Anyone in the market for a large family car could do much worse than the Volkswagen Passat. Critics love the space, comfort and quality it offers, and say it’s raised its game further beyond the Ford Mondeo’s reach than ever.
It’s not cheap – the top-spec 2.0-litre bi-turbodiesel model costs more than £35,500 which is similar money to a nicely specified BMW 3 Series – and even the base model costs £22,000.
For the price of most basic Passat, there’s another compelling family car. The Skoda Octavia offers a similar driving experience to the VW yet, for a similar £22,000, you could have a fairly high-end model with a bigger engine. We’ve compared the two similarly-priced versions to find out which makes the most sense.
It’s hard to deny that the Passat’s long, sleek shape looks handsome. It looks just as tidy up close too – details like the line that runs through the grille into the intricate headlights give the impression of a car priced much higher than the £22,000 entry level. The crease that runs along the car’s flanks and door handles certainly adds to its handsome look.
In comparison, the Skoda looks much more like the budget option. It certainly isn’t a bad looking car – it’s far too inoffensive for that – but park one beside the Passat and it looks just a little bit plain. It does benefit from being 8cm shorter and slightly narrower than the Passat, however, so will suit city-dwellers better.
If anything, the Passat moves the game further away from the Octavia inside, with build quality that rivals offerings from Audi and Mercedes. The cabin feels less like a family car and more like a compact luxury saloon. Interior space is more than adequate for four six-footers to get comfy, while the 586-litre boot is one of the largest in the class.
The Skoda is certainly not lacking in the space race, though. Despite being the smaller car on the outside, the Octavia’s 590-litre boot is a tiny bit larger than the VW’s. Interior space is almost a match, while there’s a generous glove box and plenty of cubbies dotted about the place. There’s just a little too much grey plastic for it to be considered as stylish as the VW.
While the Passat is never going to be the car of choice for thrill seekers, its handling balance is composed and confidence-inspiring. More than anything else, it receives strong praise from critics for the ride quality. Particularly on the smaller wheel sizes of entry-level models, it suppresses rough roads and large bumps with aplomb, while road and wind noise are impressively suppressed.
The Octavia rides fairly well too, if not with quite the same level of control as the Volkswagen. Very bumpy roads unsettle the rear of the car slightly, which translates into a marginally less comfy ride and a less controlled feel when cornering. We’re nit-picking though – the Octavia is still a great long-distance cruiser in its own right.
Comparing models at equivalent prices starts to reveal some larger differences between the two cars. For just over £22,000 the most basic Passat is fitted with a 1.6-litre turbo diesel unit. The 120hp engine is smooth and refined and, when driven carefully, should return around 70mpg.
For similar money, however, Octavia customers can get their hands on a 2.0-litre TDI unit. In a smaller, lighter car, and with an extra 30hp at its disposal, the Octavia can reach 62mph from rest in only 8.4 seconds – a full 2.4 seconds sooner than the VW will manage. Thanks to a peak torque of 250lb ft, it always feels more flexible than 185lb ft-rated Passat.
Yet, despite the vast difference in performance, the Octavia achieves an identical 70.6mpg to the Passat. The VW’s fuel tank is nine litres larger though, so you’ll be able to travel further on a single fill-up in the larger car.
Value for money
For an entry-level model, the Passat’s kit list is fairly generous. In S spec, buyers are treated to 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard.
However, for the same money you can buy an Octavia in SE-L trim. That comes equipped with parking sensors, part-leather seats, cruise control, and a touchscreen infotainment system. If you want to spec it up further, options like bi-xenon headlights, full-leather trim and upgrades to the standard 16-inch alloys are available too.
It isn’t really possible to spec the Passat to the same level, but even adding sat nav – one of the more desirable options – adds at least £675 to the price list. You’d even have to fork out an extra £85 for carpet mats, which are standard in the Skoda.
The smaller engine of the Passat does come with one benefit though: the VW falls into insurance group 15 compared to the group 20 Octavia, which – all other things being equal – should make the Passat the cheaper of the two to insure.
The latest Passat hasn’t yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but it’s likely to gain a full five-star rating – a feat which the Octavia achieved when it was tested back in 2013. One thing is worth bearing in mind though: the most basic Passat only offers Autonomous City Braking – a standard feature on the Skoda – as a £255 option, while a tire pressure monitoring system is also extra.
Picking a winner depends on where your priorities lie. The Passat has a better ride, is more refined, slightly roomier inside and offers levels of quality the Octavia can’t compete with. For many buyers, however, the smaller engine and the more limited standard equipment might just swing the decision in the Octavia’s favour.
Besides the more powerful engine and more comprehensive equipment list, the Octavia has plenty to be commended on. With the exception of the Passat, it’s one of the most practical and comfortable family cars on sale. You get more for your money with the Octavia but you get an overall more desirable car with the Passat.
Put either the Volkswagen Passat or the Skoda Octavia in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our deals page or, if you’re still struggling to pick your next car, check out our car chooser.