Volkswagen is selling its seventh-generation Passat with a double-dipping strategy that sees both mainstream and premium variants. It has its sights on the private and fleet buyer, with the $47,000 entry price pitching Passat against Toyota's Camry, Ford's Mondeo and the Mazda6.
A petrol engine, the 118kW/250Nm, 1.8-litre turbo with seven-speed, double-clutch auto joining the 103kW/320Nm and 125kW/350Nm, 2.0-litre diesels, both matched to a six-speed, double-clutch auto. They aren't new, but all use less fuel for the same or better acceleration than before.
There will be no BlueMotion fuel-miser model, but the diesels use BlueMotion technology, with stop-start and brake energy regeneration.
This Passat boasts a smarter body that's increased in size by millimetres, with a still-conservative cabin finished off with new materials and an analogue clock filched from Phaeton.
The ride is quieter thanks to sound damping while the features list delivers six airbags, stability control, Bluetooth prep and cruise control as standard, plus gizmos like fatigue detection.
Auto cruise control is a cost option and so is park assist, which now works in perpendicular as well as parallel parks and at higher speeds.
Expect more tech soon - including a boot that pops open as you waggle a foot beneath it.
The company line
VW NZ has reached its limits: "I can't sell more to the premium Euro market because the others are after my lunch," says VW NZ general manager, Dean Sheed. "The only way forward is into the mainstream." Hence the price restructure and an expanded dealer and after-sales network.
Sheed says, "We don't do cheap", but he expects corporates to like VW's whole-life costs, with good residuals, frugal engines and generous service intervals.
What we say
The 125 may have the grunt and the grip, plus a higher specification than its outgoing equivalent, but the entry-level cars offer a hard-to-beat value equation. They're comfortable, practical - the sedan's got a 565-litre boot and the wagon a 603/1731-litre cavern.
A spirited tryout returned 5.6, 5.4 and 7.4 litres/100km fuel figures from the 125, 103 and 118 models, just above the 5.3, 5.2 and 7.1 claims.
It's a shame these Passats feel a tad too conservative, though.
On the road
The 125 is quick and assured but keen drivers will find it uninvolving. They'll prefer the less-powerful 103 diesel, with more than enough grunt on offer for real-world driving and a lighter touch, which imparts a nimbler feel.
Or they may buy the petrol for the slightly better weight balance imparted by the lighter engine up front, while both entry-level cars supply a more realistic everyday-ride-handling compromise than the firmer 125.
Why you'll buy one
They're smart Euro cars with impressive engines, good safety credentials and clever tech at mainstream prices.
Why you won't
You can buy a more spacious Skoda Superb with the same engines and VW build quality for similar money.