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Middle East & Egypt exclusive: All-new 2011 Volkswagen Passat - First driving impression

In the Middle East and North Africa region, especially in Egypt, the Volkswagen Passat sedan is considered one of the most popular and successful cars in its segment.

But with over 15 million cars sold worldwide, the Passat by Volkswagen is also one of the most successful automobiles in the whole world.

And now the new Passat, in its seventh generation since 1973, has also been nominated for the World Car of the Year Award. Many good reasons for us to go and test-drive the all-new 2011 Passat in Spain, and offer our loyal readers again another Middle East & Egypt exclusive test-drives ahead of all the other media in the region.

The overall range of technological innovations now implemented in the Passat Trendline (entry-level), Passat Comfortline (mid-level) and Passat Highline (top model) has reached a scale previously found only in upper and luxury class cars. A total of 19 new systems are debuting in this model series.


Key new developments include these systems:
• Fatigue detection;
• Front Assist with city emergency braking function;
• Traffic sign detection;
• Easy Open system for opening boot lid;
• Park Assist II;
• Light Assist and Dynamic Light Assist main beam headlight
assistants, and
• Side Assist lane-changing warning system.

These technologies supplement systems already introduced on the previous model, such as the Lane Assist lane-keeping system and DCC adaptive chassis control. So, in its technology the Passat is crossing over to the next higher class. It is precisely this technology – and further improvements in workmanship and material quality – that will set the new bench-mark in its class.

The new Passat is considered the first Volkswagen with features such as fatigue detection, city emergency braking function, navigation with traffic sign detection and new climate seat ?  la Phaeton, the top flag-ship of Volkswagen.

The fatigue system reacts to fitful steering moves, usually a clear sign for fatigue and that the driver is sleeping away while driving. Only in the base Trend-line you need to pay a mere 20 Euros for this very useful system.


Safety and Convenience Systems:

Many of our readers might not know that this is already the seventh generation since 1973, which proves again that �evolution’ is sometimes much better as �revolution’ in the automotive world. Why change a �concept’ when the previous concept was a bestseller?

The styling of the bestseller was completely re-interpreted, and its front end shows parallels to the Phaeton and is more impressive than ever. Furthermore, the Passat has always mirrored the course of technological progress, although I noticed four parts which in my opinion need some more research and minor development, but more to that later.

Nevertheless, the course of technological progress applies unreservedly to the seventh Passat, which will launch simultaneously as a saloon and estate car. Still you recognize immediately the elegant and typical Passat-DNA which had always paved the way for the success of the previous Passat model, especially in the Middle East and Egypt.

The overall range of technological innovations now implemented in the Passat Trendline (entry-level), Passat Comfortline (mid-level) and Passat Highline (top model) has reached a scale previously found only in upper and luxury class cars.

I personally consider most of these technological innovations extremely helpful and supporting for reducing the huge numbers of fatal road accidents in the Middle East and Egypt, and that is why most countries in the Middle East and North Africa should seriously consider incentives and customs reduction for cars equipped with such modern active and passive safety features.

A world’s first in this class is the fatigue detection system that is offered on the Passat, which reminds me somehow of the fatigue detection system available in the Mercedes E-Class, which is by far much more expensive than the Passat. The system is a standard feature from the Comfortline equipment line.

The Passat is also the first Volkswagen ever to have a city emergency braking function. The assistance system is part of the further refined ACC adaptive cruise control plus Front Assist. The city emergency braking function, active below a speed of 30 km/h, also reacts to stationary vehicles; if necessary, it automatically initiates a braking manoeuvre, thereby contributing toward avoidance of an impending front end collision or at least minimising the resulting damage.

This city emergency braking function would surely reduce the rush-hour collision on Sheikh Zayed road in Dubai or on the Mehwar and Ring Road in Cairo significantly.

Not only is the new 2011 Passat the first Volkswagen with fatigue detection and city emergency braking function, but at 4.2 l/100 km combined fuel consumption, it is also the most fuel-efficient Passat ever. This makes the 15 million bestseller even more impressive and attractive for markets, where fuel efficiency and environment-friendliness plays an important role.


New 2011 Passat offers more comfort then ever:
Yet, the new Passat offers even more finesses. All it takes is a specific foot movement behind the car to open the saloon’s boot lid. This option is called �Easy Open’.

For those drivers who hate parking there is another feature they will absolutely love. At the press of a button, the Passat “sees� parking spaces parallel and perpendicular to the carriageway, and upon request it can automatically steer the car into the space with centimetre precision.

This feature, which is called �Park Assist II’ is very helpful but I personally think that it has still some potential for improvement. When I tested Park Assist II, I noticed that the system turns the wheel to the extreme right (or left) when pulling the car closer to the pavement, after one has pulled backwards into the parking space.

My almost two decades of parking �experience’ in the extremely congested city of Cairo taught me that after you pull backwards into a parking space, you should return the steering wheel into straight position (and not turn it to the extreme right) when moving forward in order to get the front end of the car closer to the pavement (which in that case would be on your right side). Like that the right side of the car would stay very close to the pavement.

