's petrol models, is AUD$1.17 per litre; and diesel is AUD$1.10 per litre (US$3.30 per gallon). The end result of the natural economy of a diesel engine combined with the increase to petrol prices over the last twelve months has meant that my father is very pleased to have seen his fuel bill drop considerably.
Analysis: Overall the 2007 Volkswagen Passat TDI is a really nice, medium-sized car offering excellent fuel economy, a comprehensive safety package, a wide range of thoughtful features and great driving dynamics, all rolled up in a classy European package. Only a couple of slight missteps mar this vehicle, but overall it's a lot of fun and highly recommended.