Volkswagen Passat (2016) review: This tech heavyweight delivers where you need it most
When you think of Volkswagen in 2016, the first things that come to mind are Golf GTI and Dieselgate, but really one of those things should be the Volkswagen Passat (2016). Although it doesn’t capture the imagination in the same way as, say, a tricked-out Mark 2 Golf or a stunning Volkswagen Scirocco, the VW Passat has existed in the VW range for the past 40 years, serving families, business fleets and more with very little fanfare.
And that’s a shame because in 2016 the Volkswagen Passat isn’t just good – it’s really good. In fact, despite its sleepy looks and less-than-dramatic image, the VW Passat proves to be one of the most technologically advanced cars we’ve tested, and all for a
And that’s a shame because in 2016 the Volkswagen Passat isn’t just good – it’s really good. In fact, despite its sleepy looks and less-than-dramatic image, the VW Passat proves to be one of the most technologically advanced cars we’ve tested, and all for afairly reasonable price of £44,450. So, what’s so good about the 2016 Volkswagen Passat, and is it worth buying? Read my full review of the Volkswagen Passat to find out.
This is part of an ongoing series of car reviews that focus principally on in-car technology, which we’re carrying out in association with our sister website Carbuyer.
Apps and Connectivity 5/5
My first impressions of the VW Passat are ones of quiet sophistication, in fact, almost silent sophistication. It’s certainly not the worst-looking car, with flashes of chrome and crisp, straight edges strengthening its style, but it’s hardly the most eye-catching. Jump inside, however, and it soon becomes apparent that the Passat’s understated exterior is hiding some serious technology.
In 2016, the way we store and use media has changed. We use our phones more than ever, but CDs haven’t exactly died out, and SD cards and USB sticks complicate things further. After spending some time with the Passat, it’s clear that Volkswagen knows this, and has put some serious effort into connectivity.
Simply put, the VW delivers a huge range of options for media, and it means you can pretty much play anything you like in your car. There are two USB ports on offer, one AV socket and twin SD cards slots in the Passat, so if you’ve embraced the digital age, it’s very likely you’ll be able to bring it along for the drive. Even if you’re living in the last century and still prefer discs, Volkswagen has also somehow found space for a CD player.
That’s pretty impressive on its own, but the Passat we tested also comes with a 64GB SSD hard drive to import your CDs on, so you won’t even need to carry them around in the glovebox. Altogether, the Discover Navigation Pro system we tested was £800 extra, which isn’t bad value on the whole.
Alongside the connectivity, the Volkswagen Passat puts in a more-than-solid effort when it comes to apps. It may not have the bespoke apps of the Tesla or the huge range of possibilities BMW gives you with the 7 Series, but VW’s selection is useful.
First off, and most importantly, the Volkswagen is great for connecting your smartphone. You can link your phone via Bluetooth, but the Passat also comes with support for MirrorLink – and includes several useful VW apps. There are loads to choose from, from Shared Audio, that lets passengers make a shared playlist, to Think Blue Trainer, an app designed to help you drive in a more eco-friendly manner. These might not be spectacular, but they’re apps you might actually use, and having them is a bonus.
At the same time, there’s also a range of third-party apps you can download, such as Parkopedia and miRoamer. All of these features come under the Volkswagen Car-Net umbrella, a bespoke ecosystem of apps pushed by the carmaker.
But there’s more, the Volkswagen Passat also includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which let you access various messaging, media and navigation apps on your phone through the car’s 8in touchscreen, and control them via Siri or Google Now voice recognition.
Throw in the aforementioned MirrorLink capability, which with compatible smartphones allows you to mirror the screen of your mobile directly to the central display in the Passat, and you have one of the best apps and connectivity offerings on the market.
Display and UI 4.5/5
Of course, all these apps would be useless without a good screen and UI combination, and the Volkswagen performs exceptionally well on both fronts. When it comes to controlling the Passat’s Discover Navigation Pro system, your main port of call will be the 8in colour touchscreen mounted in the middle of the dash.
