I drove one leg of the trip back home in Ben’s Passat. No one would qualify Interstate 5 as an exciting drive, but the straight monotony of the road reveals a lot about a car’s road tripping qualities. Follow the jump for detailed trip impressions.
Ride and Handling
The Passat rode excellently over both the smooth and broken pavement. Both passengers were fast asleep and stayed asleep while I was at the wheel. Bumps were easily soaked up, and no violent impacts were felt the entire trip. There isn’t much to comment on for handling because of the lack of corners, but the steering tracked straight and I had no trouble following traffic with one hand resting lightly on the wheel. Ben finds my Mazda to be a more relaxed cruiser in terms of steering, but it’s a neck and neck comparison for me. Passing traffic was a breeze even in 6th gear. It was disconcerting how quickly the TDI picks up speed. Even with a light right foot, the torque effortlessly pulls the car past legal limits while barely increasing revs. 5th gear didn’t seem particularly useful, and twice I mistakenly shifted from 5th to 4th when I really wanted to get into 6th.
How quiet the Passat feels depends on where you sit. As a passenger, the car is very quiet. Most of what I heard was muted tire noise. However, on the driver’s side, there’s considerably more window noise near the A-pillar. The noise increases proportional to speed, and buffets considerably more past 70 MPH. Given how quiet the passenger side is, I suspect it’s due to a poor seal from the weatherstripping in the door and may vary from one Passat to another.
Regardless of where you sit, it’s easy to hold a conversation even with the radio on. For so much interior space, I was pleasantly surprised how little echo and boom there was overall. Unless you were accelerating, or standing outside of the car, there was negligible diesel clatter.
Comfort and Ergonomics
I immediately fell in love with the car’s visibility and sight lines. The vertical front and rear windshields made the cabin feel airy and spacious. Like all modern cars, the belt line is high, but the high roof allows the greenhouse to be large and allows lots of California sunshine in. Perfect for grabbing a tan. All controls are well placed and intuitive. The cruise settings live on a stalk instead of the steering wheel, but it takes all of 10 seconds to get used to it and use it without looking down. This also frees up space on the steering wheel to have controls for audio on the left and mini display controls on the right. The mini display can be cycled left and right for different modes like trip information, music, settings, and phone. Up and down then cycles through sections of that mode. The mini display is so good that it makes the screen mounted in the center console redundant. The weakest part of the package is definitely the screen. As far as touch screens go, this one is less awful than others, but far from good. In the base SE trim, there is no backup camera, and no navigation. Without those two features, what’s the point of having a screen? I found the base model controls in a previous rental to be simultaneously more functional and more beautiful. Thankfully, climate control is still done via knobs. The minimally bolstered leatherette seats are a touch too firm for my tastes, but I am jealous of the bun warmers built into the front seats.
“Extremely competent” comes to mind whenever I sit in this car. The thoughtful design of the interior shines whether you’re on a short test drive, or a long haul road trip. Pending long term reliability, I think this car is one of the best family sedans regardless of price.