VW Passat Variant 2.0 TDI, BMW 518d Touring, Front view 26 Photos Zoom

VW Passat Variant 2.0 TDI and BMW 518d Touring compared: The 10,000-Euro affront

In its new version, the VW Passat Variant is more classy, helpful and better than ever before. Whether it also conquers the 10,000-Euro BMW 5 Series Touring is made clear in the comparison.

Two comparison tests, two victories: the debut for the new Passat could hardly have gone better. Both the Hyundai i40, Opel Insignia and Peugeot 508 and the just recently introduced Ford Mondeo had to admit defeat on points to the all-round success that is the VW estate. It has become clear that the biggest point of criticism is the high price level with rather sparse basic equipment, whereby the Volkswagen drifts closer towards the luxury class.

There the BMW 5 Series has for decades been a firmly established player, convincingly playing the sophisticated allrounder with its dynamic image and talent. However, even in the basic 518d Touring model, the popular estate car costs at least 42,900 Euros and is thus 10,000 Euros more than the Passat Variant 2.0 TDI Comfortline, which is similar in power (148 HP) and format. But if it is now available here as a special offer, what then justifies the hefty premium surcharge for the 5 Series?

VW Passat scores points for space and weight

In any case, it is not the amount of space, for in spite of the wheelbase being 18 cm longer, and the vehice itself 14 cm longer and 3 cm wider, both passengers and luggage have less room than in the Passat. Its front-wheel drive with a transverse engine has an equally positive effect as the steeply rising rear and the delivate cockpit with its narrow centre console. In spite of having a similar quality of marterial and finish, the 5 Series nonetheless seems a touch more solid and sound, and the scales show: it actually is.

However, the fact that the test car hauls around a good 300 kg more comes not only down to its less sophisticated lightweight construction. For alongside the better standard equipment – ranging from Xenon light to the cruise control or electronically actuated boot lid with a separately opening rear window – options in the 5 Series that the Passat didn't have on board also contributed to the weight – automatic transmission and electrical seat adjustment, for example. Both are of course also available for the VW, as are the multi-functional TFT instruments and the most modern assistance systems, whereby it gains a few extra points for the driver knee airbag, the automatic braking function in the event of the risk of a collision and the glare-free high beam assistant.

Even with many extras, both can be easily operated, both the VW touchscreen and the iDrive controller in the 5 Series can be mastered after a short accustomisation period. So too in other respects, everything that could be required in order to pass a long journey in relaxation can be found on board, from the comfortable, nicely moulded seats to the efficient air-conditioning and the fantastic infotainment system. With the optional adaptive dampers, the two chassis casually absorb even nasty ribs and potholes in the road, although not quite so confidently and clatter-free in the more firmly tuned 5 Series as in the Passat. In addition to this, its passengers are bothered less by wind and engine noise.

The VW diesel outperforms the BMW

For even though as of recently there has been a highly modified two-litre four-cylinder engine at work in the 518d, it seems rather gritty under load. In particular it is the many additional kilos that affect its temperament, especially on fast stretches of motorway, it lacks the power to keep up with the equally strong VW Passat. However, when driving more calmly, the basic diesel in the 5 Series blends perfectly with the spontaneously and softly shifting eight-speed automatic transmission (2,250 Euros), which was installed in the test car.

Rather than the 2,300-Euro dual clutch transmission, the Passat featured in the test was only fitted with the standard six-speed transmission, which does require regular actuation, but no effort. The quiet-running two-litre TDI also delivers its best drive characteristics completely without strain, and with lower energy consumption, the test car consuming scarcely one litre less per 100 kilometres than the 518d. incidentally, the 40 HP more powerful, noticeably more nippy 520d consumed not a drop more in the last test (7.7 l/100 km).

Regarding longitudinal dynamics, the basic 5 Series cannot entirely honour its claim to be a premium vehicle, and the high weight also has a dampening effect on the drive characteristics. Although essentially designed to be neutral, with slightly sporty ESP tuning, it completes both the slalom and the double lane change more slowly and sedately than the extremely light-footed Passat. Nevertheless, its wonderfully precise and sensitive, if not a little stiff steering incites the driver to more lively cornering, without irritating with drive influences or jolts.

However, even in the front-wheel drive Passat, disruptive elements such as this are practically only noticeably when moving off quickly, otherwise it follows the mapped out path stoically and without any deceptive load change, until a flickering light in the cockpit announces the limit range. Mind you: this of course also applies for the enormously secure BMW 5 Series, but with its larger turning circle and the limited suitability for Winter driving, it even looses out to the never-failing VW in its specialist discipline.

In any case, in the direct comparison it is difficult to identify genuine added value for the high additional cost of the 5 Series. Even in its weakest version it lacks the strengths typical of the brand such as the famous six cylinders, which have long been phased out in the Passat and the majority of mid-size vehicles. In the BMW it is still there – and at least in this respect it is still in a class of its own.



Hans-Dieter Seufert


27 June 2015
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