Ryan Bubear pits the Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TSI R-Line DSG against its slightly posher cousin, the Audi A4 2.0T FSI Sport line S tronic...
Those in the market for a German executive sedan — and there are plenty of you here in South Africa — have a fair few established players (all relatively fresh) from which to choose.
Chief among them, the recently facelifted BMW 3 Series and the popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But, in the Volkswagen Group, there are two all-new mid-size saloons also vying for your attention: the B8 Volkswagen Passat and the B9 Audi A4.
Wait a minute. Aren't those essentially the same vehicles underneath?
Well, no. These Teutonic cousins actually employ slightly different greasy bits underneath. The Volkswagen runs on the brand's MQB platform (since it employs a transversely mounted engine), while the slightly lighter Audi uses the group's MLB Evo architecture (seeing as it goes the longitudinal route).
Okay. But they share engines, surely?
Sort of. But, although the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol mills — each displacing 1984cc — employed by the two front-wheel drive models we drove are certainly closely related, they feature different outputs and are mated to different transmissions.
Interestingly, the range-topping Passat pinches its powerplant from the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which means it has 162kW and 350Nm to play with. That appreciable oomph is fed to the front rubber via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, with the obligatory sprint to 100km/h taking just 6.7 seconds. Despite the engine's GTI roots, there's no real drama or theatrics here — just somewhat surprising pace.
The A4, meanwhile, uses a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and its four-cylinder mill weighs in with 140kW and 320Nm. It's thus some six-tenths slower to three figures than the Volkswagen, but — thanks to that extra forward cog — serves up less-noticeable shifts. It's also the quieter of the two engines.
Interesting. I'll bet the Passat's a little thirstier though...
You'd bet right. Volkswagen claims a combined fuel economy of 6.2 litres per 100km for this variant, compared to the rock-bottom 4.9 quoted by Audi. In the real world, however, we returned final figures of 9.0 in the Passat and 8.1 in the Audi, with the former taking sips of petrol from a 66-litre tank and the latter from a 54-litre receptacle.
Too many numbers. I've got a bad back. Which of the two is comfiest?
Well, there's not much between them, to be honest. The R-Line Passat features a 15mm suspension drop and 18-inch alloys (optional 19s on our test model), which detract ever so slightly from what is a premium-grade ride quality. But it also comes with an adaptive chassis system as standard, and calling up "Comfort" mode turns things even plusher.
The A4 we tested, however, was fitted with the Sport package, which adds 17-inch alloys and sports suspension, among other things. This, naturally, serves up a slightly firmer ride than would otherwise have been the case, although one that can no doubt be offset by specifying the optional damping control system (at a further R13 640). Still, avoiding the Sport package (and its harder setup) altogether results in a noticeably superior ride, as we discovered on the local launch.
That's a needlessly complex answer. How do they go around corners?
Quite tidily, actually. Although neither front-wheel drive contender is quite as stirring to pilot in anger as, say, a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE, they both feel settled and composed through fast corners. If we had to choose one to attack a twisty section of tarmac, we'd probably lean towards the Audi. But only just.
I haven't seen a mountain pass in months. I'm all about practicality.
Then you'll be happy to hear that both the Passat and A4 fare exceedingly well in that department. At 4767mm long, the Passat is the bigger of the two, although the A4 boasts the longer wheelbase. Both cabins, however, are pleasantly roomy front and back. Your tall friends will love you.
The Audi's luggage compartment measures a rather useful 480 litres, while the VW falls just one litre short. But, tellingly, the Passat hides a full-size spare under its boot floor, while the A4 has to make do with a skinny space-saver. And it comes with a split-folding rear bench, too, something you have to pay R5300 extra for on the A4.
And inside? I'm guessing the Audi is all class?
It certainly is. Indeed, the Ingolstadt automaker has served up yet another splendidly arranged and utterly elegant cabin, mixing high-quality materials with logical ergonomics. There's not much fault to find here. At all.
But, again, the Volkswagen isn't far behind. Virtually all controls in the Passat feel distinctly premium, and everything's pretty much as expertly screwed together as in the A4. The Passat's main screen is housed in the dashboard, while the A4's fixed display sits proud and closer to the driver's eye-line.
I'm more interested in what comes standard...
Fair enough. These particular derivatives — both range-topping (until the quattro version of the A4 arrives, that is) — are obviously better equipped than the base models in their respective line-ups, but neither is exactly generous with kit. The Passat, though, shades the A4 in the stock equipment department, with the latter lacking standard parking sensors, front fog-lights, heated front seats, and a few other bits and bobs.
And it's cheaper, too, right?
Only just. The Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TSI R-Line DSG comes in at R491 100, while the Audi A4 2.0T FSI Sport line S tronic bears a sticker-price of R517 000. If you're a maths addict — or own a calculator — you'll notice that the VW will leave your bank balance some R25 900 better off.
Before extras, of course...
Of course. Both automakers will try to tempt you with a list of options longer than an orangutan's arm. A box we do think is worth ticking, however, is the 12.3-inch customisable instrument cluster display, known as the "Active Info Display" in VW speak and the "Virtual Cockpit" in Audi language.
But, be warned, it ain't cheap. In the Passat, the digital instrument cluster comes bundled with the Discover Pro Navigation for the princely sum of R22 000. In the Audi, it costs R6980, but has to be specified in conjunction with the R24 500 MMI Navigation Plus, which in turn forces the addition of an extra-cost steering wheel.
Ouch. Anyway, which one should I buy: Passat or A4?
That's not an easy question to answer, particularly if you take styling preferences out of the equation. Both are remarkably refined, unquestionably classy sedans worthy of making it onto your executive sedan shortlist. The Passat may well be the slightly more sensible choice, but it simply can't compete with the A4 on badge appeal.
And, in the end, South Africa's notoriously brand-conscious buyers will see the R25 900 difference in asking prices as, well, a small price to pay for a premium badge. Even if the Volkswagen offers more power, more practicality, and better outright value.
So, ultimately, your decision will likely be settled by exactly how much value you place on the badge on the boot...
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See page two for specs and pricing.