We take the 2012 Volkswagen Passat out for a 5 hour journey with kids on the back seat.
Most of the car reviews on t-break are done by our car-nut Taimoor. He loves testing everything from the horsepower to the design lines and the tech that powers it all. I tend to look at cars differently- from a dad’s view. With a family of four that includes a wife from Muscat, we make road trips to Oman 3-4 times in a year. I’m sure there are many people like me and thus I decided to turn these road-trips into write-ups about how cars would perform in such conditions. My first such article was done using a VW Touareg, a car I certainly enjoyed driving for a 4+ hour stretch. Thus when it was time to go back to Muscat, I called VW again and asked for the Passat which was reviewed and liked by Taimoor earlier this month. However, with different priorities, let’s find out how well the 2013 VW Passat did as a family car heading on a long journey.
To give you a bit of a background, I own a Honda Accord as well as a BMW 5 series- so I felt right at home with the VW Passat as it is pretty much in the same category as my other cars as far as size and seating is concerned. I can’t say I cared too much about the looks of the Passat- it was a bit boxy on the outside for me but that is purely a personal opinion as others I showed the car to did appreciate its styling. I did really like the way it looks on the inside though.
Since I have driven a few VW cars before, I felt quite comfortable setting up things like my mobile phone and media streaming. In fact, VW has certainly cut down on one step to do, as I remember having to set my iPhone separately as a phone and then as a media player on other models. However with the 2013 VW Passat (and I’m assuming its upgraded software), my iPhone was automatically set as both during setup. One more thing I found very convenient on the 2013 Passat was a cable that let me connect my iPhone to the car, which charged the phone while it was streaming media. Other than streaming media, there is a CD player, AUX input, SD card slot and a built-in 30GB hard drive for storing media.
The large touch-screen certainly made it easy to access not just the media aspect of the VW Passat but all of the other gadgetry. Maps and navigation are built-in along with search capabilities for finding restaurants and gas stations. A button for traffic is present but not supported in this region – at least not yet. You can also watch DVDs on the screen through the slot-loading player.
A lot of screen controls can be accessed using the four way navigation controls on either side of the steering wheel. Since I have test-driven VWs before, I was pretty familiar with these controls and I certainly appreciated how VW has managed to fit in quite a bit of functionality into these controls without making it feel daunting or overly complicated.
The model I received also came with automatic seats with memory control. The seats are part leather, part suede and are certainly very comfortable especially with lower back support. Besides making the seats more comfortable, VW has also made sure there is plenty of leg room. The 2013 VW Passat is certainly more spacious than my Accord or my BMW and my kids along with the maid happily acknowledged this after the 4+ hour journey to Muscat.
The back seat also provides quick access to the boot, and VW has certainly managed to equip the 2013 Passat with one of the largest boots I’ve seen in a car of this size. While packing for the Muscat trip, my wife was a bit concerned on the amount of luggage and for sure, neither my accord nor my BMW would have been able to accommodate what we were taking. But the VW Passat fitted everything in comfortably, and while I won’t say there was much room left after packing it all in, it was not nearly as packed in as I expected it to be.
One of the things I immediately noticed was the lack of not just a rear camera but parking sensors as well. While I agree that a back camera is more of a luxury option, parking sensors are something very fundamental to cars, even found in models that cost quite a bit less than the Passat, like the Camry we reviewed some time back. Considering how the Passat can comfortably equip three adult passengers on the back that can easily block your back windows, I’m surprised that VW did not think of adding parking sensors to the Passat.
In fact, it almost seems that VW does not want you to put passengers on the back seat as there is no air-conditioning on the back either. We all know how uncomfortable summer months are in the Middle East and it does take a while for a car to cool, so letting those back seat passengers sweat until the car gets cool enough is not exactly encouraging.
Speaking of the summer sun, one minor annoyance is the position of the metallic Start/Stop button on the gear box that has the tendency to attract the sun’s rays through the wind-shield. While this would normally not be an issue if you were to simply press the button, the 2013 VW Passat requires you to HOLD that button until the car starts which could be anywhere between 3-4 seconds which is enough to feel a nice burning sensation. VW should have either placed this button near the steering wheel or not require you to hold it down to get the car started. If neither of these was an option, at least make the button using a material that doesn’t get so hot.
Moving on to safety, which is one of the most important features for me as a dad, the VW scored really well. It has six airbags in total as well as Child Safety locks on rear doors along with auto-locking when the car starts going over a certain speed. The rear seats also have support for LATCH, which are basically anchor points to attach your car seats to.
Coming to the actual drive of the car, the Passat is definitely a very smooth and comfortable ride. More often than not, I had to make sure that I was driving below the speed limit. Cruise control certainly comes in handy during long stretches of driving and it was easy to set it up on the Passat which works as well as you’d expect a non-adaptive cruise control to work.
Mileage on the 2013 VW Passat is decent. The fuel tank has a capacity of 70 liters which, at the current price of 95-octane “Special”, means that it will take roughly AED 135 to fill it up. Most of my driving was done on the highway which gives you better mileage and on a full tank, the Passat showed me about 740km range. Within the city, I would expect close to 550kms on a full tank, which is about what I would get from my Accord or BMW. However considering that the Passat has a 5 cylinders (versus four on my Accord and BMW), it is definitely impressive.
Overall the VW Passat scores well on technology, safety, handling and fuel consumption. It starts at AED 90,999 while the fully loaded model that I drove is around AED 118,000. However, even the fully loaded model does not come with parking sensors or air conditioning in the back which is something I would have much preferred over some of the other gadgetry or automation. With a little more effort the VW Passat can be turned from a good to a great family car.
Update: Following this article, I was invited by VW to sit down with the MD of this region- Mr. Stephan Mecha and let me tell you how delightful it was to have the conversation with Mr. Mecha. He informed me that the Passat is currently manufactured in the US and Europe with the US one being slightly more affordable. Since they want to compete with the likes of Toyota and Honda in the region, they brought the US version of the Passat to the Middle East. Instantly, they realized that they need back air conditioning and a rear camera both of which will be a part of the next model arriving in a month or so.