Volkswagen sell more Passats than BMW or Audi make cars, a staggering 1.1 million a year. The benchmark family-mobile is bought in huge numbers around the world – especially in the US and China.
After a week in the top spec GT estate, I think I can understand why. The Passat is the M&S of cars. It has a perceived quality in the UK which many people aspire too. BMW and Audi? Well, I guess they would be Waitrose. Skoda and Hyundai equals Tesco.
The British still believe a car says more about you than most of us would care to admit. And over the last 42 years, the Passat has built up an aura around itself that seems to appeal to that vast majority of people.
Our 4Motion GT model might be from M&S’s premium range but there are plenty of diesel-powered gems that cost much less lower down the range.
The bottom line is that the Passat is a class act. That’s especially true of this latest version which somehow manages to be all things to all people. Which I seem to remember is what VW was originally created to be…
I could never persuade my father to buy an exciting car. I grew up in a succession of Datsun 120Ys and Vauxhall Vivas. The most exciting wheels we ever saw on the family driveway was a Citroen CX saloon – the one with the self-centering steering wheel.
The CX with the crazy hydropneumatic suspension was eventually stolen and found burnt out – which only further proved my father’s point that it was pointless buying a flash car.
In desperation I took him to see a secondhand VW Passat. It ticked all the boxes and was suitably dreary enough not to offend him. It didn’t work – possibly because it was built in Germany and he was funny about stuff like that.
Fortunately, he wasn’t looking at the GT estate model we have on test this week. It’s far too slick and sporty to gain his approval. It’s not as bling as the latest Mondeo but at least designers in this day and age built cars that look even more desirable than a Citroen CX saloon.
Does my bum look big in this? No, I thought not. The Passat may have a 650-litre boot that swells to 1780-litres with the back seats folded flat but it still manages to contend for the rear of the year in the estate category.
In fact, the changes to this eight generation model are so subtle that it’s only the rear view that gives the games away. Check out those neat, slit-eyed exhaust slots on either side – as pretty as a Jaguar XF estate.
With four-wheel drive and 237bhp of power on tap in the Bi TDI, this may lead you to think that the latest Passat is having something of a mid-life crisis to coincide with mine.
Not so. The car doesn’t have the sporty edge of a BMW 3 Series and still feels like, well, a Passat. It’s a brilliant buy, hugely practical and well screwed together but there’s still a dollop of excitement missing in the driving experience…
I’m wondering why it took the Koreans quite so long to build their first hot hatchback. OK, there was once the well-received Hyundai Coupe but the Proceed is really the only car to rival anything with a GTI badge on the boot.
As I’ve already explained, the Proceed GT (I’m fed up with writing Pro_cee’d) isn’t exactly barnstorming fast with a 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds. The gearbox is hardly slick and the 1.6 petrol engine has to be worked to achieve maximum ‘fun’ potential.
Be that as it is, the three-door with the eye-catching profile still provides enough performance to put a smile on my face. Well, for the first 50 miles anyway.
Then my happiness turns to a grimace as I struggle to get comfortable in the rock hard sports seats. It’s quite bizarre that Kia build a lukewarm hatchback then sticks a pair of F1 seats in the front!
Yep, if you like comfort or suffer from haemorrhoids get the standard Proceed and give the GT’s chairs a miss…
As much as I like the sportier looks of the GT, I can’t say the Kia coupe feels that entertaining on the road. The daytime light clusters up front and the stylish design suggest it will be more fun than it is.
Much of this is to do with the steering. Far from feeling sharp and precise (a la Golf GTI and Focus), the GT offers little feedback to the driver, even though this model gets stiffer springs and dampers.
That’s not to say the handling isn’t good – it’s just that rival hot hatchbacks offer a more engaged driver experience.
Back on the road to London today. I’m clocking up good miles in the Kia. However, the fuel tank only holds 51 litres and with consumption around 34mpg, I know I’ll be making more petrol stops than usual this week…