Reps special: new Passat hard to pick at a glance from current CC. This is SE Business version tailored for fleet buyers with items like navigation, electric fold mirrors and front fog lamps

Reps' special: new Passat hard to pick at a glance from current CC. This is SE Business version tailored for fleet buyers with items like navigation, electric fold mirrors and front fog lamps

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It's always interesting to see the reaction of colleagues attending earlier sessions of major new car reveals. So one, who shall remain nameless, described Volkswagen's eighth generation Passat as 'a boring sedan but in a good way'.

As the owner of another, much older VW sedan whose name begins 'Bor...', I'd consider 'boring sedan' something of a recommendation after 14 years of reliable service (it's now actually 16 years old in total and refuses to die, much to my family's annoyance) but what my colleague was really on about was 'mainstream' model. Sedan. Wagon. All-diesel. A segment in which 80% of VW UK's sales are to fleets. Hence all-diesel powertrains to start and specifications carefully tailored to all-important company car buyers and 'user choosers'.

This latest Passat was first unveiled at the Volkswagen Design Centre in Potsdam, Germany in July 2014, and made its public debut at the Paris show in October. This is the eighth generation which, since launch in 1973, has racked up over 22m sales worldwide. I can recall early ones being assembled as far afield as Australia.

Around 442,000 of those have found homes here in the UK and, last year, the tally was 7,695 saloons and 9,441 estates plus a further 5,480 posh CC 'four-door coupes'.

The over used 'all new' auto industry phrase can, for once, be entirely appropriate for this Passat as design, technologies and engines really are 'all new' with unladen weight chopped by up to 85kg and fuel economy improved by up to 14%.

"In its design and in the advanced features it offers, the new Passat bridges the gap between the upper medium and premium class," VW claims. 

At 4,767 mm long, the saloon is 2mm shorter than the previous model while the wheelbase is 79mm longer at 2,791 mm and the body overhangs are significantly shorter. Gen eight is 14mm lower at 1,456mm and 12mm wider at 1,832 mm.

Despite exterior dimensions that are actually marginally smaller than those of the previous model, interior space is improved, with more leg and head room, as well as increased luggage space.

Only diesel engines are available in the UK at launch (fewer than 1% of the outgoing line were ordered with a petrol engine), ranging in power from a 120PS 1.6 litre, two two-litre units with 150PS or 190 PS, to a range-topping 240PS two-litre bi-turbo with DSG automatic gearbox and 4MOTION four-wheel drive.

'My' version, a plug-in hybrid GTE with 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and electric motor will follow in October 2015. A frugal BlueMotion with a 1.6-litre diesel returning 78 mpg and just 95g/km of CO2 will join the range in June 2015 while an Alltrack (higher riding, a touch of SUV styling) version of the estate is due in July.

Volkswagen UK tends to use its own specific trim levels and names and launched the 2015 Passat (order books opened last October) in S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line forms. All have post-collision braking system and mis-fuelling prevention; front assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-crash system, driver profile selection, ergo comfort seats and front and rear parking sensors are on SE and above; and upgraded Discover navigation is on the SE Business spec aimed at fleet drivers. Heated Alcantara seats, three-zone climate control and 18-inch wheels are standard on the GT while the range-topping R-Line has additional, exclusive features. 

New technologies include an optional (from mid-2015) active info display, which replaces the instrument cluster with a fully configurable interactive 12.3-inch TFT display and a head-up display, the latest modular infotainment system, including Car-Net Guide and Inform; a further-developed 360-degree area view camera function; and the latest generation of park assist which now includes the option for the car to park itself forwards into perpendicular spaces and a claimed world first trailer assist system which provides assistance when reversing a vehicle with a trailer attached.

Safety systems include side assist with rear traffic alert; traffic jam assist which makes stop-and-go driving more comfortable; emergency assist, which can potentially halt a vehicle when the driver is incapacitated; the latest front assist system with city emergency braking, as well as predictive pedestrian protection.

The best selling model here in the UK is expected to be the two-litre TDI 150 PS with manual gearbox in SE and SE Business trims. Production is at VW's Emden plant in Germany.

MQB

The new Passat is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten) platform or Modular Transverse Matrix which standardises many vehicle component parameters – across brands and vehicle classes.

MQB extends through a number of vehicle segments and underpins Polo, Beetle, Golf, Scirocco, Jetta, Tiguan, Touran, Sharan, Passat and CC at Volkswagen alone. In the future, all of these models could theoretically be produced on the same assembly line – despite their different wheelbases and track widths. It will also be possible to produce MQB models of different brands together. 

One of the prominent characteristics of the Modular Transverse Matrix is the uniform mounting position of all engines. Two systems integrated in the MQB strategy are the modular petrol engine system (MOB) and the modular diesel engine system (MDB). 

By introducing these new engine series, the number of engine and gearbox variants offered by the group will be reduced by around 90%, without restricting choice. In addition to standardising conventional internal combustion engines, the MQB also enables an identical mounting position for all current alternative drive concepts without limitations – from natural gas and hybrid versions to pure electric drive.

