If you’re in the market for a family saloon there have been two big names dominating the sector – for different reasons – for a couple of decades now.
We’ll be kind to the Volkswagen Passat and say it’s always been a little conservatively styled. The most recent version has addressed this somewhat and it’s now bordering on handsome – though still fairly restrained.
There’s not a great deal of excitement happening between the Passat’s axles, with very few details to really thrust it above any other car. There’s a refinement to the rear end that, while not hugely distinctive, is at least clean. We like the new front end too, though it’s a little less suited to less clinical body colours. The design is unlikely to age too badly – if you buy a Passat now and put a private plate on it, chances are no-one will be able to tell how old it is in a decade.
It’s not likely the same will be said of the Ford. There’s very little difference between the back ends of the current car and the previous model, so already it looks like it has seven years on the clock. Still, it’s a much more handsome car than its predecessor and, if you’re in the habit of switching cars every three years, how it’ll look in the 2020s isn’t a concern.
Improvements to the Mondeo’s looks are focussed more on the inside. It’s still a little plain and your experience will depend largely on your chosen trim level, but it’s a much higher quality environment than before, with the requisite large colour touchscreen taking care of the infotainment.
The Passat is streets ahead though. Volkswagen group brands are the yardstick to which everyone else strives to match on fit, finish and materials and it’s no exception here. There’s some sterility to the lines perhaps but the interior quality is not only top of this class but stellar for any class. The 12-inch LCD screen sitting in the binnacle and option head up display are merely bonuses.
There’s more than enough space in either vehicle for occupants and they’re split by just 60 litres of boot space – in the Passat’s favour – so you won’t be scrabbling for room.
You’re not going to struggle to find an engine to suit in either car, but the Passat’s range has one surprising flaw – there’s no petrol option yet.
With 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0-litre versions of Ford’s turbocharged petrol EcoBoost engines, there’s something for everyone but, even with the top 237hp version, it doesn’t quite have the performance credentials of some of its predecessors – but it’s hard to argue with 40mpg combined. There’s a petrol hybrid too, rated at 67mpg.
The Passat’s diesels are, at least, pretty varied, ranging from a 70mpg 1.6 to a pretty potty Bi-Turbo model. This, too, peaks at 237hp, but propels the Passat on to 60mph a whole 2 seconds faster than the Mondeo. If you’re not turned off by diesel, it’s the Volkswagen that offers the performance here.
While it might have nicer engines than the Mondeo, the Passat’s driver enjoyment doesn’t rank particularly highly in the class. It’s better than its forebears, but there’s a certain remoteness to the drive that won’t appeal to those who love to wrestle their car down a back road when the family’s been dropped off.
Keen drivers will want the Mondeo, but shouldn’t expect it to shine as much as previous generations – there have been some sacrifices for comfort and it’s no longer the best vehicle in the class for handling. The ride quality is leaps and bounds ahead of Mondeos of old though and, for comfort and refinement, it’s nudging up to the best in the class.
The Passat, however, is arguably the very best in class for ride and refinement. What it lacks in driver appeal, it makes up for in smoothness – it’s not just close to luxury car ride quality, but well into the territory. If whispering at motorway speeds is your thing, the Volkswagen is your only choice.
Value for money
Broadly speaking, the Passat costs you around 8% more in a like-for-like trim and engine choice. Petrol engined Mondeos are a fair chunk cheaper than that where available. At the lower end of the market, the cars are trading blows for equipment, with the Mondeo just edging the win with the dual-zone climate control.
The top of the regular Mondeo range is surprisingly inexpensive but also surprisingly underequipped – at £24,245 it’s still missing parking sensors and leather seats, both optional extras. Many of the safety systems like city brake assist the more expensive Passat wields as standard are also absent, but pricing the Mondeo up to match won’t break the bank.
Of course, the Passat range continues further north into the mid £30-40k range but, by that point, you’re no longer comparing it with a range-topping Mondeo – rather a mid-market BMW 3 Series.
There’s an ever so slight difference in where these two cars are pitched but the gap isn’t as large as it used to be. The Mondeo still represents better value for money and a better drive, and the Passat is still better made and more refined. It could be argued each brand has done all it can to adopt the virtues of its rival while not losing its own identity.
This makes for a hard choice then. Keen drivers, petrol fans or those looking at the lower end of this market should steer toward the Mondeo but those after peerless quality and superb diesel power should consider the Passat.
If either of these cars has taken your fancy, why not head over to our car configurator and see how much you could save on the Mondeo or the Passat. For more options, read our deals page to see our very latest discounts.