Richard Aucock
08/01/2007 00:00 | By Richard Aucock, contributor, MSN Cars

Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 170 review (2006-2010)

Volkswagen Passat (© Image © VW)

Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 170
Bodystyle: Four-door saloon
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed DSG

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What is it?

Here’s the most powerful Passat diesel ever. Yes, stronger than the old 2.5-litre V6 in the old model. That’s how quickly diesel technology is progressing. It joins the existing 2.0-litre TDI 140 (and 1.9-litre TDI 105) to offer more choice for easily the Passat’s most popular fuel source. Popularity with fleet drivers means almost every Passat you see carries a ‘TDI’ badge on the boot. And its indecisive fleet drivers that VW is targeting here (who’ll be spotted by a red ‘I’ in TDI). For the same price as a BMW 318d, it’s offering a car 40bhp up, with more equipment. Throw in the car’s quasi-premium image, and it sounds compelling. How does it compare on the road?

Where does it fit?

Volkswagen sells glitzier V6 petrol Passats, but this four-pot is top in terms of diesel; it’s unlikely the 2.7-litre V6 seen in Audis will fit the Golf-derived platform. Nevertheless, Volkswagen has intentionally shifted the TDI 170 range upmarket, so only offers it in Sport or SE-L trim; no budget S or SE here. That’s a clear signal that they want to take on Audi and BMW with it, and set it apart from ‘lesser’ rivals like the Vectra and Mondeo. It’s available in saloon and estate format, with either a manual gearbox or the DSG semi-auto tested by us.

Is it for you?

The Passat is a smart-looking, decent value car that sits mid-way between mainstream and premium brands; ideal for many, particularly given the ubiquitousness of cars like the BMW 3-Series. That’s not to say the Passat isn’t equally abundant – but you don’t mind so much if you’re paying less, and it carries enough feel-good factor for it not to be a concern (yet justify the premium over a Vectra).

What does it do well?

This is the smoothest 2.0-litre TDI we’ve driven. Clatter is more subdued and it takes on an intriguing cammy growl when worked hard. It’s still clearly diesel, but the extra silkiness is welcome. And it shifts, proving free-revving, torquey and as pacy as a hottish hatch. 0-60mph in 8.6secs is good going for a diesel, particularly when there’s a mammoth 258lb/ft of grunt to call upon. Elsewhere, steering is fairly speedily geared and intuitive in corners, where there’s ample grip too, and both pedals have a pleasing accuracy to them. Taken in isolation, the speed of the DSG’s shifts still impress too.

What doesn't it do well?

Surprisingly, the DSG gearbox, that we’ve sung the praises of before and still rate in terms of shift speed, spoils the Passat. It lurches during low-speed manoeuvres and proves jerky, hesitant and lumpy at times, almost as if the extra torque is upsetting it. And that kinda sums up the ride quality too; on 17-inch rims and ‘Sport’ settings, the Passat loses the genteel, striding comfort of standard cars, introducing vertical joggle and surprisingly noisy stomps over potholes. The steering is also a touch ‘loose’ at speed, needing a few infinitesimal but still irritating corrections to track straight, and initial turn-in is cloudy.

What's it like to live with?

The interior doesn’t feel as solid as the old Passat, as we’ve mentioned before – the dash echoes when you insert they keyfob, for example, though it’s still a quality environment. The semi-bucket seats of the Sport are impressive (with lots of under-thigh support), though Golf roots meant they’re set slightly behind the B-pillar, making getting in and out slightly awkward. The push-fob starter remains silly, the electronic parking brake still intermittently throws paddies and though a ‘brake’ hold function for the DSG box (which holds brakes and allows you to release the brake pedal in traffic) is useful, why does it have to be turned on again every time you restart? Irritatingly, the DSG lever hides the button, too. And despite this being sport trim, you still only get a ‘small display’ trip computer, and no steering wheel stereo controls. The steps between stereo volume are also too large; it’s either too loud or quiet. But elsewhere, there’s lots of storage inside (no handbrake means a huge between-seat cubby), decent room and a cool auto-pop-up boot with a jab of the key fob.

How green is it?

A combined average of 45.6mpg is a little down on the TDI 140’s 47.1mpg (the 318d averages 50mpg), but the TDI 170 does have one key benefit; a particulate filter. This cuts exhaust nasties and also reduces the TDI’s familiar black exhaust smoke on acceleration. As such, we’d rank it as pretty green, particularly as the trip computer had no trouble registering close to the official average on motorway runs.

Would we buy it?

We’d rather have the TDI 140 in SE trim, and hang the TDI 170 Sport’s extra grip, performance and engine smoothness under acceleration. For the type of motoring most Passats do daily, the benefits in ride comfort, refinement and general plushness outweigh the extra go. We know from experience it also works better with the DSG ‘box – if you want a two-pedal Passat, avoid the 170. Taken in isolation, it’s a reasonably quick saloon with a very smooth engine and impressive economy; it just seems to have lost some of what make the 140 feel special.

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