The essential design criteria for the creation of a new generation of a high volume production car has become thoroughly formulaic: improved fuel consumption; lower emissions; more performance; added safety; higher quality; extra features, particularly connectivity; increased carrying capacity; reduced weight; LED exterior lighting; diesel, gasoline and hybrid choices.
Volkswagen’s new Passat, due for public reveal at the 2014 Paris Motor Show this fall, has been conceived to meet all of the above targets while demonstrating the further melding of computer and car technologies in a high-volume product.
At a special pre-launch media briefing at its Potsdam, Berlin, Design Center, VW Head of Design Klaus Bischoff added an extra dimension: “See this car in your rear-view mirror and you will be in awe!” Maybe.
Its front end is certainly very prominent, with four chromed bars that bend inwards towards the distinctive headlamps in a trapezoidal shape. Over the grille and headlights is a further chrome accent that reaches across the whole front end. Headlights are halogen or LED, depending on model and specification. Daytime running lights on some models feature 32 LEDs with two separate modules forming respectively large and small U shapes.
With this eighth generation of a model that has sold 23 million units in those iterations, VW is emphasizing its focus on achieving a distinct identity, high perceived quality, and extensive digital capability.
Company executives are very confident of its quality; if it is indeed as good as it is designed to be, VW Group sibling company Audi will need to ensure that its own technology and quality remains in the ascendant.
Walter Maria de Silva, Head of Group Design Volkswagen AG, underlined the strategic emphasis of the company’s design ethic, saying that it is a 24 hours a day operation to meet the huge company’s global commitments, which span a broad spectrum of time differences. He also emphasized that at the Potsdam facility, 24 nationalities were represented among its approximately 100 designers.
The Passat is the sixth of the Group’s models to be based on the MQB modular transverse matrix platform (others are the VW Golf, Seat Leon, Audi TT and A3, and Skoda Octavia). It will be available in both sedan and station wagon forms, the latter arguably the more aesthetically pleasing. The current and very popular four-door coupe-esque Passat CC version of the car will continue for about 18 months, at which point a new equivalent is expected to be added to the range.
Both sedan and wagon were presented at Potsdam. In range-topping Highline form, styling was notable for its extensive use of brightwork, something that may be appreciated more in Asia than in other markets with a more restrained appreciation of what represents good taste.
As for the car’s general signature, Bischoff emphasized (the sedan's) shorter overhangs—by 67 mm (2.6 in) in front and 13 mm (0.5 in) in the rear, longer wheelbase—and increased by 79 mm (3.1 in) to 2791 mm (109.9 in), with the cabin 33 mm (1.3 in) longer; A-pillar moved toward the rear of the car and lower hood compared to the outgoing model; and the rearward flowing line from the C-pillars. Larger engine Passats get twin trapezoidal tailpipe treatment. The car is 12 mm (0.5 in) wider than the outgoing model, and the sedan is 2 mm (0.08 in) shorter than the previous model. The interior (in Highline form) has a strong luxury flavor. Although the new Passat is 14 mm (0.6 in) lower, it offers up to 26 mm (1.0 in) more headroom. Distinctive points include a dashboard incorporating a continuous horizontal band of air vents.
The driver benefits from a modular infotainment platform and gets an Active Info display with interactive virtual instruments and a combiner head-up display, with information projected on to a retractable glass surface inside of the windshield. Driving, navigation, and assistance information can be integrated into the graphic areas of the speedometer and tachometer. Both main instruments are more widely separated than would be typical to provide screen space for a map display. The configuration is similar to that offered in the new Audi TT. There is an App-based rear-seat entertainment system for tablet computers.
The infotainment system incorporates faster processors for optimized booting, faster sat-nav route calculation, smoother touchscreen capability, and improved voice-recognition system.
“It has a plethora of technologies for its class, but it provides more communication with less complexity,” stressed Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, VW brand Board Member for Development.
Safety aspects include Front Assist plus City Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring; Emergency Assist (the vehicle will stop in an emergency such as driver incapacitation); and Trailer Assist, designed to take the embarrassment out of reversing a trailer. A push button activates the trailer system. A rearview camera provides data for image processing algorithms to analyze trailer pivot angle. The car’s standard mirror adjustment component is used by the driver to adjust the maneuver as necessary, without touching the steering wheel.
An essential part of every high-volume OEM’s model range today is the incorporation of a hybrid. The Passat range uses a similar plug-in system to that offered in the Golf GTE. The system's combined power is 155 kW; the ICE is a turbocharged 1.4-L 115-kW (154-hp) gasoline TSI unit. All-electric range is 50 km (31 mi), with an overall range of some 1000 km (620 mi).
All engines used in the latest Passat are described by VW as being new to the model range. There are 10 TSI and TDI (diesel) units, all turbocharged and with a power range from 88 to 206 kW (118 to 276 hp). Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions have been reduced by up to 20% measured against the previous generation Passat’s comparable engines. All Passats have stop-start and regenerative braking systems, and a double-clutch DSG transmission is available on all engine versions.
Active cylinder management is available for the 1.4-L 110-kW (148-hp) TSI, which has a combined fuel consumption of 4.9 L/100 km and 115 g/km CO2 emissions.
VW is particularly pleased with its latest 176-kW (236-hp) TDI engine. This very powerful (for its capacity) 2.0-L bi-turbo diesel engine offers 500 N·m (369 lb·ft) from 1750 to 2500 rpm. Fitted to the Passat sedan, it provides a 240-km/h (149-mph) top speed, with the wagon 2 km/h slower. Both cars get 4MOTION all-wheel drive and a seven-speed DSG transmission as standard. Combined fuel consumption is 5.3 L/100 km with CO2 emissions of 139 g/km. Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) is achieved in 6.1 s.
The sum of all this is a new VW that edges a model upwards from its established B-segment firmly towards the C-segment and a premium label. In doing so it parallels similar movement by other manufacturers (e.g., Mercedes-Benz with the new C-Class nudging upwards towards not only E-Class but S-Class) and also introduces some very comprehensive infotainment and other electronic technologies. However, mass is reduced by up to 85 kg (181 lb).
Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management, Volkswagen AG (the Group), regards the Passat—as he does the latest Audi TT—as an indicator of where the auto industry is heading in terms of design and technology. He said at Potsdam that it demonstrates what engineers and specialists can achieve when pulling together, adding: “Cars and computers are amalgamating more and more.”