Traditionally the Volkswagen Passat has combined good looks with an upmarket feel, but at the sort of price thatís more Chester than Chelsea: Audi quality for Ford money.
It was originally launched in 1973, but the latest, sixth-generation version, which appeared in June 2005, has proved the most popular of all.
Does it retain its appeal on the used-car market, though? There was a time when buying a new Passat guaranteed best-in-class residual values - not ideal for the used buyer - but as second-hand sales slow and pressure builds to move stock on, you can pick up a three-year-old diesel example with 60,000 miles on the clock for half its price new.
Cosmetically, at least, the Passat continues to look the part, its clean lines and simple profile giving it a prestige feel and helping it age gracefully. While it boasts a larger boot capacity than the previous incarnation, the sixth-generation Passat was initially offered with a small range of tried and tested engines: two petrol's - a 1.6 litre FSI producing 115bhp and a 2 litre FSI with 150bhp - and a brace of diesels comprising a 105bhp 1.9 litre TDI and 140bhp 2 litre TDI.
The entry level 1.6 litre petrol is best avoided, lacking power and offering little advantage in terms of economy. Itís the same story with the diesel, where the larger 2 litre is virtually as economical as the 1.9 litre but has enough power to cope with the Passatís bulk.
Volkswagen broadened the engine line-up in September 2005 with a 200bhp 2 litre T-FSI petrol unit, quickly followed by an all-wheel-drive 3.2 litre FSI V6 producing 250bhp. With fuel prices remaining high, these cars are an expensive option.
Even buyers looking for a saloon would do well to consider the estate, which provides equally good looks and no compromise in terms of driving dynamics or refinement. Used estates attract a premium of around £800, but itís money well invested, as you can expect an easier job come resale time and most of your additional outlay back.
On the road, the Passat retains the slightly firm but reassuring ride of its forebears. While the Passatís cabin is classic VW - conservative but functional - the controls are clearly laid out and there are useful touches such as an air-conditioned glove box. Only the inclusion of some cheap-feeling, hard plastics on the lower dashboard and door panels spoil the effect.
Over the years, Volkswagen has been careful to cultivate an aura of reliability around its cars. But customer satisfaction surveys and independent data paint a different picture. So check the service history is complete and authentic. Higher-mileage diesel models are prone to clutch judder and Sport models can have wheel damage, leading to flaking lacquer and corrosion. Buying a used example still under the manufacturerís three-year warranty is your best bet.
Quality control niggles aside, itís not difficult to see why the Passat has caught on in such a big way in the UK. If thereís one thing the Brits love more than feeling a cut above the crowd, itís bagging quality at a knockdown price.
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Standard manual is robust; diesel is offered with superb DSG gearbox while petrol models have six-speed tiptronic automatic option
Check they function, as some owners report problems
Check for noises by turning from lock to lock while stationary with the engine running
LED lights look great. Hazard lights operate automatically if you brake hard at higher speeds
Antiskid system, with dual-phase front airbags, active headrests and side impact airbags as standard on all models
Optional leather seats can suffer from loose stitching, the same problem can afflict the gearstick binding
Reports of failing turbochargers on high-mileage 170bhp TDI models
2005 Ď05í Trade
2006 '06' Trade
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