Although it’s not the most vibrant I’ve seen – with colour affected by a slightly greyish tint – it’s super slick and responsive, and its matte finish means that distracting reflections are kept to a pleasing minimum.
Using the Passat’s system with the touchscreen is easy, but if you prefer to use physical controls you’re catered for here as well, with a rotary knob on the driver’s side, to the right of the screen, and shortcut buttons flanking the display. It’s no iDrive, but it’s another example of the VW providing everything you need.
However, the dashboard is only part of the story. The Passat we tested was equipped with the futuristic, but perfectly legible, Active Info Display – a huge, 12.3in, high-resolution colour LCD display that takes the place of traditional dials. For £580, the display is almost as good as Audi’s much-praised Virtual Cockpit and displays virtual clocks, music playback information, route and journey information, all in sharp detail.
Satnav and audio 4/5
And that satellite navigation is impressive as well. The Volkswagen covers all the core features you’d expect it to, from multi-route planning to toll road avoidance, but its POI search wasn’t as comprehensive as I’d have liked.
There weren’t as many categories to choose from in the POI search as in other cars’ navigation systems, and it took one or two seconds longer to find certain locations. At the same time, while the voice search was pretty reliable, it wasn’t the quickest around.
Once the car’s figured out what you meant to say, however, routes took just a few seconds to be calculated, and I also really like the way it provides a choice of scenic, economy and fastest routes based on live traffic information.
On the road, the Passat’s 12.5in virtual cockpit display helped hugely with navigation, providing a large moving map display between the dials. Throw in prompt and timely audio instructions, plus your speed and next-turn directions sparingly projected onto an optional £500 heads-up display (HUD) on the windscreen, and the Passat does its utmost to keep you informed.
There is room for improvement, however. The Passat’s satnav doesn’t have lane assistance, and the names of roads could be clearer. If you don’t get on with the VW satnav, though, don’t forget that you can always switch to CarPlay or Android Auto (depending on the phone you use) and use Apple Maps or Google Maps instead.
If the Passat does drop the ball at all, it’s in the audio stakes. Simply put, the Passat’s sound system is a bit… meh. My audiobook test sounded slightly nasal, while the jazz track I usually use lacked warmth and depth. In terms of bass, there was plenty of it, but it simply didn’t have the definition and control I’d like.
I won’t lie, I did enjoy listening some of my favourite music in the Passat, but I didn’t get the same sense of occasion as I did in something like the S-Class. Now I know the S-Class is fitted with a £6,500 Burmester sound system, but if you’re buying new, I strongly encourage you to consider upgrading. Volkswagen offers a ten-channel, 700W Dynaudio system for the Passat, which costs just under £900. Although I didn’t get to test it in the Passat, I’ve listened to a similar Dynaudio in a Golf GTi and it’s a much better all-rounder.
Driving assistant and parking 4/5
It’s already clear that the VW Passat is a solid tech performer, so it comes as no surprise that it also has autonomous capabilities. Front and rear cameras and parking sensors make it easier to manually manoeuvre the car into a tight space, but the VW Passat will also park for you if you like. In practice, it did very well here; just press the Park button before and after finding a space or you need Park, and the Passat will auto-detect a suitable bay or parallel parking space. It won’t brake or control the throttle for you, though – it only steers you in.
When it comes to driving, the VW goes for more semi-autonomous features than fully autonomous. There’s adaptive cruise control here, alongside lane departure warning and blind spot detection. Of course, the Passat also comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB) to help you stop the car safely in the event that there’s an accident in front of you.
Although it might be largely unassuming on the outside, it turns out the VW Passat is a car-tech heavyweight. Sure, it doesn’t have the style or the flair of something like the BMW 7 Series, but at half the price it ticks all the right boxes.
There’s nothing gimmicky or cutting edge here, but Volkswagen has put together a car full of useful technology, most of which is easy to access and get to grips with. Add features such as the virtual dashboard, HUD and surprisingly useful VW CarNet apps – oh, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – and you have a surprisingly advanced package for (reasonably) sensible money.