The last time we wrote about the last generation Volkswagen Passat, the then distributor of Volkswagen in Malaysia stopped talking to us after we reported the truth about the test car and commented on the state of affairs of the brand. The brand stewardship has changed since and as you can tell from this story, we are on talking terms again. But how is the Volkswagen brand doing since we published that story two years ago?
Well, we received this e-mail from a reader last month (full name and contact information redacted for privacy purposes):
Truth be told, this wouldn’t be the first correspondence of its kind to have reached my Inbox, but it does sum up the challenge facing current distributor Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM). The irony is that the VW brand remains infinitely cool and many would buy a Volkswagen in a heartbeat if not for the uncertainties related to reliability and after sales service. With the high value proposition offered by VPCM these days (e.g. a new Jetta at less than RM110,000) and a seemingly improving customer service experience, at least according to J.D. Power’s CSI Study, surely there has to be light at the end of the tunnel.
As an executive-class D-segment sedan, the last generation Passat (known as the B7) was a handy four-door saloon, we even commended on the performance of the infamous DSG transmission. Well, the current generation Passat (or the B8) is an even better product…no, much better and more complete, maybe even top of its class.
But here’s why I think that isn’t nearly enough to win the hearts of consumers; when negative public sentiment of the brand (whether justifiably so or otherwise) is at odds with the overly optimistic coverage from the media, the feel-good stories spawn by the latter isn’t going to change the minds of sceptical VW owners who may have been let down previously. If anything, heaping more accolades may even have the opposite effect. You only need to get on social media and read the unsavoury comments that still permeate every post sponsored by Volkswagen.
So even if I were to tell you that the Passat is highly satisfying to drive (which it is), has legroom that makes a leggy supermodel feel right at home and comes with enough quality, technology and performance to make you question the need to spend more on luxury makes, you’re probably not going to heed any of my arguments until trust issues are addressed.
Granted that the executive saloon segment isn’t the most exciting space to watch, it remains a barometer of whether businesses (large and small) accept your brand as a prudent choice for their senior executives. The B8 Passat is that kind of car – understated but handsome, comfortable yet dynamic, safe but never boring. If presented with the choice, I would have this – be it the 1.8 TSI, most definitely the 2.0 TSI – over any Camry or Accord. But would the CFO agree?
The massive Takata airbag recall has shown how different car companies react. While it is a fact that more Honda cars are affected compared to other brands, unprecedented steps were also taken to not only get faulty airbags replaced but to openly disseminate information car companies typically don’t divulge. Continuous customer engagement on this topic meant that a potential PR disaster was averted (despite actual deaths occurring) and sales of Honda vehicles are currently at an all-time high.
That the Passat is offered with either the dry or wet clutch type DSG is testament to Volkswagen’s commitment to the cause. We’ve driven two of the three variants – the 180hp/250Nm 1.8 TSI Trendline with the dry-clutch 7-speed DSG and the 220hp/350Nm 2.0 TSI Highline with the 6-speed DSG – and I can’t help but be impressed (again) by how the DSG performs; it’s as good as any automatic when left alone and when you want to manually change up or down, the ratios are swapped swiftly and near seamlessly, with just the right amount of mechanical feedback to let you know when it’s done.
(An objective view from a Volkswagen owner on the DSG is worth much more than another flattering product review; video courtesy of kensomuse.com)
Yes, we drove low mileage test cars and the chances of anything going awry would have been slim, so we have nothing salacious to report this time round. But since Volkswagen asserts that all DSG issues have been nipped in the bud in the post-recall period, I wonder why there isn’t a more concerted effort to communicate as such (like how Honda took on the Takata debacle), especially when it’s clear that doubts over the DSG are still dissuading potential buyers. What Volkswagen doesn’t need is another grovelling but pointless review from the media, it needs to step up and confront the elephant in the room.
Some VW owners may have felt this way about their cars…