Driven: Volkswagen Passat B8 Comfortline – hark the winds of change

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So what we’ve been noticing very lately from the People’s Car Company from Wolfsburg is one thing, and that is change. As creatures of habit it’s not something all of us enjoy but if you may have noticed, Volkswagen Malaysia (now Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia) is undergoing a very thorough revamp with most models not part of the ‘core’ list such as the Sharan and Touareg not making the cut.

What’s left available for purchase are the hatchbacks and sedans – also the recent Tiguan to catch on the compact SUV craze – and it’s for good reason as these models make up a sizeable slice of the number of cars sold here. With other body sizes axed off the list, you’re left with the Polo, Jetta, Golf… and the range topping executive rider, the Passat.

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The Passat left us somewhat curious with its current B8 iteration. Compared to its previous generation, the B7 was largely more of an evolution of its predecessor, the B6 as it retained the aged PQ46 platform with a visual nip and tuck on its fascia, while the internals remained more or less the same. With the B8 model, Volkswagen’s latest comes with a complete makeover, having the large sedan based on the modern MQB platform with various improvements for its new generation of chassis and better modularity for their diverse range of models, reducing cost and complexity to keep up with the times.

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Despite the full model change, the Comfortline model we have here today can be very well mistaken for a facelift or a refresher. We can’t fault you though; the Passat’s overall silhouette is inherited over its predecessors but reworked to instil a much sharper look. Clearly evident here on the outside are the broad use of horizontal fittings and chrome, displayed proudly front, side and back; the first thing you’ll notice at the front are the slimmer yet eye-catching grill and LED headlamps which display more ferocity this time around over the B7.

The rear however, tries to repeat the same body language with narrow lamps and a wider rear, but without the same aggressiveness as it turns out – the thin chrome strip melded together with reflectors on both sides just simply looks out of place, which only serves to confuse the direction of design VW intended the Passat for.

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Stepping into its interior however may change things, and we’ll get to it in a minute. The KESSY system that comes equipped with the Comfortline and Highline models simplifies entry into the vehicle with a hand on the driver handle and fob in pocket – a definite must for entry level executive models of this century. Taking a seat at the cockpit reveals a centre console layout that is far from changed from the B7, apart from a far more appealing upper deck with streamlined air conditioning vents and analog clock placed higher on the proverbial mantel. The textured metallic trim finish set in as the secondary highlight color of the interior could be a hit or miss though, but we definitely prefer it over the tacky faux wood insert in the Highline model.

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Even with the Comfortline’s mid spec tier you get a lot of features baked in, with 12-way electric seats wrapped in Vienna leather for both passengers up front with memory and massage functions for the driver, park assist for both parallel and perpendicular parking, tri-zone Climatronic air-conditioning control, and a multitude of media options (AUX, Bluetooth, SD card, iPod and USB) all hooked up to a 6.5 inch ‘Composition Media’ head unit.

It’s also the reason why the rest of the cockpit seems so devoid of buttons – which the unit is deeply integrated with to activate or disable features. It’s straightforward too, so there isn’t much option navigation required just to turn off that auto wiper sensor – great for the folks which take time to get adapted to.

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Those sitting at the rear won’t likely complain either, as there’s ample leg room for a larger than average Asian, rear air conditioning with temperature adjustment, a center armrest, reading lights, and good seating ergonomics set fairly low into the cabin. The boot space now stands at 586 litres, more than sufficient for a five seater’s carrying needs and wants.

New would-be buyers would be pleased to know that the 1.8 turbocharged BlueMotion engine planted within is not a complete carryover from the previous Passat model; instead, the engine gets an additional 20 hp boost from 160 hp to 180 hp but with torque figures unchanged at 250Nm. For comparison, the 2-litre engine Highline model dishes out 220 hp from factory, which makes 180 hp still somewhat a respectable figure; it’s not all sour grapes for those with a smaller budget.

The motor is paired to the familiar seven speeder DSG dry clutch ‘box and is limited to 250Nm of torque – just sufficient to propel the Passat out into the open with enough gusto, although all of us would rightfully agree that more is better.

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The drive was far more impressive over the initial expectation we initially had in our minds – because if what you expect from a D-segment car where everything is tuned to resemble a comfortable cruiseliner than a nimble speedboat – that’s where you’re entirely wrong. Despite the heavyweight group the Passat falls into, it has room to hustle some urgency; there’s the turbo to thank for, of course. Give it some gas and the DSG gearbox gracefully drops a gear, maybe two if you’re eager with the throttle and see yourself zoom past things, although it’s no hyperdrive you’ll experience here.

The torque comes in chunky which you get full power from 1250 rpm all the way to five grand so don’t blame yourself if you get less than quoted fuel consumption figures. Speaking of consumption, even with a heavy foot ’round town we still couldn’t run down the 66 litre fuel tank; that’s VW’s BlueMotion for you.

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When it comes to baking it’s the recipe that matters; the same goes for a car’s design. Despite being obviously set up for sharper handling – it even comes with a Sport setting for its ESC – the Passat manages to maintain its luxury guise with a supple ride, yet uncompromisingly shielded from the outside elements. The Istanbul 17″ rims with 215/55/R17 Continental UltraContact6 tyres keeps traction satisfactorily in check while excellently absorbing road noise and imperfections; while with most corners the Passat can deal without lots of fuss.

Although a stiffer setup can be rather jarring at times on uneven roads, the reduction in body roll on turns is a good trade off which we tend to prefer. But regardless, its stability quickly reaches its limit at higher speeds, as the overbearing weight transfer rapidly overwhelms its poise, with the ESC killing power to put the car back in the green.

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With the OTR pricing at RM179,990 the pricing is pretty hefty with the rest of the other D-segment offerings out there, comparing to other Japanese products such as the Camry, Accord, Mazda6 and the Teana which may one-up the Passat for the buck.

However, the Passat’s saving grace is due to its build quality in terms of comfort and ride, and the fact that its doors closes with a thud far more solid than the other products from the East. If you have owned a Japanese previously and in the market for a different cuisine – the Passat Comfortline is a good reason for change. With the B8 model improving from its former model on almost every aspect – to us, that is the kind of change we want.

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Having a penchant for cars since youth, he firmly believes that speed and stature go hand-in-hand. He enjoys the occasional spirited drive and can be found personally grooming his cars from time to time.

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