Maybe the engineers at Volkswagen could add a new option to the Park Assist II, where the driver can also adjust the distance between the car and the pavement when parking parallel to the carriageway, as in some countries, like in Egypt, one sometimes finds pavement which are 10 cm high, in other cases they are up to 30cm high. That would make it impossible for the passenger to open the doors because of the extreme height of the pavement.


The new Passat and its driver �see’ more:

Even the new headlights of the 2011 Passat contribute a lot to road safety and to a safe ride, since the driver does not need to be concerned about controlling the main beam light switch any longer; it is always there as long as traffic allows.

The reason for that is that in conjunction with the standard H7 headlights, the Passat automatically switches the main beam on and off as a function of oncoming traffic and traffic ahead of the Passat. This optional main beam assistant is called Light Assist.

If the car is equipped with bi-xenon headlights that come with cornering lights, the main beam remains continually active and is only masked where other traffic participants could be disturbed by glare; this main beam headlight assistant is called Dynamic Light Assist.

Both systems become active as soon as vehicle speed exceeds 60 km/h. As on the Phaeton and Touareg, the Passat also warns the driver of vehicles in the blind spot (Side Assist).

The new Volkswagen utilises images from a front camera to detect speed limit signs, and it displays them in the cockpit. This traffic sign detection system also “sees� no-passing zones when technically possible, and it calls the driver’s attention to them.

I had just tested this feature in a recent Touareg test-drive in Dubai, and I must say it is extremely helpful and increases the safety considerably.


New 2011 Passat offers more quality:

The technologies and the further improved workmanship and material quality is differentiating the Passat from its competitors more than ever, and even gives you the impression that Passat is now competing with the competitors of a higher class.

This quality is perceptible in the interior with its high-end materials, new seats and door trims and ambience lighting. An especially elegant effect is produced by the modified centre console and redesigned accents in the instruments that are visually appealing and pleasing to the touch.

Although I felt that the gear-knob is not very comfy for the arm-wrist of your right arm when you are typing something into the navigation system or making changes to the sound- or multi-media system, it is very obvious that Volkswagen tried to set a new interior bench-mark in this segment by which it tried to overtake its arch rival, the Mercedes C-Class.

And I must say, it seems that the new 2011 Volkswagen Passat succeeded in that.

But hopefully in the next facelift the extremely elegant analog watch in the middle of the dashboard would be fitted into the dashboard with a different angle so to avoid the shades in it.

Drivers of the automatic transmission version will also lack a little bit of space beneath or in front of the left side of the driver�s seat, when they try to pull back their left leg. A move which is very wide-spread and common when driving an automatic transmission.


2011 Passat: As quit as a luxury car

The new Passat is extremely quiet. The reason for that is insulating materials specifically integrated in the dashboard area and doors filter out exterior and engine noises. In addition, a new acoustic film is embedded in the front windscreen and is available as an option for the front side windows; this film blocks out additional noise, and will give you a much relaxed and stress-free ride in the noisy and packed streets of Cairo.


More safety in the Passat:

Progress has been made in the area of safety as well. The previous Passat model already attained an impressive 5 stars in the renowned Euro-NCAP crash testing. Further advances include features such as seatbelt fastening detection for the rear seats and head restraints that now also adjust horizontally on the front seats (standard from Comfortline).

The new head restraints for driver and front passenger reduce the risk of whiplash injury in a traffic accident. Moreover, new assistance systems such as Side Assist optimize safety in the Passat.
A new 5-stars Euro-NCAP result seems almost guaranteed.


More sustainable through latest engine technology:

Last but not least, the new Passat sets standards when it comes to sustainability. All ten engines (77 kW / 105 PS to 220 kW / 300 PS) are more fuel efficient – by up to 18 percent! The “smallest� turbodiesel (1.6 TDI with 105 PS) now only consumes 4.2 l/100 km; that is equivalent to 109 g/km CO2. The Passat BlueTDI (103 kW / 140 PS / fuel consumption: 4.6 l/100 km) already meets limits of the Euro-6 emissions standard (Category N).

Downsizing and technologies such as the Stop/Start system also ensure the best fuel economy among the petrol engines. Another pioneering engine: the 1.4 TSI (90 kW / 122 PS).

In the BlueMotion Technology version it is satisfied with just 5.9 l/100 km. All values for the Passat Estate lie on the same good level (maximum of +0.1 litre compared to the saloon).

It is worth noting that each of these models is a safe, comfortable and powerful touring vehicle. Only, they are also very low emitting, fuel efficient and blessed with extremely long driving ranges. In the case of the Passat 1.6 TDI with BlueMotion Technology, its 70 litre fuel tank capacity and 4.2 litre fuel consumption yield a driving range of 1,666 kilometres – on one tank of fuel.

That is almost driving four times from Cairo to Marina at the North Coast with just one fuel tank capacity!

So, it is good that there is fatigue detection to remind the driver to take a break from driving after at most four hours.

