The Volkswagen Passat Estate is very good at just about everything. In many respects, in fact, it’s borderline brilliant.

Let’s start with the engine. With an extra 30bhp of top-end thrust and 22lb ft more mid-range muscle over the Passat saloon, the estate performed with more urgency. The difference is especially noticeable when towing. The 168bhp Estate went from 30-60mph in just 12.7 seconds – 4.5 quicker than the 138bhp saloon.

Both Passats have high gearing, chosen with economy in mind, but the more powerful engine copes better. You may need a lower gear than expected from time to time, but official figures promise spectacular fuel economy as a reward: 60.1mpg should be possible driven solo.

The willing engine is matched to a composed and stable chassis. Through the lane-change test the car was unshakeable, no matter how the van swung around behind it. The Al-Ko ATC sensors recorded hardly any movement from the van when slowing sharply from high speeds.

With or without a tourer, it’s hard not to be impressed by how quiet the Passat’s cabin is. There might not be quite as much legroom as in a Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb, but there’s more than enough space for most families.

Our practicality judge found plenty of luggage space for our mix of suitcases, bags and tent poles, and was pleased to see a full-sized spare wheel. The electrics weren’t as easy to access as they ought to be, but there’s not much else to criticise.

There’s no shortage of impressive tow cars this year. This made choosing one overall champion a tough job.

Our judges are a demanding bunch. We want a car that tows brilliantly, is a pleasure to travel in, economical to run and easy to live with. The car that fits this brief better than any other is the Volkswagen Passat.

It’s superb for towing. Some cars have the knack of relaxing the driver and the Passat is one of them. Unshakeable stability and steering that’s responsive but never nervous mean you’ll end long tows in the Passat feeling fresh, ready to unhitch and start enjoying your holiday.

The 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel is definitely worth paying for as opposed to the 138bhp version. With its added punch, the engine copes better with the Passat’s high fifth and sixth gears, so fewer gear changes are needed to hold speed on hilly roads.

Unhitch the caravan, and those tall top gears contribute to remarkable official economy figures, with the promise of 60.1mpg on the combined cycle.

Fuel efficiency also benefits from the Stop/Start system, which cuts the engine in stationary traffic and starts it again when you’re ready to move off. Carbon dioxide emissions of just 123g/km are lower than many superminis’, putting the Passat in band D for Vehicle Excise Duty.

High gearing helps reduce engine noise, since the diesel is running at low revs, even at 70mph.

Volkswagen has worked hard to make the new Passat’s cabin quieter, with more sound-deadening and a thicker windscreen. The effect of these measures is to make the Passat one of the quietest family cars around.

It’s practical, too. There’s plenty of space for a family of five, and enough room for all their luggage. Fold the back seats down and there’s 1731 litres to fill.

Trying to find anything the Passat does badly is a struggle. The towing electrics could be easier to access, and some may find the cabin a little sombre, but that’s about it.

Best of all, the Passat proves that a car doesn’t need to be heavy or thirsty to make a great towcar. We’re pleased to make this Volkswagen our overall champion for 2011.

2011
Category Winners
2011 Volkswagen Golf
2011 Up to 1424kg

Volkswagen Golf

2.0 TDI 140 Match 5dr

2011 Volkswagen Passat Estate on test at Tow Car Awards
2011 1425-1574kg

Volkswagen Passat Estate

2.0 TDI 170 Bluemotion Sport

2011 Ford Mondeo Estate
2011 1575-1724kg

Ford Mondeo Estate

2.0 TDCi 163 Titanium Powershift

2011 BMW 520d SE Touring
2011 1725-1899kg

BMW 520d

SE Touring auto

2011 Land Rover Discovery
2011 1900kg+

Land Rover Discovery

3.0 SDV6 XS

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