Copyright © 1999, 2000 Bernd Felsche, Perth, Western Australia
All Rights Reserved
This Document may not be copied without the author's written permission.

Volkswagen Passat 1.8 litre

UK Drive Report

By Bernd Felsche

Bernd Felsche reports on over 1000 miles of driving a Passat in the UK.
Passats are a common sight on European roads. A large proportion being TDIs (either 4 cylinder or the new V6 TDI) which makes sense on the continent because diesel fuel is between 10% and 40% cheaper per litre (e.g. $1.40/litre for Petrol compared to $1.00 per litre for diesel fuel in Germany) and the Passat 4-cylinder TDI averages better than 60 miles to the gallon (4.7 l/100km) cruising, making it an ideal long-distance Bahn-stormer for the travelling executive.

This "entry level" Volkswagen differs from the V6 petrol version driven previously not only in terms of engine, but also in trim and other, less obvious ways. Stepping "down" from the V6 disappoints in a few unexpected ways.
Passat at Plymouth
Test Passat perched precipitously in Plymouth
The front seats are hard and lumpy, especially the backrest between the shoulders. Unlike other firm Volkswagen seats, they don't become more comfortable with time.

Another disappointment is that this car understeers noticeably at the slightest provocation, moreso than the V6, perhaps because of softer front suspension and narrower tyres. Understeer never becomes terminal and backing off pulls it back into line safely. It doesn't feel as sure-footed as the V6 when cornering. Suspension tuning would be a good idea to allow drivers to enjoy the potential to the full.

The car also feels underpowered in 4th and 5th gear on Motorways. Although able to cruise quietly at about 100 mph, it lacks urge between 50 and 70 mph in 4th and 5th gears. The gap between 3rd and 4th gears is wide so the engine revs need to be stretched to maintain useful acceleration. A change from the slow to the fast lane of a busy Motorway asks for a drop down to 3rd gear if momentum has been lost.

And although the engine is never intrusive and doesn't complain when asked to rev to the limiter, it does sound busy in the power band from about 4000 to 6500 rpm. Given enough road, the Passat can attain and exceed 100 mph with ease. It feels as though it gets its second wind at about 90 mph.

Directional stability, even with side-winds is exemplary. Steering could provide more feedback but is direct and quick.

For those used to the direct and slick gear change of a GTI, Passat is a little "rubbery" and indirect. Not so bad as to discourage quick, frequent changes necessary to keep the engine on the boil.

The ABS brakes have a hard time stopping the car from high speed, especially evident (!!) when leaving a Motorway via a short off-ramp. Although initial retardation is impressive, the brakes just don't seem to have the capacity to cope with the demands of repeated stops from high speeds.

The lack of brake performance is the final nail in the coffin as far as defining this particular version of the Passat as a high-speed distance-gobbler.
This is a car more at home in urban and suburban environs apparently being geared for brisk acceleration to just 40 mph. Even so, third and fourth gear ratios are so wide apart that the urban limit of 30 mph (50 kmh) is difficult to maintain in 4th gear with almost no reserves of torque available at such low engine speeds.

Around town, the imbalance of short front overhang and long rear overhang takes some getting used to. The bonnet-line drops away sharply and the rounded front allows manoeuvring into surprisingly tight spots. Reversing is more of a challenge. The capacious boot has its consequences; limiting rear vision so one needs to judge the distance to the nearest obstacle instead of being able to see the corner.

Passat at home in the 'burbs
1.8 litre Passat feels at home in the 'burbs
Fuel consumption is acceptable, even in urban (London rush-hour) traffic showing around 24 mpg (11.8 l/100km). Cruising on the Motorways at 70 mph provides close to 40 mpg (7.1 l/100km) and tonking along the back roads delivers nearly 45 mpg (6.3 l/100km). Instantaneous fuel consumption reported by the trip computer frequently showed in excess of 60 mpg but it never stayed that way for long.

Climatronic climate control becomes useful when the sun is out. On cool, cloudy days it's best left on the ECON setting which means it's heating-only. Ventilation is good; the cabin never becomes stuffy if you allow Climatronic to do its job, or if you over-ride the controls sensibly.

Like other Passats, the 1.8 litre enjoys the same build quality and much of the same trim. Volkswagen build quality is frequently rated above Mercedes', with only the S-Class Mercedes able to put up a credible fight in the quality stakes albeit at more than double the price. Standard equipment levels are high, even though the car doesn't look cluttered with switches and lights; evidence of great forethought and clever integration.

Which leaves one to wonder why Volkswagen has failed to exploit the true potential of this smaller-engined Passat. A better choice of brakes, gear ratios, suspension tune and front seats would unleash enjoyable performance instead of condemning it to a life of suburban duties.

The Audi-sourced 1.8 litre non-turbo engine's days are numbered, slated for replacement by the cleaner 2-litre petrol engine introduced in the new Beetle and now available in the Golf and Bora. Volkswagen has the opportunity to find a well-rounded balance with the new engine in the Passat.

Judged Purrfect
Passat attracts cats while parked outside the B&B overnight

Copyright © 1999, 2000 Bernd Felsche, Perth, Western Australia
All Rights Reserved