The weight of the chassis was reduced primarily through the use of lightweight metals. The rear axle, for example, weighs 4.7kg and the steering system 2.2kg less and overall, the chassis was made up to 9 kg lighter. 

The engines weigh appreciably less than in the previous model with total weight savings of up to 40 kg. Aluminium makes the electrical components, electronics and thereby the overall electrical system lighter, while wire gauges were also optimised, meaning overall, up to 3kg was saved. Ultra high strength and hot formed steels reduce the weight of the car body, and for the first time in a Passat, aluminium was also used in the body structure. Advanced materials and a new air conditioner led to weight savings in equipment. In total, the entire superstructure was made up to 33 kg lighter.

Infotainment

For the first time in the Passat, MirrorLink is available – with the Composition Media system and above it is optional, while with the Discover Pro it comes as standard. This makes it possible to integrate numerous Android smart phone apps or functions into the infotainment system. Related apps will be offered directly from Volkswagen and from third party suppliers.

With the Composition Media system (standard in the UK), two mobile phones can now be called at the same time – eg a business phone and a private one – which is particularly useful for fleet drivers. Speech quality has also been enhanced, while received SMS messages can be read aloud via TTS (Text-to-Speech). Predefined templates such as 'Call back' make answering safer while driving. iOs compatibility is promised soon.

A so called  'rubber band' function is used in the new Discover Pro system, meaning that just like on a tablet, the displayed route can be scrolled and varied by touching a point on the route by hand. Also standard on thse systems is the ability to use speech commands to input the navigation destination. 

Car-Net is offered in combination with the Discover radio-navigation system (standard from SE Business). This new system incorporates mobile online services and makes it possible, for example to integrate Traffic Information Online into dynamic route guidance and to incorporate online public and personalised points of interest (POIs) into navigation on cars with Discover Pro. Using Google Street View, it will also be possible to integrate 360 degree panoramic images from the street level perspective on the display screen and use the Google Earth map service to call up a realistic photographic image of the map representation (Google Maps). 

Further functions available to Discover Pro users are parking place information (number of available parking spaces in parking structures, including location), petrol station prices (current fuel prices, including location), weather, news and vehicle status report (like maintenance related information). 

Engines

The new Passat’s TDI engines belong to the EA288 range with key components used in a modular design. They include emissions relevant parts such as the fuel injection system, the turbocharger and the intercooler integrated within the induction manifold. In addition, a complex exhaust gas recirculation system is used. A further feature of every TDI engine is the layout of emission control components, designed to locate them nearer to the engine. To fulfil various emissions standards worldwide, an oxidation catalytic converter and diesel particulate filter are used in the Passat as emissions control components. The nitrogen oxides are reduced via a NOx storage catalytic converter or – for the new 190 and 240 PS TDI models – by means of an SCR system (selective catalytic reduction, using the AdBlue reducing agent).

In order to reduce the engines’ consumption further, all the TDI engines have been optimised for minimal internal friction. This includes the use of piston rings with less pre tension and of very low friction bearings for the camshafts and balancer shafts (2.0 TDI). In the oil circulation loop, energy usage has been optimised by an oil pump with two pressure levels and volumetric flow control. During the warm-up phase, an innovative thermal management system utilises separate cooling circuits for the cylinder head and the cylinder crankcase with a water pump that can be deactivated. The TDI engines thus get up to operating temperature far more quickly and in winter the Passat’s interior also warms up faster. Another independently controlled cooling circuit enables on demand control of charge air temperature with additional emissions control benefits.

DSG options

Though they have given some trouble since launch a decade ago, VW persists with twin clutch gearboxes as the automatic option. Every Passat engine can have either a six- or seven-speed. In the 'small' seven-speed DSG, two dry clutches are used, in the six-speed DSG and the 'big' seven-speed units the dual clutches run wet in an oil bath.

Volkswagen UK reckons the new Passat sits somewhere in a gap between upper medium and premium (Audi, BMW) D-segment models but the overall rising standard of rivals such as the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 508 has narrowed the gap between perceived VW 'cut above' quality and the rest. Interior materials and fit and finish of the launch evaluation cars was top notch but so, too, was the cabin standard of the Ford Mondeo line I sampled at the end of 2014.

Nonetheless, the Passat impressed for the smoothness of its new diesel engines, and the startling acceleration of the new 240PS unit which is more powerful than a Golf GTi, prompt and almost imperceptible DSG gearbox shifts and excellent manual shift quality and clutch weighting/progression. Ride is Germanic firm but most of the models we tried were on larger wheels than standard - they photograph better.

Boring? Well, if a sedan or wagon is such in your view, yes. But the new Passat left the impression of having been carefully tailored for a specific buyer and the fleet motorway mile cruncher is unlikely to be disappointed if his model choice includes one of these. Mine's the upcoming GTE wagon...

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