The Mercedes C-Class is a long-standing heavyweight in the ‘executive saloon’ class.
Along with the Audi A4 and the BMW 3-Series, it is right at home ferrying droves of aspirational sales-reps up and down the expansive motorway network of the United Kingdom. Some would even go as far as to say that being a well-to-do fleet car is the role the C-Class was destined for.
The Passat, on the other hand, comes from slightly humbler origins. The Volkswagen badge has never truly been able to attract the same level of respect the three-pointed star commands when attached to cars in this class.
That being said, the sales figures for earlier Passat models speak volumes – over its lifetime, Volkswagen has sold over 20 million Passats. It is a car that has always impressed reviewers and buyers alike and with the newly updated model for 2015, Volkswagen has locked Mercedes, and the executive saloon class, firmly in its sights.
So, can the Passat successfully execute a hostile takeover and take back some of the prestige owned by the C-Class? Read on to find out.
As is the trend with the majority of modern-day cars, the C-Class and the Passat are both inoffensive to the eye. While the C-Class is inoffensive in a good way – with a muscular stance and the large, pronounced grille that is becoming a feature on most new Mercedes these days helping to turn heads – the Passat could be said to be a little too inoffensive.
Critics have accused Volkswagen of being a bit overly conservative when it comes to the styling of the Passat. As with other vehicles in the brand’s lineup, the Passat has adopted the three-bar chrome grille that merges with swept-back headlights. On the new Golf it looks great, but on the larger Passat it can’t help but give the impression that the car is half-asleep – but what looks boring to one person may be another person’s idea of smart.
Interior and practicality
This is a department where both of these cars do very well indeed. Interior space is at an all-time high in the 2015 Passat, even though this model is in fact smaller than the last generation model. This increase comes as a result of the wheels being moved closer towards the extremities of the car – upping the wheelbase of the Passat by 80mm, and cabin space by 33mm when compared with the older model.
As a result, tall passengers will be more than comfortable in the back of the new Passat. There is also an incredibly healthy 586 litres of boot space available, meaning the Passat will happily swallow up a set of golf clubs, or enough luggage to keep the family happy for two weeks away.
In traditional Volkswagen fashion, the interior of the Passat is incredibly well put together, and the materials used are first-class. As with the exterior of the car, the styling inside may be sitting on the conservative side of things, but it is still very tidy. The optional 12-inch screen in the centre of the instrument binnacle and whizzy heads-up display will no doubt be features that appeal to the wannabe jet-fighter pilot in all of us.
While the interior of the Passat is undoubtedly a nice place to be, the C-Class takes things to a whole new level. In the same way that traces of S-Class can be found when you look at the exterior of the C-Class, those with a trained eye will notice that they can also be found inside. The familiar circular air-vents, and minimalistic dashboard all add to the luxurious nature of the car. The only aspect that could be seen as ruining the interior is the floating display screen which, to some, looks like an iPad that has been unceremoniously stuck to the dashboard as an afterthought.
Interior space is also greater than that offered by its predecessor, and critics have stated that passengers will ride in comfort in any seating position. Storage spaces and cubby holes are plentiful, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities for rogue crisp packets and drink containers to go missing on those long motorway journeys. The only area where the C-Class falls down in comparison to the Passat is boot space – the Mercedes has only 480 litres of space.
As mentioned earlier, both of these cars will spend a great deal of time travelling up and down the nations motorways, so they really need to shine in the driving department.
Critics agree that the Passat has never been a particularly exciting car to drive, and the new generation model is no exception to that rule. That being said, whilst it may not be at home blasting down B-Roads, chewing up the motorway miles is its forte.
Testers agree that it is a comfortable car to drive, and that intrusion from wind, road and tyre noise are minimal – important features if you plan on spending a lot of time at the wheel. Around town, the Passat is competent, and a number of incredibly handy driver aids such as Traffic Jam Assist and Park Assist will help avoid any sticky situations.
The C-Class sings a similar tune to the Passat when it comes to driveability, although you can once again find hints of S-Class helping to add that little bit more. The C-Class is available with an option called ‘Airmatic’ – an option that critics believe to be worth the £890 price tag. Airmatic adds air suspension and adaptive dampers that feature a wide range of driving modes, both of which combine to make the car even more comfortable when it comes to long-distance cruising.
Unfortunately, the system is not infallible. Critics have said that potholes and expansion joints often get the best of the C-Class, causing a crash to be sent through the cabin. That being said, the Passat is not immune from such phenomena either.
With governments around the world clamping down on vehicle emissions, it is no surprise that the Passat and the C-Class both feature a strong diesel engine line-up. In fact, there is only one petrol unit available on the C-Class, and none available on the Passat. Yep, you heard that right – the Passat is only available with a choice of three diesel engines, in various states of tune.
As a result, economy figures are very impressive from both cars. The 2.0-litre, 148hp TDI unit is the most economical engine available on the Passat, putting out a fuel consumption figure of 70.6mpg when coupled with the six-speed manual transmission.
Thanks to the availability of a hybrid engine, the Mercedes does have the upper hand over the Passat when it comes to fuel economy. The C300 Bluetec Hybrid develops an impressive 233hp, and returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 78.5mpg. There is also the regular C200 Bluetec diesel, which returns 72.4mpg – although testers have identified this as being on the unrefined side of things.
Although the engines available in the Mercedes are, on the whole, more economical than those currently offered in the Passat, Volkswagen have announced that there will be a plug-in hybrid version of the Passat coming later in 2015.
Value For Money
Value for money is the area where the Passat really comes into its own. Rather astoundingly, prices for the Passat start at £22,215, which makes for a bargain when you take the close-to-premium quality of the interior, and the refined driving experience that it offers into consideration.
Economy is also impressive. Though the Passat may not be able to match the 78.5mpg figure offered by the hybrid technology equipped C-Class, you have to remember that prices for the 2.0 TDI Passat start at £23,340, as opposed to £35,045 for the hybrid Merc! No matter how much money you have, you would have to agree that £11,700 is a huge premium to pay for a few extra miles per gallon.
While the Mercedes does offer a more premium feel, it is hard to ignore the fact that both of these cars are largely the same on paper – even though the C-Class is far more expensive. If all you are looking for is an economical car that is easy to drive, comfortable and well put together, the Passat represents the best value for money.
When it boils down to it, both of these cars are incredibly capable at doing the job that they were created for – long-distance cruising.
If all you are after in a car is the ability to get you from A to B in comfort, with little fuss and without a huge fuel bill, then the Passat would be the car to choose. It is relatively cheap, agreeable to look at and very well put together. It will get the job of ‘being a car’ done with no sweat.
However, if you put more stock in how a car looks and have a bit of extra cash lying around, then it would be difficult to not recommend the Mercedes. Of these two cars, it offers greater levels of style, a nicer interior, a more premium image, and greater economy – but only if you can afford it.
To put it simply, if you were handed the keys to both of these cars and told to choose between the two, you would have a hard time saying “no” to the Mercedes.