b8-vw-passat-langkawi-2

It has been a long time coming, the B8 Volkswagen Passat. First seen in Europe in late 2014, the latest big sedan by Wolfsburg made its first Asian appearance in December that year, here in Malaysia. Two years on, and with sales of the B7 Passat done and dusted, the all-new Passat is now ready to roll.

The B7 Passat is a familiar sight on Malaysian roads, due to its locally-assembled status and pricing. It appeared significantly different from the preceding B6 Passat that Volkswagen peddled when it first set up shop in Malaysia – sharp lines vs curved ends – but the outgoing car was actually a heavily revised version of the B6 (only piece of body metal carried over was the roof), which was launched in 2005.

UPDATE: Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia has launched the B8 Passat – view our launch report here

The car you see here is an all-new generation Passat, unrelated to the B7. It sits on the Volkswagen Group’s Modularer Querbaukasten (MQB) platform that underpins a wide range of cars, from the Mk3 Audi TT to the capacious Skoda Superb. VW’s upcoming Atlas seven-seater SUV will also share its base structure with the Passat.

volkswagen_passat_b8_ext-10

The Passat’s design is clearly evolutionary, but that’s no bad thing. Instead, the lack of adventure in the appearance is a sign of confidence, confidence that this is a saloon that appeals to a certain kind of customer, and the Passat has its place in the market.

It also speaks of maturity. While some product lines change direction and design every few years to varying response (the Hyundai Sonata is an example – staid NF, bold YF, matured LF), the VW Passat does not need to find its feet, not when over 22 million units have been sold across the world since 1973. If the big VW could speak, it would probably say: “Let them flip flop, I am Passat.” Wolfsburg is rather good at this – witness the evolution of the Golf over 40 years.

However, deciding on an evolutionary design path does not mean that a car cannot be made to be look better. The Porsche 911 has one of the most famous car shapes in automobile history, but today’s 991 looks significantly sexier and fitter than its ancestors. The same goes for the B8 you see here; not the most apparent in photos perhaps, but the Passat is a lot more handsome than before.

volkswagen_passat_b8_ext-4

The Passat appeared massive when I first laid eyes on it, but upon checking the spec sheet, the B8 (at 4,767 mm) is actually two millimetres shorter than the old car. My eyes were perhaps fooled by the 12 mm extra width (1,832 mm), or more likely, the greatly extended distance between the front and rear axles – despite being slightly shorter overall than the B7, the B8’s wheelbase is 79 mm longer. It’s now 2,791 mm.

Like how the tallest men aren’t the perfect models for suits, the new Passat’s broader shoulders, plus a 14 mm lower roofline (1,456 mm) gives it better proportions than the 2010 car.

The lower and wider shape of the Passat, plus the longer wheelbase and the corresponding reduction in overhangs, work well in conjunction with a bold face that emphasises width. The headlamps and grille are slimmer than before, and there’s a chrome strip that links the upper end of the mask. The latter cue was recently seen on the Honda Civic and Perodua Bezza, but the Passat predates them in the global scene.

b8-vw-passat-langkawi-6

Like Audi’s latest models, the tornado line that starts from the front wing and spears through the door handles all the way to the back, is bolder and more apparent here. Unlike some in the office who are allergic to chrome, I appreciate the shiny bits in moderate portions. VW rarely overdoes things stylistically, and the Chrome Package accents that form a ring around the lower part of the body is a classy touch.

The chrome pack is available on the 1.8 TSI Comfortline and 2.0 TSI Highline. The latter, which is the car you see here, also sports 18-inch ‘Dartford’ rims (looks just right; 17s on Comfortline, 16s on Trendline) and twin integrated chrome exhaust outlets on each side, as opposed to unfinished twin pipes on one side in the other variants. They may not be functional – the 2.0 TSI’s actual twin pipes do not go through the chrome outlets, but face the ground – but add to the overall classy design.

Speaking of the rear end, the elements and their shapes are as per the B7, but the big surface that the logo sits on appears less tall and flat. Much like the rest of the car, the sum of the new design is greater than its parts. Winsome, as a colleague would say.

b8-vw-passat-langkawi-1

Like what we’ve seen so far on the exterior, the cabin is about sober design and a classy ambience. The layered cowl of the dashboard characteristic in B6 and B7 has been phased out in favour of an almost Audi-style top half of the dash, with full-width air vents and a fully digital instrument cluster à la Audi virtual cockpit.

