GTEs 1.4-litre turbo engine and single motor produce 160kW (218PS) with as many as 70km in EV mode (NEDC)

GTE's 1.4-litre turbo engine and single motor produce 160kW (218PS) with as many as 70km in EV mode (NEDC)

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In recent times, the Passat has only just managed to make the cut when it comes to the European top 50 best sellers list. Sales of this model have been collapsing all across the region but there are reasons for that.

The rise of Volkswagen's SUVs, buyers knowing that a facelift was imminent and the temporary loss of the plug-in hybrid combined to cause the Passat's plunge. Now all the issues have been addressed and the thoroughly updated sedan and estate line-up will soon be on the rise.

This is one of those cars which you can somehow forget is a class leader in certain areas. There are loads of them on the road, even when, as we know, the Skoda Octavia (156,144: 1 Jan-31 Aug) dominates the European market's D size segment, trailed at a far distance by the Mercedes C-Class (103,004). Or if we're talking The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and more recently the UK too, the Model 3.

Tesla takes the lead in an EU country (and plugs it in)

Would you believe that more people in The Netherlands - 5,768 to be exact - bought a Passat-sized Tesla sedan than any other vehicle in September? Don't shrug, this is one of those half a million vehicles a year markets that can be easily overlooked. A pull-forward factor was in play due to tax regime changes coming next year but even so, the times, they appear to be a-changing. The Model 3 on its own accounted for 21% of the Norwegian market last month (2,342 deliveries) too.

For a direct comparison with the Octavia, C-Class and Passat, we're talking 46,175 Model 3 deliveries Europe-wide as at 31 August - data by vehicle for all European markets in September too wasn't available at the time of writing. Remember it's only been available for six months at most depending on the (European) market, and there is no wagon. Quite an achievement. By now, it will likely have overtaken the Skoda Superb too (48,010 in the first eight months) but is no threat to the A4 (76,400) or 3 Series (71,259).

Three Passats worldwide

The 4,773mm long Passat for Europe is, as most readers will know, different to the bigger, older 4,870mm long one which is built in the USA. Confusingly, there is a third, even larger Passat. Specific to China's SAIC Volkswagen JV, this 4,933mm long sedan complements the small European car but the China-made version of that model is called VW Magotan. And then there is the Passat estate, which is pretty much exclusive to European countries, and it's still fairly popular in the region's big two markets for D segment cars: Germany and Britain.

Sales crash ahead of the expected bounce

Things were dreadful for the Passat in August, Europe-wide deliveries crashing by 50.5% to 7,192 vehicles. Over the first eight months, the tally stood at 85,631. Even taking into account that 31% fall, there is no danger of the car's presence in its segment being permanently damaged. Volkswagen simply will not allow that. 

The sales bounce will already be underway. Interestingly, and we know due to the preferences of German buyers, most of these cars will be wagons: 40,141 units of the 85,631 are accounted for by Volkswagen's home market and more than 30,000 of those will have a top-hinged tailgate. The desire for an estate is also part of the reason why in Europe's richest and largest country by population, the Tesla Model 3, isn't much in demand. Now THERE is an opportunity which no German make has taken. Although perhaps they all have, and rejected the idea of an electric D segment wagon after being unable to make the business case stack up?

The return of the Passat plug-in hybrid

The British also love their Passat estates and in particular, the plug-in hybrid. Trouble is, we and all other Europeans have been denied it for a while now. That's due to a complicated story which involves CO2 numbers, the German taxation system plus WLTP compliance and the long process of having to submit every engine and gearbox combination for official testing.

Volkswagen and the Volkswagen Group will finally be breathing a long sigh of relief that all vehicles are at last allowed to be retailed. Now, the facelifted and re-engineered GTE (plug-in petrol hybrid) can get to work playing a major role in getting the Passat back onto fleet managers' preference lists.

