The VW Passat is the M&S of family cars. BMW is Waitrose and Skoda a worthy Tesco…


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…

You might think that the latest VW Passat is having something of a mid-life crisis to coincide with mine.


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…

The latest VW Passat is really just a larger Golf with a boot…


I suppose that if I needed any further proof as to how good the Passat is then I just had to take the word of the judges from the European Car of Year. The Passat won by 92 votes – the largest margin in years.

Dragging along in second place was the Citroen Cactus (reviewed elsewhere on Car Couture), with the Ford Mondeo way back in fourth (we’d love to test Fords but unlike 40 other manufacturers who load us cars they don’t appear to know what a motoring blog is!).

It was the biggest victory margin in years, with the voting team giving VW’s sensible family car all round praise. Notable that British judges opting for the Citroen Cactus instead. Weird.

The biggest accolade I can give the Passat is that it is really a Golf with a boot but in larger form. And perhaps that’s all you need to know because there’s no better hatchback out there than the Golf…

Thursday – Passat Vs Panda Shock!


Last day with the VW Alltrack before we swap it for something altogether more rugged – the, ahem, Fiat Panda 4×4… Both are parked outside at the moment and while I pander for the Panda, I’ll miss the no-nonsense functionality of the Passat too.

After a ‘short’ life time of driving a different car every week, I’m starting to appreciate the comforts of a big estate. Especially one that comes with such a classless persona (if you can ignore the hefty price tag!). That’s what happens when you hit 50…

The outdoorsy image of the Alltrack is pretty subtle on the outside, while there’s just the logo splashed on the centre console inside to remind you that this is one Passat that can perform well off-road too.

The chrome roof rails, obligatory black plastic cladding on the wheel arches and bumpers, and the underbody protection panels are less in your face than they might sound.

So, a well-built, more practical alternative to a conventional SUV. The Alltrack is the prefect antidote to those over-sized 4x4s that do more to massage our egos than our actual needs.

Wednesday – The Understatedly Cool Passat?


There was a time when the Passat estate was considered, ahem, not very cool. A middle of the road estate for people who didn’t really care how they got from A to B, as long as they got there.

There have been a few sporty and interesting versions along the way, the Passat has, after all, been around since 1973 when SUVs were a pipe dream and Britain first joined the EEC.

The Alltrack is by far the most expensive, not just because it has four-wheel drive but because it is fully loaded with every driving aid that VW could throw at it.

For all that, I think the Passat has developed an understated ‘cool’ – it stands for longevity, reliability and a classless aura that you just don’t get with a Mercedes or Audi estate.

Cool? Perhaps not in the true sense but I still look forward to driving it every day…


Tuesday – The Art of Cupholder


Saab used to make wonderful cabins, the most comfortable seats and, of course, the very best upholders. Yes, once you had experienced a slick Swedish cupholder, nothing else would do.

In the Passat, VW play it safe with two slots, side by side in front of the arm rest. It’s a very ‘safe’ design – unlike the Saab 900, which had cupholders that popped out of the dashboard, to twist and turn into shape.

The trouble with the Alltrack holders is that you rarely trouble them with cups. They get used for keys, the wallet and whatever else you carry in your car. Plus, unlike fold-out dash systems, they fill up with fluff and dust. Or shards of chocolate.

Apart from that, the view from the driving seat of the Alltrack is pretty special. It feels every inch as special as an Audi and I feel instantly at home – like I’ve been driving the VW for years.

Could VW do better? Well yes, they could get the Swedish designer who created the Saab upholders in to add that extra finishing touch…


Monday – The Cut-Price Audi allroad


A cut-price Audi allroad? Maybe but the Alltrack is a very decent off-roader in its own right. Living on a farm, there’s plenty of opportunity to put the VW’s off-road ability to the test – and that’s where most of the additional work on this Passat estate has been directed.

With the regular Passat’s ride height upped from 135 to 165mm, it can cope well enough with rutted tracks and pot-holed lanes. The 4MOTION system pushes 90 per cent of the power to the front wheels for everyday driving, then adjusts accordingly when the rear wheels start to lose grip.

Just like a Land Rover, the Alltrack has a hill descent system too, which takes all the skill out of slipping down a slippery slope. It works in conjunction with the DSG automatic gearbox and is simplicity itself.

On road, there is a wealth of safety equipment, like blind spot monitoring and lane assist. It’s a very competent car in the dirt and off. The perfect machine for a family? Yes, if you can justify the high price tag.

Sunday – When Heaters Were An Optional Extra


The 1960s was a beautiful age of car making. Sadly, my father was more in to his garden than ‘digging’ his car. The result? A Hillman Husky estate (well worth a Google) than bore a remarkably sad face and was painted lifeless grey.

Cars like that can have a serious affect on a child. No wonder I grew up in the backseat looking at other, more aesthetically pleasing vehicles, wondering why we owned such a shed. Optional extras in the Hillman included way out luxuries, like a heater and a radio. We had neither – or a heated rear screen for that matter.

The Passat could be considered a new millennium equivalent of the Husky. An everyday family estate, of modest looks, it is, however, extraordinarily well-equipped in Alltrack form. My father would have marvelled just at electrically folding door mirrors, with LED integrated indicators and automatic dimming function.

He also never owned a car with heated seats, satellite navigation or rain sensing windscreen wipers for that matter. His vegetable garden was amazing though and we never went to bed hungry…


Saturday – Sensibly Smart


Nobody really wants to be called sensible, do they? Not unless you are an MP, a judge or looking for a place on the parish council. Sensible shoes, sensible hats and a sensible pension plan – it’s enough to make you consider buying a Skoda.

The Passat Alltrack is sensible too but in a rather good way. The rise of the SUV means that the great British car buying public has become obsessed with rufty-tufty 4x4s – vehicles that are all about status and kudos, and not really what most buyers actually need.

The Alltrack is  a sensible choice because it does everything an SUV does, drives like a normal car AND looks great. VW designers have obviously increased the ride height for better ground clearance, added some discreet styling trim and fitted front and rear underside scuff plates. However, to all intent and purposes, the Alltrack still looks like a standard Passat estate. No bad thing.

The Passat isn’t a car for the enthusiastic driver but as sensible as it is, the Alltrack is also super competent, has rock solid build qualities and is exceptionally well screwed together. And who wants to be a footballer’s wife in an SUV anyway?

Friday – Estate That Thinks It’s An SUV


The Passat estate is the surprise car of the year so far. Last time I drove one of these it was a poor second to the Ford Mondeo – now Volkswagen’s family mover is a seriously refined machine.

Okay, that may be because this is the top-of-the-range Alltrack version that costs as much as a decent SUV. However, with 4Motion four-wheel drive it is equally as capable and sports a much bigger load area in the boot.

In fact, it’s hard to see why anybody would want a cumbersome 4×4 when you could opt for the Alltrack. It may lack a little extra ground clearance but let’s face it, how many SUV owners really put their cars to the test in anything more than a muddy field?

It also drives in a more car-like manner – which means no body roll on the corners and better handling all round. What’s not to like about this Passat, apart from the high price?