WHEN you are producing the world’s best-selling mid-range car making upgrades and improvements is something to be done with the utmost care.

The Passat has sold more than 30 million units since its introduction in 1973 so when VW wanted to upgrade the Mk 8 it was a case of evolution not revolution with subtle styling revisions alongside significant technological improvements.

The result is a good-looking and well put together vehicle with the very latest technology, better connectivity and an improved engine range – including a significantly more capable GTE plug-in hybrid model, which was our test car.

The Passat range has been simplified with eight variants in the UK: SE, SE Nav, SEL, R-Line and limited-run, Estate-only R-Line Edition, alongside the Alltrack, GTE and GTE Advance.

Our range-topping plug-in hybrid GTE Advance estate is enhanced in many ways and as an extra bonus is approximately £2,300 cheaper than the previous GTE model. Also the electric-only range has increased by almost 40 per cent to around 33 miles with an overall MPG prediction of over 50, which is why VW say one in four Passats sold in the UK are predicted to be GTE variants, compared with 1 in 10 previously. Also in the UK estate versions outsell saloons by 2 to 1.

The UK range has a choice of three petrol engines, four diesels and our petrol-electric plug-in hybrid which boasts a 1.4 power plant alongside a 100bhp-plus electric motor meaning progress is very brisk – 0 to 60mph comes up in just 7.6 seconds and the top speed is 138. A super-slick 6-speed DSG auto gearbox adds to the driving experience.

Not for the faint hearted (and those who want to hang onto their driving licence) is a feature which Volkswagen are claiming as a first. Their new Travel Assist system (standard across the range) means the Passat can drive at up to 130 mph in a partially automated mode thanks to the evolution and amalgamation of Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist.

Our test car had a number of extras which pushed the on the road price up to £44,880 (the Passat range starts from £27,085 and GTE Advance hybrid from £42,450) which included an impressive 360-degree camera system, head up display, panoramic glass roof and an ambient lighting pack which gives a choice of snazzy colours for the LED strips on doors, footwells and dashboard.

On the road the Passat GTE Estate has a smooth ride with plenty of power and that legendary VW build quality means everything feels built to last.

At this range topping price the car is up against some strong opposition from the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Volvo but if you are prepared to look past premium badges the Passat has a lot of equipment on offer.

These improvements across the Passat range look certain to keep it at the top of the sales charts, although I suspect the vast majority we see on our roads will be lower spec variants.

More information at www.volkswagen.co.uk

By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth