We expected the Volkswagen Passat to be good, but not this good. From our colleagues on What Car? we knew that the VW was a fine-driving family car with plenty of room for passengers and enough luggage space for a fortnight’s holiday. We didn’t anticipate just how well it would take to towing.
Most of our week’s testing took place in the dry, but on our wettest day the Passat’s four-wheel drive put it streets ahead of its front-wheel-drive rivals. The hill-start test in particular underlined its advantage. The button handbrake held the outfit still with just the push of a finger, whereas some rivals force you to almost pull the handbrake free of its mountings to stop the outfit rolling back. Then the VW simply drove away with the minimum of wheelspin.
The 2.0-litre engine delivered better low-down pull than the Honda’s unit, but can’t match that car’s refinement. It was a fraction quicker though, and was one of the few cars to tow happily in sixth gear at 60mph.
Choosing the 4Motion version of the VW Passat does take the edge off fuel economy, dropping around 5mpg to 42.2mpg on the combined cycle. But for an all-year, all-weather tow car, it has to be a sacrifice worth making.
Although the list price isn’t cheap, some determined haggling should see this drop to below £20,000. Besides, the cachet of the VW badge brings with it good resale values. You should get back almost half of what you paid in three years.
Our judges expected to find choosing the best tow car from our 50 contenders a difficult task. In the event, however, the decision was unanimous. The Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI Sport 4Motion Estate is a really special tow car.
From the moment the first drops of rain started to fall on the MIRA test track, the Passat began to emerge from the pack. With power going to each of its four wheels, the VW was confidence-inspiring as the conditions became trickier. Other estate cars fried their clutches on the damp 1-in-6 slope; the Passat just climbed the hill – no histrionics, no fuss.
The button handbrake is a brilliant feature. At the start of the week, some of our judges thought it was the answer to a question nobody was asking. After all, how hard is it to pull on a lever? But after five days of rolling backwards while almost yanking handbrakes clear of their mountings, the ease of just pushing a button really started to appeal.
Four-wheel drive and well judged suspension helped the Passat sail through the lane-change test. It felt unfazed and comfortable at speeds that left many rivals struggling.
Yet even towing well is no good if there isn’t enough room inside for the whole family and their luggage. Fortunately, the Passat comes up trumps here, too. Some estates found our test load awkward, but the VW found room for all but one of the 15 items. The 12V socket in the boot, the full-size spare wheel and the ease with which towing mirrors could be fitted further contributed to its excellent score.
One of the things that make this award different from other tow car tests is the importance placed on driving the cars solo. After all, even the keenest caravanner will spend far more time driving without a tourer than they will towing. Again, the Passat performed superbly, with rewarding handling, a comfortable ride and a healthy turn of pace from the 2.0-litre diesel engine.
We’ve also considered factors such as value for money, resale values and safety under the catch-all heading of ‘buying and owning’. Once more, the Passat came up trumps. While no one will argue that £21,000 is cheap, it’s a competitive price against the VW’s rivals, and the 4Motion should retain a very respectable 46% of its value after three years. As for safety, you can’t get better than a five-star rating from crash-test expert Euro NCAP.
If we had to nit-pick, four-wheel drive does put a dent in the fuel economy, but we think the extra running cost is a price worth paying for the 4Motion’s all-weather excellence.
Our other class winners were extremely impressive and should give years of happy towing, but none could match the Passat’s all-round prowess. For value, towing ability, safety and practicality, the Volkswagen Passat Estate is a worthy winner of the overall Tow Car Award of 2007.