Loads cheaper – loads of space

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SAME engine, different cars tried one week after the other. Conclusion: what a difference a bit of extra weight makes.

Subject of this test, Volkswagen’s latest Passat family load lugger, has just had an almost complete makeover, with only the roof remaining the same as last time.

And in the way of these things (don’t mess with a winning formula) the result is a car that looks almost exactly like the old one, with a wider radiator grille grafted on the front.

It’s supposed to suggest the look of the bigger, dearer VW Phaeton, except that this car is so rare a sight on UK roads you’ve probably never spotted one. The same style is going to become the new face of the entire VW line-up, so you’ll soon recognise it.

Inside, there’s a modest rearrangement of what was already a finely designed and built work environment for the sort of business user who is going to spend many hours at the wheel.

New look instruments are joined by an analogue clock (that’s one with hands) that sits in mid-dash and gives one of three time readouts if you include the display in the trip computer and on the optional sat nav screen. No excuse for missing that appointment in a new Passat!

Volkswagen expects more that half the new Passats sold in the UK will be estates and it’s not hard to see why, such is the thought that goes into making it a versatile load mover.

New this time are levers in the load area that unlock the rear seats when you’ve something long to be carried. Unless you then push the seats flat with the load you’ll still have to open a side door to push them down; some rivals spring load the rear seat so it vanishes of its own accord.

Also new on the estate is a load cover that retracts on runners, going halfway at the first push and all the way at a second prod. The test car had a new optional sliding load bed (part of a £260 convenience pack) that looks like a wide upholstered tray, and slides on runners to let you move heavy loads forward.

Included in the car’s SE spec was a radio with DAB receiver, which proved there are still parts of the Midlands where you can’t find a signal. Luckily, the older-fashioned FM waveband did the job nicely, thank you.

But back to the engine/weight combo mentioned at the start; the test car was fitted with the same modestly powerful diesel engine that only the week before had made a VW Golf such fun to drive, while returning an heroic 64mpg.

The Passat was a less joyous drive, needing frequent changes in the slick six-speed gearbox to maintain momentum on surprisingly modest hills, and managing 52mpg in my hands.

Blame the extra weight of the larger Passat, tipping the scales at 225 kilos more than the Golf. That’s like having two giant rugby players (17 stones apiece) sitting invisibly in the back on every journey and doing their silent best to spoil your day with an extra call at the filling station.

VW planners think most buyers will take the larger, more powerful 2.0 litre diesel in their Passat, losing some economy but gaining a much more relaxed drive. They’d be right to do so.