VW Passat Variant, Opel Insignia ST, Peugeot 508, Hyundai i40 Estate 23 Photos Zoom

i40, Insignia, 508 and Passat in the comparison test: Estate cars that can really do something

"Everyday driving? Yes. Holidays? Yep. Fun to drive? But of course, we can do that too." This is the message sung out by the Hyundai i40 Estate, the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer and Peugeot 508 SW in unison. And the VW Passat Variant calls out a particularly resounding "Yes". Justifiably?

The fact that the new edition of the Passat is an all-round success has already been demonstrated in the comparison of powerful diesel saloons in volume 25/2014: a clear victory in the Champions League over the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. This time the much-feared industry giant from Wolfsburg lines up against mid-range competitors with an estate car, but with all vehicles setting off on an equal footing. Bundesliga so to speak. And as one glance at BVB Dortmund will show you, there things can go a little differently. So how does the Passat, which has reinvented itself with sharper lines in the body work, a longer wheelbase and a host of innovations in the areas of safety and multimedia, fare? We'll start with the competitor with the longest way to travel.

The Hyundai i40 with its 553-litre boot capacity

The Korean estate car, in the tested equipment and finish style, costs a mere 29,900 Euros and has made a name for itself as a very spacious buddy. It offers an airy spaciousness both front and back, where the rear seating bench is mounted extremely low, which doesn't give tall passengers much thigh support and results in excessive bend at the hip and knee joints.

As for luggage – which can be loaded over a pleasantly low loading sill – there are 553 to 1,719 litres of space to play with, and so at 534 litres the vehicle load capacity measured a little low. Perhaps the engine was being taken into consideration when setting the limit so low? The Hyundai i40 is the only one of the cars to require more than ten seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h, and at 200 km/h the control systems intervene. However, more serious than this is the poor drive of the 1.7-litre engine, which actually still features noticeable turbo lag. It doesn't perform any miracles when it comes to performance either, and the test consumption of 7.6 litres shows that limited engine capacity and limited power don't necessary result in record savings: the driver just presses harder on the accelerator and the gristly changing gears rev higher.

When it comes to driver assistance (only parking and lane-holding assistants are available) and connectivity, the Hyundai i40 is no longer up to date, and it also fell behind in the chassis evaluation: it only absorbs rough bumps unwillingly, without getting to work with any particular dynamism by means of compensation. The adjustable steering lacks feeling and is too indirect, while the handling is too fussy, with early understeer.

That said, in everyday driving the Hyundai i40 isn't bad at all. The front seats support the body in the right places and keep the driver grounded, while the operating controls forego any gimmicks and are easily learned. When manoeuvring, better all-round visibility would be desirable, especially diagonally backwards. However, parking sensors - available as standard - can of course help avoid the worst case scenario. More resolute noise damping would be nice for a bit more peace and quiet at high speeds. This is something that the competitors manage better than this Hyundai, which presents itself as a solid ticker of all boxes. The five-year warranty is in keeping with this.

The Opel Insignia Sports Tourer produces 161 HP

By coincidence, by working our way alphabetically through the test cars, we also come to the second cheapest of the cars under comparison: the 2.0 CDTI Business Edition with 161 HP costs 32.810 Euros, a model that has now disappeared from the price lists but can still be ordered.

While this marketing policy seems a little confused, the equipment does not: on-board as standard are the body-moulded AGR front seats, as well as navigation, parking sensors, a hands-free telephone system and heated seats. Even without adaptive dampers, the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer is very good, although fitted with 17-inch (420 Euros) rims. The feedback from the steering regarding the dialogue between the tyres and the asphalt is not as meticulous as desired, but neither is it by any means a party pooper. Brisk corners? Yes, although the rear of the Opel occasionally steps a little out of line.

It is always astonishing how tight the interior seems in spite of its handsome dimensions. In particular in the back, the sense of space is oppressive, as the sloping line of the roof requires flat side windows and the huge rear roof pillars guzzle up the light.

The 1,530-litre maximum capacity of the boot is a disappointment, while the view of the dashboard, with fewer buttons since the facelift, is pleasing for starters. The control of the temperature and heated seats using touch-sensitive panels has been well thought out, but then again not so much since on account of the lack of feedback, the driver of the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer still has to look down to check that he has made the right selection.

