VW’s polished mid-size performer
Family sedans and wagons such as Volkswagen's Passat have fallen from favour as buyers flock to SUVs and they're seemingly less popular as used prospects too. So bargains are to be had, with spacious, feature-packed and dynamically talented four and five-doors for the few not keen on SUVs.
Fancier than a used Toyota Camry or Hyundai i45 but not as pricey as a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class, the Passat covers the semi-premium middle ground.
These mid-size VWs have been around for decades but B7 models, sold from 2011 to 2015, are in the value sweet spot.
Cheapest versions can be had around the $10,000 mark, are new enough to give many years of serene service and have enough luxe and technology to not feel shaded by modern cars.
Cabin design is functional rather than fancy but rich with quality. You can fit three adults across the rear seats and boot space is generous - 565L in the sedan, 603L in the wagon.
There's a vast range to choose from. The Passat may not have sold in large numbers but there are petrol and diesel versions, a rapid all-wheel drive V6 and the Alltrack wagon with higher ride height and off-road intentions.
Many have been overjoyed with their ownership experience, praising the Passat's space, luxury, quality of drive and fuel efficiency.
The Passat comes with a bit of baggage, specifically the VW Dieselgate scandal. The diesel versions were recalled and the emissions test cheat software updated.
All came with dual-clutch automatic gearboxes. Earlier examples of this gearbox could develop costly problems or fail completely, and a recall was issued in 2013. Only the earliest B7 Passats were affected.
At launch in April 2011, the entry-level was a 118TSI with 118kW turbo engine. For the mid-range, there was the 125TDI Highline with 125kW turbo diesel (replaced by a 130kW 130TDI in 2013), then came the range-topping 220kW V6 FSI Highline.
Each could be ordered in a sedan or wagon, the latter at a $2000 premium.
Kit was strong throughout. The 118TSI came with leather seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, eight airbags, front and rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloys and daytime running lights.
Highlines had more luxurious Nappa leather and brushed aluminium cabin inserts, while the V6 also scored all-wheel drive, adaptive chassis control, electric seats, 18-inch wheels and dual exhaust pipes each side.
Diesels gave excellent economy and torque shove - and the 3.6-litre V6 was a proper weapon, propelling this family express from rest to 100km/h in just 5.5 seconds. It was thirsty though, claiming 9.7L/100km.
In September 2012, an update brought satnav, touchscreen and reversing cameras and, for wagons, a power tailgate.
Two months later, the Alltrack wagon with all-wheel drive joined the party, using only the 2.0-litre turbo diesel and six-speed dual-clutch auto. In addition to regular Passat specification, it had unique 17-inch alloys, Vienna leather, 30mm extra ride height, 1800kg towing capacity, beefier bumper and underbody protection.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
As Passats of this vintage are out of warranty, favour those with faultless service history, especially done through VW dealers. There have been recalls across the different grades, so enter the VIN number of any Passat you're considering on productsafety.gov.au to check the required work has been done.
The dual-clutch auto in the 2011-15 Passats has proved far more reliable than earlier examples but it pays to be wary. They're hugely expensive to put right.
Ask the owner whether there have been any problems or work carried out on the gearbox, and test it on a long drive in traffic on the highway, up and down hills and in low-speed manoeuvring. It's an excellent, smooth gearbox at its best - expect a bit of jerkiness when pulling away, but nothing more.
A twin-clutch gearbox takes a bit of getting used to. Walk away if there are any signs of problems, for example, a transmission dash light that won't go out, a long delay in gear selection or any nasty grinding or mechanical noise.
There have been isolated reports of the rear camera and GPS failing. Check all electrics.
Be aware VW's service costs aren't the lowest and petrol Passats demand 95 RON fuel.
The 1.8-litre Passats are a fine choice if you don't cover huge kilometres annually. The diesel Highline is the pick for economy, satisfying performance and cushier leather seating.
The Passat V6 - especially the wagon - is something of a cult hero bargain, a magnificent but thirsty all-rounder. Some will have been thrashed; favour low-kilometre pampered jobs.
The Alltrack is worth a look if you lead a more adventurous life but check that the seller hasn't given it a hiding trying to climb mountains. It's no hardcore off-roader.
Look for a Passat that had an options-loving first owner. Some can be found with panoramic sunroof, active cruise control, auto emergency braking, lane assist and premium audio.
All Passats are polished performers, with the diesel Highline the most versatile, the V6 a blistering ride and the Alltrack the pick if you enjoy adventurous weekends away.
Perfect service history is key and if there's any hint of gearbox maladies, look elsewhere. Have an expert check it over: find a good Passat and you'll secure a brilliant family car.
STEPHEN BOLAND: My 118TSI wagon has now done about 38,000km. It's a great car to drive but hasn't been without problems. It took five service calls to fix the adaptive cruise control - it had the wrong VW name plate, which was blocking the radar - and after some initial shuddering the dual clutch set-up was replaced. The boot can fit my dog's crate, which is 93cm by 65cm. Find me a car that can match that. It is so comfortable, it travels along with hardly an acknowledgment to the road. It is smooth, silent and a joy to drive. Rear passengers can't believe the space and comfort.
THE EXPERTS SAY
The overall sales tally for the B7 series Passat exceeded 14,000. Among used listings, more than 60 per cent are diesels, more than three-quarters are front-wheel drive and sedans are in the majority.
The base 118TSI accounts for about three in 10 used examples, though the 125TDI in Highline trim sells quicker than the rest.
From 2011, the 118TSI sedan ($38,990 new) is now valued at $11,400. The flagship V6 Highline wagon ($57,990 new) is just over $17,000.
The base sedan from 2015 (new price unchanged) fetches $20,000 and the Alltrack ($48,290 new) is valued at $24,750.
Rivals include the Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and Hyundai i40. For 2011, the Passat's retained value doesn't match the Mazda or the Toyota but sits between the Hyundai and Ford.
For 2015, Passat sedans trail all but the Mondeo. Despite a boost from the higher resale value for the Alltrack, Passat wagons lag behind the competitors. - Red Book
VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 2011-15
PRICE NEW $38,990-$57,990
ENGINES 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 118kW/250Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 125kW/350Nm or 130kW/380Nm; 3.6-litre V6, 20kW/350Nm
SAFETY 5 stars
TRANSMISSION 6 or 7-speed dual-clutch auto; FWD/AWD