BMW 3 Series Touring, Mercedes C-Class T-Model, VW Passat Variant 40 Photos Zoom

3 Series Touring, C-Class T-Model, Passat Variant: Reform in the mid-size vehicle category?

The expectations placed on the new VW Passat are huge. With its 240 bhp biturbo diesel engine, the Variant is expected to serious shake up the hierarchy in the mid-size vehicle category. So we are wasting no time in pitting it against two of its most attractive competitors: the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class. Can the Touring and T-Model counter with more sophisticated technology?

It has now been announced, marvelled upon at trade fairs and been snapped in the photo studio for long enough. It is now about time for the VW Passat Variant to finally step out and show what it is made of. According to VW marketing expert Christine Roch this is rather a lot, and it should even survive "one or two premium comparisons". So what a coincidence that, in the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, we brought one or two comparison candidates to the press launch in Sardinia. It fits the bill in terms of price anyway: because VW only offers the 240 bhp TDI with all-wheel-drive, at 44,625 Euros the variant falls between the 325d Touring with 218 bhp at 43,250 Euros and the 204 bhp C 250 Bluetec T-Model for 45,696 Euros.

The VW Passat Variant is the longest of the three

Although a few millimetres shorter than its predecessor, the VW Passat Variant is longer than the C-Class and the 3 Series by 7 and 15 centimetres respectively. And this is evident practically everywhere: in the front the driver and front passenger sit on generously dimensioned, readily adjustable seats, while the integrated ventilation slots make the cockpit appear wide. In the back it gets even more spacious: the transverse engine and a wheelbase that has been extended by eight centimetres provides passengers with superb leg room, while the high roof enables passengers to board without contorting their bodies.

Not the case in the C-Class and 3 Series: lower doors and little space between the B-pillar and back seat mean that it takes a while to get all limbs inside the vehicle. With three passengers on the narrower and firmer upholstered rear seat bench, it is considerably more cramped than in the VW Passat Variant, which can also hold more luggage: even in the standard layout, you can take one large travel bag more with you than in its Southern German competitors. If the rear seat back is folded down, the difference is compounded.

All boast year's of experience in estate car production

The long-term experience in estate car production is, on the other hand, evident in the VW Passat Variant, C-Class and 3 Series: as such the seat backs can be folded down in three parts with a 40:20:40 ratio, creating an almost level loading surface without the tedious adjustment of the seat. There is no lack of additional compartments, twelve-volt socket, load-securing eyelets or bag hooks, while the removal of the luggage blind is easily triggered and the drawers positioned here and there can be easily unlocked and removed.

What Mercedes and BMW loose in space, they to a certain extent make up for in clever details: while in the T-Model the boot lid can be closed and the luggage blind slides down with a buzz, controlled at the touch of a button from the driver's seat, odds and ends can be loaded into the Touring via its separately opening rear windscreen. This is particularly practical when it is tight against a garage wall, and you would have to first drive the car forwards to open the entire boot lid. Rugs with a high pile count and stainless steel inlays on the loading sill also make their luggage compartments seem of a higher quality than that of the pragmatic VW Passat Variant.

Any search for major surprises in the VW Passat Variant will be in vain. With its sharply contoured bonnet and narrow tail lights, it is similar to the Golf Variant, and even inside it seems immediately familiar. However, in this case no news is good news. As such the Passat convinces with high-quality surfaces in the interior, as typical of VW, meticulously finished down to the finest detail: even the coin compartment to the left beneath the steering wheel features a soft, velvety lining and is held in place by a precisely latching handle.

The simple-to-operate infotainment system is in principle also known of from the Golf, although the VW Passat Variant receives an updated version with additional online features such as a car park and petrol station search, including a fuel price display. In addition, apps from Mirrorlink-capable mobile phones can be operated via the high-resolution eight-inch monitor. Because not too many smartphones support Mirrorlink, from June 2015 Apple Carplay and Android Auto will be added, via which almost all mobiles can be controlled.

The VW Passat Variant park trailers without using any hands

It is left entirely to the electronics to provide two further features with that certain wow-effect: in place of the optional instrument cluster with classic analogue dials, subject to additional charge the VW Passat Variant comes with a TFT display, the content of which can be configured as desired: if you wish you can display the sat nav map large and in the centre, meaning you will no longer be required to squint to the right (or left if in the right-hand drive version for our readers in the UK). Even more fascinating: the trailer assistant, which transforms even less experienced drivers into trailer-towing professionals. After engaging the reverse gear, the desired direction of travel is pre-set via the rear mirror adjuster, which functions like a joystick. You then let go of the steering wheel, gently press down on the accelerator and the, impressed, track in the rear-view mirror how the electronic brain, with the aid of the reversing camera, remains on course or turns the trailer into a space at 90-degrees.

500 Nm from two litres of cylinder capacity

But now we take control and have a test drive on the Sardinian coastal roads. Here the VW Passat Variant with all-wheel-drive makes it traction advantage felt, with 500 Nm of torque heaving it out of the tight corners. With the support of the snappy seven-speed dual clutch transmission, it immediately gains a few metres over its rear-wheel drive competition. Here it is not just the pure power that impresses, but also the quick response and high revving of the biturbo, with its capacity of just two litres.

What is also striking: even at full throttle things don't seem hectic, with the VW Passat Variant accurately following the commands of its driver, who can cause it to move very fast without great effort. The low wind and engine noise are in keeping with the relaxed drive feel - as are the adaptive dampers, fitted as standard, which work with sensitivity even on the roughest of dirt tracks.

VW Passat Variant scores highly in the initial comparison

The C-Class, featuring pneumatic suspension, manages uneven ground with similar aplomb. Their engineers have managed to transfer the typical Mercedes swinging sensation into the modern touchpad era. The driver rarely has the need to mess around with the creamy seven-speed automatic transmission, instead enjoying the power of the 2.1-litre engine, likewise with 500 Nm. The fact that the Benz does not lunge on corners quite so vehemently as the VW Passat Variant and even in Sport mode has a stronger lateral inclination is easily excused.

And the 3 Series? Its narrower, perfectly positioned sports seat is still the number one man-machine interface in this class. Driven by its wonderfully direct sports steering, the Touring practically sinks its teeth into the curve radii. And whereas its predecessors still bounced heavy-handedly over bumps, the 3 Series, featuring adaptive suspension now springs politely along, albeit without spoiling its passengers with the high level of comfort of its competitors. However, what this car lacks most is a sophisticated engine. With 120 Nm less torque than the other two, the two-litre engine struggles to keep up, which is accompanied by a robust fur-cylinder drone. However, in contrast to the VW Passat Variant and Mercedes, BMW still has two six-cylinder diesel models up its sleeve, with up to 313 bhp.

Nonetheless: the VW Passat Variant has in any case already passed the "one or two premium comparisons". Whether or not it is actually the new benchmark in the mid-size category must yet be proven in a scored comparative test with objective measurement values.



Hans-Dieter Seufert


22 February 2015
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