Thinking of picking up a new car but have no idea where to start? Never fear! In his first Roadtest Review, The Daily Shift’s Patrick Cummins takes a look at the VW Passat B5.5…
Volkswagen’s Passat saloon is one of the most well-known cars on Irish roads and has been a notable presence in the motoring world for decades. In 1996, VW introduced the Passat B5 and it received a facelift in late 2000; this updated version was labelled the B5.5. With a huge spectrum of TDI diesel engines to boast, the Passat received numerous engine codes, delivering varying power outputs. This review concerns a 2004 110bhp Passat in top-of-the-range HighLine trim level.
Exterior: The B5 facelift did wonders for the appearance of the car which, up to then, had carried dated DNA from VW models stretching back into the 1980s. This is further aided by official VW alloys (standard on most models). Even though the Passat B5.5 first saw daylight 12 years ago, it still looks well alongside cars with more modern lines.
Interior: Interior layout follows similar trends to the VW Golf in typical VW fashion. Leather interiors come in three colour schemes: black, grey and cream. Black, particularly, comes up well after a polish and the cream is very pleasing on the eyes. In grey guise, it saps a little bit and is comparatively bland. Dials are easy to read and, with the lights on, they illuminate in a soft blue colour. Switches and buttons on the fascia panel are very user-friendly. Much information is available via the dash-computer and blind spots in the cabin are few and far between. The seating is comfortable but it’s quite easy to sweat in the lower back area as you sink into the seat. Sweaty hands will easily slip on the leather steering wheel too. One rather annoying feature is the arm-rest between both front seats. It sits behind the centre panel (i.e. gearstick and handbrake) and, in closed/fully down position, changing into second and fourth gear is awkward due to its obtrusion. However, after some time, it feels normal and is quite beneficial when cruising on the motorway. What doesn’t feel normal at any point are the sidewalls of the floor under the pedals. These sidewalls are cambered at an angle so as to create a V-shape in the foot-well, which becomes very tight and awkward when using your clutch foot regularly. Nonetheless, a welcome addition for motorway driving is a left-foot rest just behind the clutch pedal.
Practicality/Comfort: Boot space is very acceptable. It has a long passage towards the rear seats, which fold down completely to provide extra-long luggage space. The sill is also removable. All of this equates to a luggage capacity of 475 litres (30 more than its strong competitor, the Audi A4). Ample head and leg room make it a mostly comfortable journey for both driver and passenger. Three adults can squeeze adequately into the back for a bearable journey; two is recommended for longer trips and allows use of the rear arm-rest. Diesel engines are noisy by nature and the TDI is no exception. Idling is clunky but doesn’t cause unacceptable vibration. Bump absorption through the car is very good and the tyres don’t create a lot of noise on even the most abrasive road surface. Engine bay room is ample for working on, once the main covers are removed. The engine covers tidy up the appearance under the bonnet.
Ride & Handling: Very solid front-end grip makes the Passat a winner in the handling section. Blasting up back-roads, it holds a firm line and goes wherever you point the wheel, aided by excellent steering feedback. Body roll is evident, however, and this can make for slightly wallowy cornering in certain situations. The accelerator and clutch pedals provide decent feedback also, failing to throw up any surprises but, considerably more vague is the braking system. Although the car slows down straight away as you press the pedal, you don’t receive that positive notion until roughly 40% of pedal travel (with good condition pads/discs). This makes for a hairy ride in the case of high-speed braking. A jewel in this car’s crown is its Electronic Stability Control, which is operated by a switch on the main console. ESC (or ESP as VW refer to it) aids handling characteristics by applying the brakes, upon sensing a loss of traction, giving the driver more control over the car.
Performance: Focusing solely on the 1.9TDI model (which itself has several different engine codes/specs), the car performs appreciably in all tests. Off the line, there is no hint of desperate turbo lag and it continues to pull well through its punchy five-speed gearbox. From 0-60mph, it takes 12.0 secs and will strive on to a top speed of almost 120mph (the 130bhp will get closer to 130mph). A six-speed gearbox is also available and considerably more performance can be obtained from the 130bhp version.
Equipment: Electric windows and mirrors, ABS, air conditioning, 6 CD-changer, fog lights, digital display, electric sunroof and ESP (Electronic Stability Program) come as fundamental extras with this car. All of these features are neatly laid out and are extremely user-friendly. Digital display information includes outside temperature, expected miles left in the fuel tank and several warnings (such as when the windscreen washer fluid has run out). The CD player/radio provides a good surround sound and is very easy to use whilst the air-conditioning system is simple, providing many different temperature options (and an automatic temperature control system). All-important cup holders are included and are suitably located, holding any drinks container satisfactorily still.
Reliability: VW have built their name upon cars with unbeatable reliability. The Passat B5.5 continues this tradition of having no major mechanical faults that should be taken into account. If one must nitpick, then it might be worth mentioning that a recurring problem with VWs from this era is the airbag pressure. An airbag light can be seen to appear on the dashboard indicating low pressure in the system and it isn’t the kind of problem that a DIY job can fix. This might not sound serious (and in reality, it isn’t a big problem) but it is an issue leading to NCT failure. Other similar electrical gremlins occur from time to time e.g. warning systems going off mistakenly.
Economy/Running Costs/Value: 50mpg average is a very respectable figure for those concerned about the economy of the car. Tax will be a little heavier on the pocket, though, as the 1.9L engines will cost €626 per year, pre-budget 2013. For a top-quality 2003 or 2004 model, prices will range between €3000-4000. If you buy an older 2001 version, you could get a decent motor for not much over €1500 and, like all VWs of this era, they don’t depreciate rapidly.
FOR: Reliability, Comfort, Equipment
AGAINST: Vague Braking, Sweaty Leather Seats, Noisy engine