The latest Volkswagen Passat Estate is lighter than the old car. Reducing weight may be good for economy and emissions, but it doesn’t necessarily do much for what tow car ability it has.
We needn’t have worried. It may have slimmed down a little, but the Passat punches above its weight with a caravan in tow.
Stability is the quality we look for above all others in a tow car, and the Passat delivers. At a steady 60mph it’s rock solid. Even pushed up to 70mph there’s not so much as a wobble. Only when slowing from high speeds could we detect the slightest movement with the Swift caravan’s Al-Ko ATC sensors.
Some cars happily tow straight and true but struggle with the violent demands of the emergency lane-change test. The VW Passat makes our most aggressive test seem easy, cornering hard and bullying the caravan into following behind.
If you have time to brake rather than swerve, the Passat will help you avoid an accident. The 30-0mph stopping distance of 10.3 metres is one of the shortest stops of any car tested this year. It’s not just the power that impresses: in normal towing, the brakes are easy to apply progressively and smoothly.
When you want to go rather than stop, the Passat has the latest version of Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre diesel engine to do the hard work. It’s now clean enough to meet the Euro 6 emissions standard, and puts out a healthy 251lb ft of torque. That’s plenty to pull any sensibly matched tourer: in our test the Passat towed from 30-60mph in 11.7 seconds.
The torquey engine and electronic parking brake also make short work of the hill start test, helped by the Direct Shift Gearbox (a dual-clutch transmission that behaves like an automatic). And the Passat also excels in everyday driving. It’s quiet, refined and enjoyable to drive, whether running errands around town or driving long distances.
It’s very roomy, too. Adults of over six feet in height can sit behind an equally tall driver, and the boot is huge. It coped with our typical load of caravan holiday luggage with room to spare. Our practicality judges were also pleased to see a neat towball installation (the electrics are easier to access than they were on the previous generation Passat) and a trailer stability system to help counteract snaking.
With a price tag north of £28k, the Passat isn’t cheap. But the SE Business spec is well equipped as standard and running costs should be low, with an official combined economy figure of 62.8mpg. What Car? predicts strong resale values, too, which will help offset the initial cost.
The standard of new tow cars has never been so high, no matter what tow car you are looking to buy. Whether you are looking for a small crossover to tow a trailer tent, or a big 4×4 to pull a huge twin-axle tourer, the strength in depth we’ve seen this year has been outstanding.
That makes choosing winners tricky. It makes choosing an overall champion harder still. But choose we have, and the overall winner of the Tow Car Awards 2015 is the Volkwagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI BMT 150PS SE Business DSG.
Volkswagen’s new Passat has achieved something remarkable, driving off with two category wins. The front-wheel-drive 150PS model won the 1400-1549kg weight class, while the more powerful four-wheel-drive BiTDI version took the 1700-1899kg award.
Either car would have made a worthy champion, but the two-wheel-drive car is much better value for money. It’s also quieter and more refined the BiTDI, and cheaper to run. It’s all the tow car most of us will ever need.
In terms of towing ability, the VW Passat is outstanding. The lane-change test is the graveyard of many a tow car, but the VW made this violent emergency manoeuvre seem easy. However hard we pushed it, the Passat stayed on track and under control.
Touch wood, few drivers need to swerve so hard to avoid an accident while towing. Stability at speed is put to the test more often, and again there’s no question we asked of the Passat to which it didn’t have an answer. Remember, we test using caravans without stabilisers, and even without this helping hand the Volkswagen was unshakeable at 60mph and beyond.
The old Passat was good, but the new one is even better. Take the towing electrics. On the old car they were a little fiddly to connect. On the new car they sit on the side of the tow bar and access is easy. It’s a minor point, perhaps, but shows that Volkswagen has paid attention to the needs of tow car drivers. Trailer Assist is another example. This £470 option actually steers for you when reversing onto a pitch.
When deciding on our overall winner we don’t just look at a car’s towing credentials. Since the Tow Car Awards started in 2007 we’ve prided ourselves in choosing cars which are just as good in everyday driving as they are when towing, and the Passat Estate fits that bill. It’s comfortable, refined, spacious and economical. In fact, the VW does just about everything well.
The VW Passat is a worthy winner of the Tow Car Awards 2015.
Hatch 2.0 TDI CR 150PS SE Business
2.0 TDI BMT 150PS SE Business DSG
2.2D 175PS AWD Sport Nav
2.0 BiTDI SCR BMT 4Motion GT DSG
1.5T EcoBoost 160PS Titanium 5dr
BlueHDi 100 Feel
Cross Country D4 Lux Nav Geartronic