And while only the top engines will be of interest for the Middle East and gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait it is the 1.4 TSI and 1.6 liter engines which will play the important role in the Egyptian market, because of the high import and custom duties. Well, at least until 2019 where these duties will be zero % instead of now 32% for the 1.6 liter engines and 135% for the 2.0 liter engines.

Good to know that the 1.4 TSI has won the International Engine of the Year Award before, so it must be a good one.

And after a few rounds around Barcelona I can assure that it is indeed a very good-performing engine which harmonizes very well with the very dynamic and at the same time very comfortable suspension and chassis of the new Passat. An ideal combination for the road and traffic conditions on Egyptian and Middle Eastern roads.

So what is the conclusion after this Passat test-drive?

Well, the new 2011 Passat shall be launched in Egypt and the Middle East region in spring 2011. I therefore strongly recommend anybody who was planning to purchase a competitor during the next three months to wait until the 2011 Passat arrives in our region.

The new Passat can be considered at least half a class higher than the previous model and will surely give its competitor from Stuttgart, Munich, Ingolstadt, Japan and France a very tough time.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive comparison-test between the Passat and its main rivals, with lots of surprises, soon here on autoarabia.org and on Auto Arabia TV.

MS


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Readers Comments:

Haithem Fouad from cairo - egypt wrote:
I'm a fan of VW. I owned a Volkswagen Bora with a manual transmission in 2001 and drove it till 2006. It was a nice car but it was not suitable for heavy duty use as I sold it with a running distance of 185k KM.

So as a result the maintenance cost was very high. Then I bought a Jetta with an Automatic transmission in 2006 till present. The car was more than perfect until suddenly the automatic gearbox collapsed at 75k KM and as a result I changed the whole gearbox.

I found this problem very common with at least 10 people who own a Volkswagen Jetta, Passat and Golf that I personally know and others I don't know. Nobody really knows the reason why? Some say because the VW agent in Egypt (Note: Egyptian Automotive Company) doesn't change the automatic transmission oil at 60k KM, some say there is a defect in the Jetta automatic transmission.

Now I admire the new 2011 Passat but I have doubts about the credibility of the VW brand and the durability of their cars. Any advice?


Editors response:
Dear Haithem,

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. As you said, unfortunately the credibility and reputation of the Volkswagen and Audi brands in Egypt are indeed suffering very much from the many complaints about the VW & Audi dealership and service in Egypt.

I personally test-drove the all-new 2011 VW Passat and the all-new 2011 VW Jetta a few months ago, and I must admit they are very good cars in every aspect. You can find the detailed test-drive of the Jetta and Passat published here on autoarabia.org !

On the other hand I am shocked by the many complaints we receive through our website or live on air through our weekly radio show on Radio Masr 88.7 (Sunday, 4pm-7pm) from consumers who suffer and complain from the reliability of the different Volkswagen models as well as from quality of the Volkswagen service center and the customer service.

For the time-being I recommend you stay away from buying a Volkswagen model in Egypt, until we gather more information and check with Volkswagen and Audi headquarters in Germany why the service and reliability is so weak and bad here in Egypt. Please send us your complaint and the other complaints of the persons you know to readersletter@autoarabia.org so we can send them to Germany.

We will try to get a Passat and a Jetta long-term test-car to experience those failures and problems at first hand.

If you can wait a few weeks / months until we get some feedback from Volkswagen and Audi Germany then this is fine. If you cannot or do not want to wait, then I suggest you have a look at the BMW 316i (which will replaced next year!), the Seat Leon, the Mercedes B-Class or Mercedes C180 (the Made-In-Germany version or the Gulf-specs version), the Ford Mondeo, the Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI or the very impressive Skoda Superb (which costs only 195.000 LE but is unfortunately only offered with manual transmission).

Regards,
Editor

N.B.: This is one of the latest recalls for Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda models:

VW Group recalls over 58.000 different Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda due to transmission problems with the Direct Shift 6 Speed gearbox !

VW announced a problem with the Jetta, Golf, EOS, Passat, Scirocco, Touran & Caddy (with direct shift 6 speed gearbox), as well as the Audi A3, Audi TT, Seat Leon, Seat Altea, Skoda Octavia and Skoda Superb, affecting more than 58.000 vehicles worldwide, including Egypt and the Middle East.

In rare cases an incorrect interpretation of the clutch temperature can occur which results in the clutch opening unexpectedly with loss of drive. Vehicles built from 1/9/2008 to 31/8/2009 are at risk.

The following remedial action is necessary to address this problem: Recall affected vehicles and update/reprogramme gearbox control unit.

More information and details to this recall will be published shortly here on www.autoarabia.org !


Edgar from cairo - Egypt wrote:
i have had Jetta 2008, it is a great car but i think that the main behind said bad image in Egypt is for being a very expensive car regarding the spare parts....

but over all it is the most suitable car ever.....

Editors response:
It is a great car indeed. But the bad image is mainly because of the bad reputation of the VW and Audi dealer in Egypt. Expensive spare parts surely do not help either in improving this bad reputation.



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