However, it would be inaccurate to say that the B8 possesses an “Audi cabin”. It’s still unmistakably VW elsewhere, with the mass market brand’s regular head units and climate control panel occupying the centre stack. Audi has of late moved to minimalist cabin design – aided by the MMI control system that removes the need for many physical buttons – while the group’s namesake brand carries on with a conventional layout.

The overall impression is one of classy business functionality, and although the wood trim in our top-spec tester might not appeal to all, it adds a dash of colour to the all-black cabin. There’s a good mix of gloss black and metallic accents in typical VW style, and material quality is rich for what – let’s not forget – is a mass market saloon. But if the Passat is to nip at the heels of the premium compact class, there are a few details to iron out.

volkswagen_passat_b8_int-1volkswagen-passat-1-8-tsi-comfortline-30

Wood and gloss black trim for the 2.0 TSI Highline (top), all silver for the 1.8L variants

Personally, I don’t mind wood trim in luxury-oriented cabins, as these slivers of plastic (that’s what they are most of the time) bring warmth to cold dark cabins, but a darker tone than what VW uses would have been less polarising. Better still, the unpolished look both Mercedes and Audi offer. That’s a personal preference, but the ‘Brilliant Pine’ wood trim could have been more convincing to the touch. The flat ‘Silver Diamond’ trim in the 1.8 TSI fares worse in its impression of metal – it looks cheap and is texture-less.

The latter, which loses the 2.0 TSI’s gloss black for the entire centre stack/console, also exposes the vast space around the head unit, which in turn leads to the impression of a small screen. Images of B8s from other markets show that centre stack trim can be selected independently of the horizontal inserts, and a combo of silver/black would have been better. Also, surprisingly for a VW, the AC knobs feel lightweight in action and are not rubberised.

The two Passat cabins inadvertently served as an object lesson on the importance of trim in a cabin ambience, and the 2.0’s wood/gloss black combo suits the model’s premium aspirations much better. The analogue clock – a Passat signature – is a neat touch; ditto the frameless rear view mirror, which this writer first encountered in the B9 Audi A4.

The Passat is a nice place to be in, and the cabin is classier compared to Euro rivals such as the Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 508, but Audi need not worry when it comes to perceived quality – VAG’s premium brand pays extra attention to the details, and it shows. But the fact that we’re nitpicking and using Audi as a yardstick says much about the Passat’s successful “almost-premium” positioning.

Elsewhere, the Passat interior is typically VW – it’s ergonomically sound and the seats are greatly adjustable and comfortable in a firm Continental style (12-way driver’s electric seat with memory and massage for 1.8L Comfortline and 2.0L). The row of buttons situated on the left of the gear lever (DSC, auto start-stop and DCC Dynamic Chassis Control, latter for the 2.0L) survived the transition from left- to right-hand drive, which means that it’s quite a stretch for us RHD folks. A calculated move (infrequent use) rather than an oversight, I believe.

There’s good news at the back, too. The wheelbase extension has freed up extra and tangible rear leg- and knee-room, which puts the Passat on the same plane as bigger-bodied Japanese D-segment sedans (the Honda Accord is 168 mm longer). There’s also rear air con vents and three-zone climate control, standard across the range.

Moving rearward, the Passat’s 586-litre boot can be kicked open, literally. As seen on some SUV rear hatches, the ‘easy opening tailgate’ pops open when one places his/her foot under the rear bumper, with the key fob in possession. Available from the 1.8L Comfortline onwards, it also includes a button to close the boot once loading is done. Look ma!

Three variants of the B8 will be available, and they are the 1.8 TSI Trendline, 1.8 TSI Comfortline and the 2.0 TSI Highline. The 1.8L cars are powered by a turbocharged direct-injection unit with 180 PS and 250 Nm of torque, available from 1,250 to 5,000 rpm. A seven-speed DSG (dry) twin-clutch automatic gearbox sends power to the front wheels. Compared to the 1.8 TSI engine in the B7 Passat – the only engine offered – this new motor is 20 PS stronger.

