The Passat has been around for a few years now as V.W.'s " Big Car " and it has always sold steadily rather than spectacularly, however, with the heavily revamped Passat launched this week VW expect that situation to change dramatically, anticipating a 50 % increase in sales in it's first year.
How is this to be achieved ? Well, aside from the obvious changes to the body they have loaded the car up with many new safety features, improved the trim and equipment offered as standard to effect big improvements in the value for money stakes, features that will doubtless make the car a far more attractive proposition for both the private and fleet buyer.
The new Passat may not look radically different but only the roof panel is carried over from it's predecessor and there are substantial changes to the front and rear which much improve the cars looks. There are also a myriad of detail improvements both mechanically and in terms of the cabin environment.
The GL 2 litre that I drove is just one of a wide range priced from just over £13,000 for the 1.8 CL trim moving up, through the GL trim, 1.8 and 2 litre petrol engines, 1900cc diesels and turbo diesels all the way to the stunning VR6 engined luxury variant expected to arrive later in the year.
On the safety front the Passat is fitted as standard at all trim levels with twin airbags alongside the door bars and seat belt tensioners. The body shell has been considerably strengthened and anti-lock brakes are also standard on most models.
All of the equipment one would expect of a big car is fitted including those all important twin airbags, power steering, ABS, central locking, electric windows, roof and mirrors and a good 8 speaker stereo. A useful gadget is the multi function trip computer which quite convinced me that achievable fuel consumption figures are much better than those claimed by V.W.
The seating is excellent, firm and supportive, and fully height adjustable, producing a good driving position in front of the simple, clear, dash, everything being well to hand.
Pushed along by a lively 2 litre, 4 cylinder, 115 bhp, injected, engine, the Passat offers better performance than one might expect, combining fairly rapid acceleration with a high top speed and good fuel consumption, all factors making it a very capable long distance cruiser.
A light, 5 speed, gearbox, precise and quick in use, comes with a tallish fifth gear to take advantage of the very torquey engine, so motorway cruising is both quiet and effortless and the improved aerodynamics of the new body shape produce very little wind noise. For lovers of automatics a 4 speed auto box is an option.
Handling is another strong point of the Passat, it's composure being very impressive, at first it feels a little soft, but, if pushed the car shows good grip and stability with little roll. The precise power steering and the firm progressive brakes - discs all round - add to this safe, predictable, feeling.
The Passat is a real pleasure to drive and very good value for money. Those higher sales targets may well be achieved.