A journey across the northern half of the peninsular of Malaysia took Bryan Au and a Volkswagen Passat via the Federal Route 1 to Pulau Pinang. Is it good? Yes? No?
My journey to Pulau Pinang began on an early Friday morning as the early birds flocked into the major arterial roads on their way work. Business as usual I thought. I was part of that crowd initially but not for long as I made my way to Jalan Kuching by carving through the southern part of Jinjang town. I must admit that it was easy because thanks to Volkswagen Passat’s clever GPS navigation system had led me into a couple of shortcuts like as if being led by a native.
Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM) has launched the all-new B8 model late last year offering three variants in its range. It starts with both Trendline base model and Comfortline mid-spec variant powered by a turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine mated to a 7-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission followed by the range-topping Highline that boasts larger a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine with a six-speed DSG transmission combination. As you can guess, it is the new range topper that powered my trip northbound.
You may be wondering why I choose to go up north via the Federal Route 1 (FT1) instead of the much convenient and smoother North-South highway expressway (E1). Though it takes roughly eight hours via the former as opposed on the shorter four hours on the newer E1, it is still significantly cheaper to travel through the old road with no toll fees to worry about. Surely, this longer route was perhaps the best testing ground to see just how this new German D-segment saloon’s performance and fuel efficiency fares out.
Personally, the new B8 is one of the most stylish and photogenic cars sold today, and I reckon that it may have some design influences borrowed from their neighbours in Ingolstadt (read Audi). Nevertheless, the folks in the Volkswagen Design Centre had done a brilliant job with this new generation Passat.
Its athletic stance is possible thanks to its new body dimensions; the new B8 saloon is 18mm shorter in height and 79mm longer than the predecessor that underpins a stretched version of VW’s MQB platform. The B8 also tips the scales at with 1,367kg kerb weight, which is 73 kg lighter than the outgoing B7 model This is the result of having lightweight vacuum-formed steel in its body construction.
Back to my journey and the first part of this route leads into Rawang town from Kuala Lumpur, where locals seemed to have caught up with the fast and furious pace of city dwellers. In the Passat however, keeping up wasn’t an issue. Notably, this German is equally efficient as it is rapid. Things like the Engine Stop/Start and brake energy regeneration systems fuel its eco-friendly credentials, keeping both carbon emissions and fuel consumption at a very minimum.
The road then leads into a single path that’s frequent by heavy trucks that makes overtaking tougher. The safest thing to do is to keep a safe distance of three to four car lengths, thus making it easier to look ahead. You will be able to gain the distance and speed to execute a clean pass, likewise you’ll have enough space to abort the move when things don’t go to plan.
In this situation, the new Passat’s “Sport” mode makes overtaking a breeze, and it is a matter of pulling the gear lever backwards. In this mode, the 2.0-litre TSI engine offers full grunt together with an aggressive gear change strategy allowing effortless acceleration. Pull the gear selector backwards once more and its back into the preferred driving mode. Suffice to say, the 217hp and 350Nm this turbocharged 2.0-litre mill – which by the way is lifted from the Golf GTI – churns out felt sufficient when undertaking difficult passes through these difficult single-lane back roads.
What’s pretty neat too is the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) menu, which can be accessed from its 6.5″ touchscreen colour display. This system ensures the car’s suspension is constantly adapting to suit both road and driving conditions.
In Eco mode, the throttle is at its least sensitive, gearshifts at its most conservative and suspension at its plushest. In Comfort mode, the gearshifts and suspension shares the same settings in Eco mode, just that the throttle is a notch more sensitive. In Normal mode, the throttle is responsive yet reserved, the suspension is supple and compliant, the gearshifts come quicker the faster you drive and the steering wheel feels a little bit more weighted.
In Sport mode, the Passat’s electrically assisted power steering feels sharper and heavier, the suspension becomes stiffer yet compliant, the throttle is at its most sensitive allowing a good amount of modulation and a much more aggressive gear change strategy which changes six of its ratios to and fro within the engine’s power band. In Individual mode, you can mix and match the Passat’s steering, throttle, suspension and gearshift settings to suit your own preference.
Another surprising feature primed in this range-topping Passat is its Launch Control system. To activate this feature, all you need to do is select “Sport” on the DCC, set the Anti-Skid Regulator (ASR) to off, depress the brake pedal fully with your left foot fully depressed on the accelerator pedal and the engine speed rises up and stays at 3,500rpm. When you’re ready, release the brake and wait for roughly 3 milliseconds, and you’re on your way to 100 km/h in a prompt 6.2 seconds. That’s .3 seconds quicker than the GTI!
Passing through Ipoh, the road heads eastbound towards Kuala Kangsar, this portion of the FT1 does get tiring. However in the Passat, driving over ruts, rough repair botches and potholes didn’t feel taxing to say the least. For me, the Passat’s ‘Vienna’ 12-way electrically adjustable leather seat, fresh and relaxed through such.
I am sure many drivers will welcome the seat’s lumbar support with massage function as it helps with this too. Passengers on the other hand will glad to bask in the Passat’s generous head and legroom in the rear. Not only comfortably, but also worth noting that its split folding rear backrest comes with a centre armrest with load-through provision to accommodate long objects in its 586-litre trunk when needed.
Another neat feature in the Highline trim is its 12” Active Info Display (AID) that replaces the analogue speedometer. It boasts five different view options. One of which is the navigation-focused mode feature a larger map display by moving both the speedometer and rev counter clocks to the edge. The infotainment system data, such as telephone contact photos or CD cover, can be mirroed directly into the driver’s field of view.
The map shown on the AID is clear within the driver’s line of sight, and so far I have not strayed away from FT1. Also it was comforting to know that the virtual needle is pointing toward the halfway point, which indicated that the Passat only consumed only half of its 66-litres of fuel after passing the 400km mark.
Twilight was nigh and forced to exit from FT1 at Plaza Tol Jawi back on the E1, which allowed me to try the Passat’s Lane Assist system. This system prevents the driver from drifting out of the lane thus reducing the chance of an accident as it uses a camera located in the rear-view mirror unit to monitor the road markings preventing an unintended deviation and only intervenes when the indicators are not activated.
Another clever feature used was the Park Assist, which allows the Passat will practically park itself, cleverly steering into the tightest of spaces at the touch of a button and all the driver has to do is work the pedals. The ultrasonic sensors located in the bumpers will scan the space to see if is large enough. Once a suitable space is found, simply select reverse and let the steering wheel go; Park Assist shows you its intended reverse path on the multifunctional display, then puts the car into the best starting position and steers automatically into the space. How easy is that?
My road trip concluded southbound towards Kuala Lumpur on the E1, which I began to appreciate the convenience and smoothness that the newer E1 highway provides. Upon exiting at the Sungai Buloh toll, the Passat and I had travelled 800km on both FT1 northbound and E1 southbound without stopping to refuel with 160km worth of fuel to spare! The FT1 remains to be one of my favourite routes northbound, which makes driving feel like an adventure, and doing it in the new Passat Highline made the eight-hour trip most enjoyable.
Achingly beautiful, comfortable over long distances, neat AID display and it’s the only d-segment saloon primed with launch control.
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 Highline
Price Msia: RM198,990
Engine: 1984 cc Turbocharged in-line four-cylinder
0-100km/h: 6.2 seconds (Tested W/ Launch Control)
Top speed: 240 km/h (Tested)
Fuel consumption: 5.4 l/100km (Tested)