Ambling around the bulbous bodywork of his amiable, bubble-wrap Cactus the other day, Citroën designer Mark Lloyd was bemoaning the presence of the sole concave surface on the car (top of front wheel arch into bonnet), forced upon him by passenger-impact legislation, whist berating what he sees as a burgeoning German obsession with stamping out panels flatter than a Lancashire vowel.
Here, sadly, he and I part company. Given the choice between the increasingly globular execution of almost everything currently spawned in France and the parade-ground crease and curling-pitch couture of so many Volkswagen-Audi products, I must register a strong preference for the latter.
Nor, it seems, am I alone. Because, ever-deliberately styled with little black cocktail-dress simplicity to find favour with a compass-boxing array of global market tastes, seven generations of Passat have thus far accounted for some 22-million sales (1.1 million of them in the last year alone), making this VW’s best-selling car by some considerable chalk.
Indeed, somewhat peeing on the firework of protestations that the spurning of saloons in favour of SUVs is now a national pastime, the collective variants of the Passat still outsell the Tiguan in the UK.
VW Passat (2015): time to test the Mk8 saloon
No surprises, then, at first sight of the eighth-generation car. Honed at the anvil, with interest provided by door-handle-anchoring creases sharp enough to shave a debutante’s leg, the new Volkswagen Passat is a handsome Tardis indeed.
And I mention the eponymous police box not because a colleague rather deliciously likened the front of the car to ‘an unpeeled Dalek’, but because, despite being both shorter and lower than its predecessor, the new Passat’s MQB-based platform somehow lobs an extra 33mm at the wheelbase (all of which appears to have been allocated to rear seat legroom) and an extra 26mm in headroom.
Within a gently Phaeton-esque rump, moreover, the 586-litre boot is large enough to easily incarcerate a small Irishman and a good fortnight’s air supply. Whilst, in estate guise (£1500 more than the equivalent saloon), the loadspace is so cavernous you’ll have to up both segment and wallet to Mercedes’ E-class in the quest for a match.
Inside the new Volkswagen Passat's cabin
On board, a clinically crisp dashboard design of familiar componentry is hallmarked by what appears to be the world’s longest air vent and the optional, 12.3-inch TFT screen instrument binnacle first visited upon the new TT. Cost savings aside, I remain gently baffled by the presentation of slightly fuzzy, faux analogue dials merely in the interests of mild ocular magic and the reproduction of a sat-nav map already resplendent in the centre console, six inches away...
Despite a seat erring towards tough love on the scale of ergonomic affection, the driving position is first class, and the rear seats offer more space than any rival that immediately springs to mind.
Passat equipment, spec
In SE Business trim, the Passat boasts hefty standard equipment levels and a predictably lavish Kon-Tiki of safety features. Trailer Assist is a riveting option which I shall be trumpeting loudly throughout caravan-blighted Mudfordshire next spring. It tackles trailer-reversing steering for you, allegedly morphing the impossible into the merely pragmatic. Armed with a couple of pallets of Staffordshire Potteries seconds, I ache for a go.
The Passat comes to the UK with a choice of 1.6 or 2.0-litre diesel engines, the former generating 118bhp, the latter in 148bhp, 187bhp and bi-turbo 237bhp four-wheel-drive guises. Runaway best-seller in our fleet-dominated market will be the 148bhp 2.0-litre unit married to a six-speed manual transmission.
It’s a pity the six-speed DSG variant’s 10g/km CO2 penalty will elicit mass spurning in the fleet market, because the oleaginous quality of the gearbox entirely suits the Passat’s quiet, comfortable and pleasingly composed ride characteristics. The manual shift is slick enough, certainly, but the cabin’s such a cosseting environment on the move that any activity other than lolling, gentle dribbling and a whiff of steering feels something of a chore.
Which is not to say that, if you add a degree of urgency to the equation, the Passat doesn’t acquit itself rather well. Though the steering isn’t entirely engaging, the car turns in smartly and displays ample poise and stacks of grip thereafter.
Doubtless the new, three-year-old 2015 Ford Mondeo will claim dynamic supremacy, but I think it unlikely to pip the Passat in the lounge-lizard stakes.