UK CAR Reviews: Volkswagen Passat Turbo Diesel Saloon 1990
Not that long ago, if someone asked you to name a Volkswagen, the last thing you would have come up with was probably the VW Passat.
The Passat was probably one of the most ignored cars in VW's range, totally eclipsed by the ubiquitous Golf.
Upon seeing this Passat, my first thoughts were to ignore it as well. It's not the most striking looking car to start with, and when the example you have the keys for is being sold for a few hundred quid and looks like its led a hard old life, you begin to wonder whether it will actually get you home. This one had over 140k on the clock and even then, if it had said 240k, I would not have been surprised. It bore the scuff and bruises of a car someone had cared little about with various cracked lights and missing trim. To be fair though, the body despite a couple of scrapes was in good solid shape with no sign of rot, just cosmetically a bit shabby with the usual missing VW badges..
The story was much the same for the interior too, cracked and missing door handles. Worn carpets, pedals, shiny steering wheel and very saggy and dirty drivers seat. Getting into the already low seat only for it to sag some more made my heart drop even further. Even when new, it would have hardly set the pulses racing. Sure it has electric windows, a sunroof and remote mirror adjusters, which weren't too shabby in its day, but its a typical example of a functional German interior, lacking in flair and imagination. Those who think the current models are a little dull inside should step back ten years, and see just how far they have improved. If current Vdubs are, shall we say, slightly industrial then these older ones can only be described as Victorian workhouse.
But this car turned out to be a revelation. The turbo diesel motor was strong and smooth and surprisingly powerful, and combined with a very slick gear change allowed the car to shift very smartly indeed. This really is a willing engine and is one of the better diesels I've driven, I really couldn't believe it was a 4 cylinder unit and I took some convincing it wasn't packing a larger, multi-cylinder power plant. Maybe someone had chipped it or something.
Whilst the ride was a little on the harsh side, it was still better than you could reasonably be expected from such an old motor, and whilst due to its bulk, it is never going to handle like a Golf GTi, (old GTi that is as the new ones are enormous barge like things in comparison to earlier models) this Passat was solid, stable and predictable, engendering a real feeling of confidence at speed. Whatever good handling traits the Golf may have, it seems to have passed them on to other cars in the range too.
Having got past its cosmetic failures, I was now able to appreciate the roominess of this car's interior and whilst it may not look too stylish to the eye, it has a large and very practical boot .
All in all, this was the most surprising car I've driven for a long time, whether or not that's because my expectations were so low I'm not sure, but I do know that people who manage to pick up a Passat for decent money can drive smugly knowing that they've got all the good stuff about VW's with out having to pay inflated Golf prices like all the other sheep.
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