Perfecting the Passat

After Volkswagen's remarkable World-domination with air-cooled, reat-engined models. the Passat represented the Company's first change to water-cooled. front-drive cars and very well it served the German colossus. Recently the Passau has been up-dated, with more interior space and greater fuel eConomy mainly in mind. Recent road experience of the top model of the revised range. the overhead-camshaft 1,921 cc. GLS 5, has convinced me of how effectively this has been accoinplished. in the VW tradition.

To achieve better fuel conservation VW use a notably high 5th gear, labelled "E" on the gear-lever knob to make the point. Cruising at 70 m.p.h.. this calls for an engine speed of only 2,660 r.p.m., high gearing indeed. The just over-square engine, with its five 79.5 x 77.4 mm. cylinders. is very flexible but naturally one does not use this fifth speed to quite the crawl from which many modern cars will accept top gear; it is in the nature of an overdrive. Nevertheless, it can be made extensive use of. and in this comparatively light t21 cwt. unladen , low-drag Hatchback, the fuel saving is then impressive.

I tend to be a petrol-miser at the best of times and under mainly moderate-speed but with non-thrifty commuting-type driving I got 29.6 m.p.g. — a slight disappointment after the "E" build-up. In this latest Pastas one is reminded IA, change into the next higher gear when a tiny green light comes on in the "consurnpthan-indicator". I otherwise ignored this fascinating dial. with a needle moving from 25-30-40 to 50 m.p.g. readings, as it seemed an invitation sooner or later to drive smartly off the road!). The 1.9-litre Passat did not have VW's additional aid to good fuel consumption, the button and clutch-operated engine stop / start system for use in traffic, as found on the 1.6 models, and there was faint "pinking" on 4-star Texaco.

Apart from its notable economy, the new Passal is a very well-conceived car. With the new torsion-beam rear suspenston on Polo Iines, it goes round fast corners safely and pleasantly. It rides comfortably, but with sorne very slight lateral float and bump-thump, and has excellent seats, which the back-seat occupants also praised. There is now more room within and the Hatchback, which can he opened with or without the key, extends right to the floor-level, lifts easily, and with the back-seat squab down, swallows a great deal of luggage. This seat-squab folds 1/3 / 2/3rds, which I found very useful when wanting to take home a long tree and much other luggage — did BL or VW think first of this sensible split-squab feature?

The Passat has good-quality finish and build. in the VW idiom, its instruments are very easy to read as on most German cars, its gear-change is nice to use, the clutch light, and the appearance is crisp, but it's a pity about the ugly silencer canister. But on what I had been assured was the top model for test, it was disappointing to find no central door-locking, no sun-roof. no n/s, door-mirror. The engine runs quietly up to a safe 6,300 r.p.m.. giving 115 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5.900 r.p.m., and 114 lb./ft. torque at 3.700 r.p.m., and is flexible fn. below 1.000 r.p.m. in normal top gear. For a roomy car able to wind up to over 115 m.p.h. and dispose of 0-60 m.p.h. in 9.6 sec., the fuel economy is indeed commendable. The Passat's interior, if somewhat plain, is enhanced by well-designed door handles and "pulls", useful door pockets, many stowages (but nowhere to rest picnic cups), a lockable cabby with a neat catch. and even the digital clock, often so distracting, is a pleasure to check the time with. A pleasant horn-note is sounded from the steering wheel spoke's extremities, there as internal adjustment itf the o/s. mirror, and the heating and ventilation are well contrived, with a 3-speed fan, although it takes time for the heat to change to cool air.

The steering, low geared at 4 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, tends to be vague and has the Audi self-centring feel, but the VW Passat's handling is of a high standard, virtually without front-drive inhibitions, although steering-loch is somewhat restricted. There-are simple two-stalk controls and these, and the fascia push-buttons and warning lights, are nicely done. The test-car had Continental TS tyres. Equipment includes smart alloy wheels, dipping interior mirror, small head restraints, laminated screen, latching fuel-filler cap, tinted glass, etc. There was a had rattle at times from the trim of the driver's door, but the doors shut with a "quality sound", in spite of the structure as a whole feeling rather "lightweight," like that of an Audi 100. The fuel tank contains a useful 13.2 gallons, so the range is in the order of 350 to 400 miles. The automatic choke functions impeccably. The servo-assisted brakes are spongily powerful.

As one-time Beetle fanatic, I am delighted that VW (in this count,. VAG of Milton Keynes) continue to offer such outstanding cars. This top-model of the new Passat range cosrs £6,391,— W.B.