Buying a family car does not have to mean an SUV.
It’s true that the popularity of SUVs has overwhelmed passenger cars in recent years, with their sales boom taking them to more than half of all showrooms deliveries in 2019, but there are still some impressive alternatives.
Volkswagen’s Passat Wagon is one.
It’s old-school in one way, because it uses the time-honoured approach of adding a luggage box to the back of a four-door sedan, but very modern in every other way.
It’s calm and elegant, refined and comfortable, and it has all the technology – including safety system, from nine airbags to anti-collision radar – that’s essential in 2020.
Compared with a similar SUV, in price and interior space – if not hulking outside dimensions – it makes a lot of sense.
The fuel saving alone on a long interstate trip, when we can return to Australia’s highways, would make plenty of sense. Especially with standard unleaded now less than $1.00 for the first time in more than a long time.
But there are also savings in things like tyre replacements and service costs, as well as – in some cases – cheaper insurance.
The Passat Wagon cannot take you along the beach or up a mountain-goat trail, but less than 10 per cent of SUVs make those trips.
The German wagon is a mid-sizer in the same class as the Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Skoda Octavia, although there are a lot fewer wagons in 2020 than even a decade ago.
It’s also mid-level on price, starting from $45,990, and comes with a turbocharged petrol engine and seven-speed DSG gearbox with front-wheel drive.
The boot capacity is a basic 650 litres, but grows all the way to 1780 with the split-fold back seat dropped all the way down. There is a 60:40 split, not as good as the latest 40:20:40 designs, but it does have a central fold-down section for long loads.
What makes the Passat Wagon so good is that it feels and drives like a prestige car. It’s not a Bentley-style limousine, but definitely lines up well against BMWs and Benzes.
It’s extremely quiet and very cosseting on any drive, and the flexibility in the back end makes it suitable for almost any job. A trip to the tip can be a bit smelly, but it’s fine for almost anything you want from Bunnings.
Noise levels are very low and, unlike wagons from the early days, there is no extra whistle or thrum from the back end. No-one would suspect it was anything but a four-door sedan.
The connectivity is good, the sound system is fine – although it could be better – and the cabin layout is simple and straightforward. Shift paddles would be nice, as it can be sluggish with the drive mode set to Eco or Normal, but that’s a very little thing.
Otherwise, the Passat Wagon ticks all the right boxes and, ironically, its only serious rivals in this size and style are a pair of wagons – Octavia and Superb – which wear Skoda badges, from another branch of the Volkswagen Group.
Position: Old-style family wagon
THE TICK: Yes