The Volkswagen Passat has always been one of our favourite mid-size family saloons. It is the only German presence in a segment crowded by Japanese, Korean and American cars. And it has been traditionally known to be a better built, better handling and better trimmed model than its rivals. So the motoring fraternity was surprised to see Volkswagen dumbing the model down in 2012, replacing the Audi-inspired styling of the previous model with a more generic look, and a distinctively European but relatively downgraded interior, as well as sticking a lacklustre 2.5-litre five-cylinder in the engine bay. These changes were specific to the model built in the brand’s Chattanooga plant in the US and sold in our region, while Europe continued to receive a differently specced and styled model. This was a strategic move to bring it closer in specs and trimmings to class leaders like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, and it worked as Passat sales quadrupled in 2013 compared to the previous year. So when it was time to give this model a mid-life facelift, Volkswagen seems to have played it safe. It will take some amount of squinting to notice the changes, which on the outside are limited to revised headlights that are slimmer than before, a more prominent four-bar grille and a creased bonnet up front. The rear also gets a mild refresh in the form of new LED taillights and chrome strips on the boot lid. The bright stuff has been added to the window surrounds, bumpers, and door trim as well. While the changes might be minimal, the overall styling of the Passat is a breath of fresh air in a segment where every other player seems to be obsessed with making their cars swoopier with creases all over. In contrast, the Passat sports a clean, elegant, minimalist design that looks classier and more timeless than the rest.

Minor tweaks have been made to the interior as well, where the main differences are the new steering wheel, and two-tone decor panels offering chrome and piano black trim that replaces the dull all-black dashboard and door cards from the previous model. Just like the exterior, the cabin is also discreet and uncluttered with aptly sized buttons and knobs placed in all the right places. Once again, it’s a welcome departure from the excessively styled and complicated interiors of its rivals. A mix of hard and soft plastics with sprinklings of faux wood and metallic trims lift the general ambience in the cabin. The new model comes equipped with Volkswagen’s second-generation in-car infotainment system, which is called the MIB II. It comes with a capacitive touchscreen that’s responsive and easy to use. Smartphone connectivity options include USB, Apple Car Play, Android Auto as well as Mirror Link.

Although the seats look slender, they are well-bolstered and comfortable, and come optionally climate controlled. The AC is a dual-zone set-up, and cools the cabin as quick as any other car in the segment does. The Passat’s relatively upright and straightforward design translates into more headroom front and back compared to cars with a more sloping roofline. This is especially obvious at the back, where the cabin feels much roomier than almost every other car in the segment, offering enough legroom for a six-footer with a driver or passenger of similar height in the front. There aren’t any changes to the mechanical bits, with the same 2.5-litre five-pot under the bonnet, which puts out 170bhp mated to a six-speed automatic. It’s not the peppiest of engines, but it does what’s expected of a family saloon’s powerplant pretty well. On the highway, the Passat is quiet and refined, and the steering is reasonably well-weighted and responsive, although it doesn’t quite lighten up enough at low speeds to enable easy parking manoeuvres. The Passat remains one of the better cars to drive in this class, and is still impressively agile and composed with a taut suspension.

The 2016 model has also been equipped with a host of safety technologies, including forward collision warning, automatic post-collision braking, automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist and parking assist among others.

It’s available in five trim levels, the Dh88,000 S, the Dh95,500 SE, the Dh104,000 SEL, all the way up to the Dh118,000 Sport and the Dh125,000 R-Line. While the prices might seem right, it should be noted that most of the rivals, especially Hyundai and Kia, now offer a lot of these features in quite competitively priced packages. So, while the 2016 updates should keep the Passat fresh enough for a few more years, and to lure the odd customer away from its oriental rivals, it will take more than just a mid-life facelift to keep up with competition that have upped their game significantly.