Green hue to true-blue Passat
The first indication that the latest Volkswagen Passat is new-age product is when you start the vehicle.
The driver needs to have the Passat's automatic transmission in Park, press a foot down on the brake pedal, and then press the ignition 'key' in its dashboard-mounted slot.
If your foot is pressing hard enough on the brake, the engine will start. If it isn't, then the Volkswagen will simply refuse to fire into action.
Now this method of starting a Volkswagen isn't anything particularly new in fact it is a feature of several VW models currently on sale in New Zealand. But I do enjoy it, because the concept of a vehicle requiring the driver to have the transmission in Park and a foot hard on the brake before it will allow itself to be started, is a very safe one.
But what is new with the newly facelifted Passat is that the engine will also automatically stop itself when the driver pulls up at, say, an intersection and remains stationary there with a foot on the brake. And when the foot is removed again, the engine will re-start.
It's all part of technology that Volkswagen calls BlueMotion, which is progressively being introduced to all its vehicles. In this case the technology primarily involves energy recovery via regenerative braking, low rolling-resistence tyres, and the automatic engine shut-off.
This is not as much as was aboard a true BlueMotion Passat that Volkswagen New Zealand introduced here 18 or so months ago that vehicle had all sorts of fuel-saving componentry including very long gearing of its manual transmission, and a specially designed underbody with low wind resistence but it still contributes to exceptional fuel economy.
In the case of the front-wheel drive 103 kilowatt turbo-diesel wagon we've just been driving, the vehicle offiers a combined average fuel consumption of just 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres and its open-road consumption is a measly 4.5 L/100 km.
So that's one piece of news about this latest Passat that's worth reporting. But perhaps the more significant news is that this latest model, which is designated B7 by Volkswagen, has entered the New Zealand with prices that drop it down from its status as premium product and into that part of the medium-sized market dominated by the top-end versions of the likes of Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo, Mazda6 and Hyundai i45.
One of the motoring quotes of the year came from Volkswagen New Zealand boss Dean Sheed at the Kiwi media launch of the car when, explaining why his company was wanting to focus on the mainstream market, he said: ''I suppose you could say that to achieve future sales growth, we have to go fishing where the fish are.''
Well, they are certainly doing that.
Take our 103 TDI Variant (wagon) as a prime example. This vehicle carries an attractive price tag of $51,500 ($49,000 as a sedan and that's the first time any Passat price has moved under the 50k mark yet it continues to impress as a vehicle with a distinctive Europen feel.
Of course in typical Euro fashion this VW has a list of optional extras that will take its actual cost way above that list price, but even in standard form the vehicle feels good.
It has what Volkswagen calls the Trendline level of spec which gives it cloth upholstery and 16-inch alloys. But it also has the likes of climate-control air conditioning, full electrics, full connectivity, the handling safety of what VW calls an electronic stabilisation package, and of course of the Bluemotion technology.
Other standard safety items include LED turn signals integrated into the door mirrors, daytime running lights, and a first in its class a fatigue detection system.
The electronic magic in this system detects waning driver concentration and warns the driver with a five-second acoustic signal. Not only that, but a visual message appears on the instrument panel warning that the driver should take a break. And if the driver doesn't take the break within the next 15 minutes, the warning is repeated.
Research shows that overtired drivers cause up to 25 per cent of all accidents on motorways, and that these accidents tend to be particularly serious because the sleepy driver has no chance to react and take avoiding action. With the VW system, driver behaviour is closely monitored to pick up such actions as erratic steering wheel movements and lane deviations.
During the week I spent behind the wheel of the Passat, I didn't give myself the opportunity to try out the fatigue detection system! But like all good active safety systems, it's comforting to know it is there.
I suppose it could be said that this facelift is remarkable for looking unremarkable. Although Volkswagen tells us that every bodyshell component except the roof is new, it still looks very much like the pre-facelift Passat, and in that regard it has to rate as one of the most conservative-looking vehicles on the market. Not unattractive, mind you because I think this car is one of the prettiest around but rather standard fare.
Inside, the Passat continues to offer a look that is clean almost to the point of being spare, an an interesting new feature is the inclusion of an olde-style analogue clock right in the middle of the dash area. I'm told the clock has been pinched from the Phaeton luxury car.
Being a wagon, there's good load space in the rear. When all seats are in use there are 603 litres of space which is quite a bit more than the 565 litres on offer in the Passat sedan. Fold the seats down and this increases to 1731 litres.
The Variant's 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine offers the 103 kW of power and a healthy 320 newton metres of torque, and this nicely mates with the excellence of a six-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic transmission. It all goes very well, with perhaps my only criticism being that when the Passat is accelerated from a standing start, the arrival of the turbocharging can be a little too abrupt.
This 103kW TDI isn't the least expensive version of the facelifted Passat range that honour goes to a 1.8-litre petrol powered 118kW TSI model that costs $47,000 in sedan form and $49,500 for a Variant. I haven't driven that model, but I'm told that the lighter weight of the engine means the car's handling prowess is slightly superior to that of the 103kW TDI.
If that's the case, it must be a very good handler, because I found my road test vehicle to be a lovely smooth drive. There's something nice about driving a torquey turbo-diesel car, and when the ride and handling is of a quality provided by a Volkswagen Passat, the end result is something just a little bit special.
This latest facelift simply adds to the opinion I have aways held, that the VW Passat is one of best medium sized vehicles on the market. And I'm particularly impressed that Volkswagen New Zealand has expanded the pricing of the model so that is reaches down from premium into the mainstream.
VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 103KW TDI
POWER PLANT: 1968cc four cylinder common-rail turbocharged diesel engine, 103 kW at 4200 rpm, 320 Nm at 1750-2500 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed DSG automatic transmission. BlueMotion technology package, full suite of electronic handling and safety aids.
HOW BIG: Length 4771mm, width 2062mm, height 1516mm, wheelbase 2712mm.
HOW MUCH: $51,500.
WHAT'S GOOD: Solid turbo-diesel drive. Good, if conservative, looks. BlueMotion technology.
WHAT'S NOT: Facelift doesn't diffeerentiate enough from previous model.
OUR VERDICT: New pricing opens the way for Passat to fit more budgets.
Taranaki Daily News