This time around, VW is offering a higher spec, higher performance variant to tempt those in the market for an entry BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. For the price of a F30 318i (1.5L, 136 hp, 220 Nm) and around RM30k less than a W205 C180 (1.6L, 156 hp, 250 Nm), Wolfsburg’s proposal comes with a 2.0 TSI engine with 220 PS and 350 Nm of torque, delivered flat between 1,500 to 4,400 rpm. Paired to a six-speed (wet) DSG, it’s essentially a Mk7 Golf GTI powertrain with different tuning.

b8-vw-passat-langkawi-3

The 2.0’s boot badge reads ‘380 TSI’, and this refers to a ‘performance level’ of sorts, roughly tagged to the amount of torque the variant produces, which is 350 Nm in this case. The 250 Nm 1.8 TSI cars wear a ‘280 TSI’ badge, the same one on the boot of the 150 PS/250 Nm Jetta facelift that was launched last month. The C-segment sedan is powered by a 1.4 litre engine though, so VW sales staff might have an extra task of straightening confused customers.

The paper shows a sizeable 40 PS/100 Nm gap between the two Passat variants, but the actual difference in character on the move is even bigger. We started the Langkawi press event in the 2.0L, which surprised us with explosive acceleration off the line and bags of overtaking firepower. It would not be exaggerating to describe the experience as GTI-like, but with edges that have been polished off slightly. After the initial entertainment, I even started to think of the range-topping B8 as unnecessarily fast.

Full bore acceleration is accompanied by a snarly soundtrack, and the DSG’s signature slick shuffling of gears provides a familiar VW Group fast car experience. The spec sheet shows 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds, which is actually a tenth slower than a Mercedes-Benz C250, but this powertrain feels sharper.

The 1.8L couldn’t be more different if it tried. The hot hatch shove in the back is gone, and trunk road overtaking will require more deliberation/less abandon than in the 2.0L. The gulf in acceleration rate is big (0-100 km/h in 7.9s), but in isolation and against mainstream D-segment sedan rivals with 2.4/2.5L NA engines, the smaller TSI more than holds its own thanks to low rev turbocharged grunt.

Unlike its larger sibling, you won’t hear much of the 1.8 TSI, even under hard acceleration. The midrange Comfortline variant (base Trendline was not present in Langkawi) wears 17-inch ‘Istanbul’ wheels with high-profile 215/55 touring tyres, and tyre roar was more subdued compared to the 18-inch performance rubber on the 2.0L. Possibly the most dull rim design ever and 17s don’t fill the arches as well visually, but you can’t have it all.

In normal driving, the Passat is plush and comfortable, although not as serene as the best of the Japanese D-sedans, which is normal for a European car. Ride comfort on the 1.8L, which does not come with active dampers, is forgiving even on scarred tarmac.

b8-vw-passat-langkawi-7

We made a dash up the island’s Gunung Raya peak in the 2.0L and turned on DCC’s Sport mode for the twisties. The roads up the hill aren’t very well maintained, and the suspension did get a little firm and noisy along the rough stretches, but it’s not so much an issue when you’re bombing along – it’s not that disruptive.

The 2.0L can really be hustled along, retaining grip and composure when Japanese VSC lights would have been flashing away. VW’s XDS electronic differential lock, as seen in the Golf GTI, is probably behind the uncanny tenacity of the top Passat, but it does its business in a covert manner. The big saloon is of course less agile and flat cornering compared to the famous hot hatch, but it’s quite a beast.

The steering is pleasantly light and easy in normal driving, and quick enough on winding roads, but there’s not much feel through the rim. The latter is a norm rather than an exception these days, of course. Overall, the Passat’s handling is tidy and stable, and there’s an sense of connectedness when driven hard that’s missing in comfort-oriented Asian rivals.

volkswagen_passat_b8_ext-12

That it’s a better car than the B7 Passat is without a doubt. We’ll even go as far to say that among non-premium badged D-segment sedans sold in Malaysia (the Japanese stalwarts plus the 508 and Mondeo), the new Passat has the best blend of performance, dynamics and comfort. But whether it is the best buy in the class will depend on the buyer’s priorities.

For this writer, determining the above was easier than finding his perfect Passat. We found the 2.0L’s pace amusing, but the 1.8L’s performance is strong vis-à-vis its direct rivals – that, and its more refined nature, is suitable for this application.

However, while the 1.8 Comfortline (RM180,937 OTR without insurance, RM20k over the base RM160,937 Trendline) doesn’t lose out much in terms of kit compared to the 2.0 Highline (RM200,030), and appears to be the sweet spot of the local range; the range topper is the Passat at its most handsome, both in and out. That’s important, because appearance wise, one is closer to a Euro cab/rental car while the other hovers near premium territory.

GALLERY: Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TSI Highline


GALLERY: Volkswagen Passat 1.8 TSI Comfortline

GALLERY: Volkswagen Passat 1.8 TSI Trendline