Powertrain update

The current shape PHEV Passat had its world premiere five years ago this month at the Paris motor show. It could officially travel up to 50km on the energy stored in the big battery pack which is still positioned at the back of both bodies. This consisted of a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and one electric motor, the latter being more powerful than the one in the contemporary Golf GTE.

This model went on sale in relevant markets from the second half of 2015. Production ceased (temporarily) ahead of the 1 September 2018 deadline for compliance with the norms of WLTP. This was because under the new testing regime, the GTE lost its CO2 rating of below 50g/km so the tax breaks it formerly qualified for in Germany no longer applied. Cue Passat registrations all over Europe going into decline.

Up to 55km in EV mode

Volkswagen revealed an updated powertrain for the Passat GTE at the Geneva motor show in March. This also meant that the car slipped beneath the 50g/km threshold once more. Also, the plug-in hybrid system gained a larger 13kWh lithium-ion battery which allows a claimed range of up to 55km (WLTP). The only gearbox is a six-speed DSG, the engine's outputs are 160kW (218PS) and 250Nm (184 lb-ft) and the car already complies with future Euro 6d norms. VW UK didn't begin taking orders for the facelifted range until August and the first deliveries began a few weeks ago.

Blue still means PHEV, red for next Golf GTI

The UK importer changed all of its logos to the new VW roundel on 26 September but the shift will take some months more to be rolled out worldwide. The Passat had been available in other EU countries before the logo was revealed at the Frankfurt motor show last month, so the facelifted cars retain the former badges. Incidentally, Volkswagen will next year begin to bring in some further changes, such as a red badge for the next Golf GTI, silver for most other VWs with internal combustion engines, and as we already know, a white logo for ID. vehicles.

Passat: the oldest VW model name

Passat is the brand's longest running nameplate, having first gone on sale in 1973: the Golf didn't arrive until 1974 and the Beetle name has come and gone and returned and is now gone again. For that reason, even a facelift is big news for the Passat name. Surprisingly, there aren't a lot of mechanical changes apart from the GTE, although the Group's 150PS 2.0 TDI Evo engine is new to the updated car.

Next Passat: made in Turkey not Germany

The car somehow manages to feel even more refined than it had done, and to my eyes, looks better than even the previously understated one did. The facelift lands in Britain exactly five years since production of this shape model got underway, with that still taking place at Emden, the lead plant. We likely won't see any more styling changes until the successor vehicle launches in what should be 2022. It won't be made in Germany by then though: Volkswagen will shift build to a soon to be announced greenfield location in Turkey.

The plug-in hybrid is distinguished by C-shaped DRL, blue brightwork and GTE badges on the front wings, blue brake callipers and blue trim on the steering wheel. Where that colour had formerly also been on pieces of trim around the headlights, that's no longer the case. The interior didn't warrant much of an update, although there are the obligatory changes for the central touchscreen, and PASSAT now appears in the middle of the dashboard above the hazards button. This is another car which has adopted USB C sockets as the default so if you have an older phone, it's going to be time to update or else live with an adapter lead hanging out of that slot.

As good as the RWD rivals?

Compared to the new 3 Series, Volkswagen's equivalent is beginning to feel its age and of course, the front-wheel drive layout can't compete with the BMW or, I hear, the Model 3. There is a fair bit of body roll and too much understeer but at least the ride seems better than the pre-facelift car. In EV mode, the GTE is of course beautifully silent and even with just a 1.4-litre engine albeit boosted by the single motor, there is decent acceleration. Things can become a touch noisier if you have a heavy right foot although it's unlikely many owners will, this being a car people should buy for the money saving benefits.

Volkswagen UK says the PHEV should account for a quarter of all UK market sales, although the 2.0 TDI Evo 150 estate in SEL trim will likely be the most popular single spec.

The facelifted Passat Estate GTE costs from GBP37,920, has a CO2 average of 37g/km, a top speed of 138mph and reaches 62mpg in 7.6 seconds.