In any case, he has certainly done this in choosing the 161 HP CDTI test car: it doesn't pussyfoot around, the accelerator is responsive, and compensates for the heavy weight of the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer with a great deal of torque, making this Open a nippy car with reasonable consumption.

The Peugeot 508 offers good drive comfort

This statement also rings true for the Peugeot 508 SW. It even adds even greater engine performance to the low engine consumption as the Opel, which, in conjunction with the good noise damping and the thickly upholstered and comfortably shaped seats, results in great driving comfort. Only in the second row of seats, where tall passengers could easily hit their legs against the backs of the front seats, is the car a little lacking in usable seat depth.

Luxuriously finished, including semi-leather upholstery, a panoramic roof and navigation system with an emergency call function, the Peugeot 508 SW Allure pays you back handsomely for the rather substantial base price, although this is not evident in the care taken in the finish. As a result the bonnet flutters at high speeds as if it has a life of its own, and on really bad cobbles, where the otherwise cuddly suspension happily struggles along when heavy laden, it creaks and rattles from the various corners.

Nonetheless, the Peugeot 508 SW is fun to drive as it remains neutral in corners, reliably follows its moderately ambitious steering, has sufficient engine punch and requires just minimal force to operate the steering wheel, pedals and gear lever.

Those who want to grumble will, however, find reason to. For example, the front doors do not open very wide and the operating controls are not really functional, with scattered buttons and a start button hidden a way over on the far left.

Getting into the Peugeot 508 SW in the first place, especially in a dark underground car park, isn't much fun. For rather ambitious technology, right down to the full LED headlights, stands in opposition to inconsistencies in the details of the operating controls, which even after a long time behind the wheel of the big Peugeot do not suddenly appear to be logical.

VW Passat Variant simply drives well

This is not a problem encountered in the VW Passat Variant. Okay, working your way through the menu to find the right one of the total of 18 steering wheel buttons, which are shown on the display between the tacho and the rev counter, is a little tiresome. And yes, there are a lot of parameters to be set if a large number of boxes on the price list have been ticked when ordering the 33,575 Euro 2.0 TDI Comfortline. With regard to driver assistance systems, the Passat is just as impressive as it is regarding multimedia and connectivity. The range of features even includes a WLAN hotspot.

Amongst all of the obsession with electronics, thankfully the developers in Wolfsburg have not lost sight of the primary virtues of any car. It should simply drive well – and this the VW Passat Variant really can do. Equipped with adaptive dampers (1,180 Euros) and slightly wider tyres (1,190 Euros) in Comfort mode it delights with noteworthy ability to absorb turbulence, both on nasty joins in the road and longer bumps. In this regard it even trumps the Opel Insignia, which should actually be expected given its standard chassis.

On the other hand, in the VW Passat Variant, which has added a good eight centimetres to the wheelbase in comparison to its predecessor, drivers can speed along country roads with an amazing sense of exhilaration. The steering gives a precise sense of where the journey is leading, and the long car follows the predetermined course, always remaining neutral and light on its feet. Deceiving, nasty response when fearfully taking your foot off the accelerator in corners? None of this. "GTI feeling in an estate car," a colleague summed it up in a nutshell.

The fact that the VW Passat Variant, the dashboard of which references the radiator grille with an end-to-end grid, doesn't miss a trick, right down to the loading capacity, should be mentioned for the sake of completeness. The boot? A ballroom with a capacity of up to 1,780 litres, beneath the level surface (when the headrests are removed) of which the loading compartment roller blind can be perfectly stowed away. Variability? This works best with a folding passenger seat (94 Euros) and a three-part rear seatback. Space? To the front, very good, in the back, so generous that travelling alone feels like a waste. Air conditioning, noise level and seat comfort? down to the firmly upholstered surface of the Comfort seats (1,180 Euros). Brakes? The best in this comparison.

First place goes to the VW Passat Variant

The quiet engine, which easily offers the best drive performance with the lowest test consumption, rounds of the complete performance. The result after this day of play: the other three have ability, that much is clear. Adjusted for differences in equipment levels, the VW Passat Variant is certainly the most expensive, but it performs by far the best.



Dino Eisele


24 March 2015
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