Volkswagen is going from strength to strength in New Zealand - due in no small part to the stunning Golf released last year, with its low entry point and a range that stretches from Nana to nutter and covering every mid-sized hatch buyer in-between.
The company's aggressive pricing structure has put Golf in reach of a host of potential new owners, and opened up a pool of potential buyers in big-demand areas like little SUVs. There's no doubt the need for large and mid-sized sedans isn't exactly setting the world on fire, as compact SUVs become the fast movers on the sales sheets - but a capable, high-quality sedan is still the only choice for many, and the Passat is more than capable.
An R-Line specified model has just replaced the lower-spec Passats here - essentially a sexed-up version of what is a good-looking but fairly basic saloon in standard trim, giving it more appeal for leasing user/choosers and for drivers who want an extra splash of style without cardiac-inducing sticker price. And the best part is that it's a freebie upgrade on top of each model's normal entry spec as part of Volkswagen's 60th anniversary celebrations.
The Passat line-up is, understandably, a shorter queue in New Zealand than it is in Europe - and unlike Golf there isn't the massive demand. In the Golf range 10 variants are available here, but with the Passat sedan there are just three, and four for the wagon, including the Alltrack.
So the VW distributor here has made its Passat offering all R-Line bar the Alltrack. This means a wealth of extras, including very nice sports seats, 18-inch rims, reversing camera, big touchscreen infotainment system, tasteful bodykit bits, tinted rear windows and xenon headlights, on top of the standard car which already gets goodies such as climate air and Bluetooth telephony.
The 118kW petrol version tested here is the cheapest of the range at $48,750, with two diesel versions available, maxing out at $53,750 for the top-spec 130kW TDi.
Now it does pay to note that R-Line, despite logo similarities, is a far cry from the hardcore "R" cars like the Golf R that we recently tested - these are utterly packed with features aimed at going fast and are quite well suited to track days and the like.
R-Line is more about style, but with a slightly lower stance and big wheels wrapped in sticky tyres it does offer a more entertaining drive than a base model would. We're not going to be seeing one on the Targa podium in the near future, but when you do give it a nudge, the improvements to road holding and the versatility of the flappy paddle-equipped seven-speed DSG gearbox are obvious.
There is a bit of understeer if it gets pushed too hard, and the brakes do let their distaste for any antics beyond the Passat's capabilities well known with the delightful aroma that is hot brake pads - but we're talking about a 118kW of passenger vehicle here, not a racer.
Its direct-injection 1800cc four-cylinder delivers its 250Nm of torque from between 1500 and 4500rpm, meaning that it's a capable car on the open road, can happily tow a braked trailer of up to 1500kg (750kg unbraked), and is fairly undemanding in heavy traffic.
Passat buyers, in the main, aren't after something that's going to set any records, but a vehicle that does everything they want it to and does it well. The R-Line petrol achieves this, and while it doesn't excel in any areas it doesn't miss the mark either - it's capable, reliable, good-looking and well-equipped. All the boxes are ticked, it scores top points on safety and while it doesn't scream "look at me" it's no shrinking violet. And when you add over 20 per cent of value in terms of spec and cost, all because Volkswagen is giving you a present for its birthday, you can't go wrong. Although I'm sure the VW team would be stoked to hear a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday.