New VW Passat makes a fine start at rebuilding its reputation

I am pretty certain that the emission cheating scandal which has engulfed Volkswagenland for much of the past six months will have a damning long-term effect on the giant German automotive conglomerate, but it would appear the loyalty to the company here in Ireland is largely untarnished.

Although there has been a big sales dip for the VW brand in America and China, here in our neck of the woods there has barely been a blip in VW’s fortunes and the company’s Irish arm ended up 2015 as the leading manufacturer, with a market share of over 12% and cumulative sales well over 15,000 units, resulting, you’d have to think, in heavy sighs of relief at their Dublin HQ.

But, aside from the naked sales stats, an even more astonishing fact emerged just last week when a survey revealed that 78% of Volkswagen owners said the emission outrage would not prevent them buying another of the company’s products, and nearly 54% of non-Volkswagen owners said the scandal would not put them off buying a VW.

Quite what these figures say about us as a nation, I am not fully sure; but the indication appears to be that collectively, we could not give a continental damn about what VW was up to by engaging in the sort of fraudulent behaviour that is going to cost the company billions in fines.

It also suggests that for all our supposedly green credentials, we don’t really give a fig about the environment either.

New VW Passat makes a fine start at rebuilding its reputation

I, for one, am still seriously annoyed by Volkswagen’s sheer effrontery in attempting to dupe the world — not to mention their corporate belief that they’d get away with it.

To my mind, VW is going to deserve everything it gets in terms of financial pain.

But, hey, the show must go on and, here in Ireland anyway, it would appear we couldn’t care less that the German automotive behemoth completely took us for a ride — and not just in their cars.

I mention all of this by way of introducing you to the new VW Passat Estate, which is fitted with a new diesel engine equipped with a bi-turbo arrangement, and which is said to be the future of engine technology in Volkswagenland. The Passat, of course, is one of a trio of VW models to have surpassed worldwide sales of 20m units, and that is a fantastic achievement in itself.

Now in its eighth generation, the Passat has been massive for VW in the US and China, which must be a bit worrying for Wolfsburg given the post-scandal downturn in sales in those markets, and in Europe, its popularity was underlined last year when the latest model was voted Car of the Year.

Pre-scandal, I wrote that the Passat was, as you used to expect from VW, an exemplar of the sort of common sense car that appeals to masses of people. Aside from its terribly sensible character, it also offered enough driving dynamism and technology to make it a class leader.

I did also bemoan, however, that its designers had appeared to have stripped the car of any personality whatsoever and were quite happy to sell the car on its technical and practical merits.

As a no-nonsense and sensible purchase, then, even if it was devoid of any substantive character, the Passat seemed destined to become a massive success.

Given that there is now a singular mistrust of everything VW tells us about its products, certainly in this quarter anyway, I can still tell you that this new bi-turbo engine is a cracking one to drive: fast, quiet, refined, economic and environmentally friendly.

Well, the first four anyway — the environmentally friendly bit (claimed emissions of just 140 g/km) we will park for the minute, because I am certainly not going to stand over any claims the company makes in this regard any more.

With a 6.1 second 0-100km/h time and a top speed just shy of 250km/h, this 240bhp Passat is really excellent to drive and with the seven speed DSG auto gearbox and 4Motion 4x4 system which was fitted to the tester, it is also a many layered beast with a go-anywhere ability and a ride and handling package which is not far short of more prestigious premium brand models.

This is a car with a suite of top drawer driving credentials, and I certainly enjoyed every minute in it, revelling in the oodles of power, the excellent grip levels, the beautifully appointed interior and the spaciousness on offer in this estate version. Indeed, the estate, in my humble view anyway, has a depth of character which is completely absent in the saloon version and I thought it to be a lot better looking as well.

It was also, in the Highline Business Edition specification we tried, fitted with a raft of safety kit (some of which are very annoying — the vehicle proximity warnings and the pre-crash brake activation systems in particular) and other truly useful things like the automated trailer parking facility, the voice activated navigation and the ‘virtual’ parking camera. I also particularly liked the fact that it comes as standard with a full-sized alloy spare wheel.

A really good car then, and one which in the normal course of events, you’d only be too happy to endorse as a very worthy and comprehensively packaged car built by an esteemed and renowned manufacturer.

The problem is, however, that VW has, for now at least, lost its grip on the esteemed and renowned end of the equation and no matter how good the cars it produces, will remain stigmatised by its corporate culpability in the emissions scandal.

It may be that Irish people seems to care less that VW effectively is in breach of trust with its customers, and it may also be that the Passat BiTDi is a truly excellent car.

But, the fact remains that the German company is guilty of a betrayal which will take many years to repair.

If this car can help them rebuild their stained reputation well and good. Time will tell.

COLLEY’S VERDICT

The Car: VW Passat Estate

The Cost: From €38,825 — €52,355 OTR as tested.

The Engine: One particularly impressive aspect of a particularly impressive car.

The Specification: Oodles of standard kit and some very useful add-on extras such as the automatic trailer parking system.

The Overall Verdict: A terrific car which is only let down by the reputational damage to the company which makes it.


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