Garage Band-wagon : VW Passat Variant Driven

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The ‘85’ is spurred to a full 100 per cent by the VW Passat Variant

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The title says it all: we’re a proudly Singaporean home-brewed garage-band simply called ‘85’. Mel (the other half of the duo) and I started playing together after we first found each other across the common road that we live on – we met when he popped over to get me to crank the volume down; after a few brewskis and BBQ meat, we now jam together!

We’ve dubbed ourselves ‘85’– we practice each song only up to an 85 per cent level, because, as we like to say, the rest is magic. At present, it’s just the two of us, but we often jam with guest guitarists, especially if a fuller sound is called for.

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The TopGear Singapore editor and I catch up every now and again, and he seemed keen enough (or was at least polite enough to seem keen!) when I told him I’d re-discovered music, especially because he was looking to put a new spin on car reviews. As far as I can gather, TopGear Singapore’s flavour of experiential reviews puts the right sort of drivers into review cars so there’s a better fit-for-purpose.

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In our case, the twist was to upturn the notion of an estate (or stationwagon, if you prefer) as being only for boring soccer dad types. Well, that’s not to say I’m not a dad (with proud dad-bod to boot!), but as we would discover, the VW Passat Variant also served us well for garage band duties when we had to lug our gear to gigs.

Over a space of two months, our idea evolved from CarPool Karaoke to Guerrilla Recording and this final format, a full-on live jam gig at The Handlebar.

The kicker was, the entire act had to revolve around the car. So if you can imagine this: 1) Equipment (selection, logistics, EQ, Accounting), 2) Set (location, layout, design) and 3) Performance, all had to be executed within the context of a single vehicle, Volkswagen’s effortlessly stylish Passat Variant.

(Click HERE if you want to read about Ferrari's Shooting-Brake 'wagon', the GTC4Lusso!)

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I met her at the start of the weekend, and my first sight of the Passat Variant was of the elegant estate basking in the late morning sun.

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As I slid into the driver’s seat, it wasn’t hard to feel at home, with the black-ribbed interior striking a classy contrast against the “sophistication of gadgetry” of the modern car cabin. With the filtered skylight coming in from the Variant’s full-length sunroof (yes, two full cabins of it), driving it around was a lot like piloting an Avatar mech-robot in our urban jungle.

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There was an eerie calm in that one free day leading up to The Big Gig on Sunday afternoon, much like the eye of the storm. The glorious Saturday morning weather was too compelling to not enjoy with the Passat Variant as we whisked our kids and neighbours for brunch – whilst intentionally driving through the local 'Mount Akina' en route. In the rough-and-tumble of daily drive, the Passat delivers a fuss-free experience and I started feeling a little bit more enthusiastic about using the car for The Gig.

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The ergonomics are competent and well-thought out; seat adjustability is almost infinite, the steering-wheel shape and corresponding road-feel is suitably sporty, and the cabin materials feel light, yet don’t have that hollow feel of moulded ABS, so the tactile feel is posh enough. Following the morning’s escapade through ‘99 bends’, there’s little question that it also shares a similar lineage with the iconic GTI. Think light, nimble, yet sure-footed and responsible.

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The slave-driver editor insisted on a dry-run and the prep work to be completed ahead of the actual day – equipment layout, accounting, labelling, dry/wet set-ups, soundcheck, test-fit (into the Variant), and preferably topped-off with a rehearsal. By now, things were starting to look daunting, with the car sitting placidly in my driveway like an inscrutable unicorn with a secret, quietly minding its own business as we frantically tried to sort things out. She nonchalantly accommodated everything we threw her way. It got to the point where I started lining up incidentals just to see if something wouldn’t fit, but Mel called me out and looking back, I’m a little ashamed I’d even thought to do that...

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D-day finally arrived and we strutted and swaggered in true rockstar-style, pushing the shoot back by an hour knowing that everything was in the bag... until we found out we had to squeeze the sound guy into the car as well! Needless to say we were thrown back into the turmoil of the previous day in toilet-swirling fashion. You might not believe it, but the Passat Variant acquitted herself perfectly, as she took everything in stride, albeit with some Tetris-style creativity on our part.

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By now, we were running late and hadn’t yet had a chance to check-out our playing ‘field’ at The Handlebar yet, but there’s nothing like a little in-car karaoke to soothe our jangled nerves. We were up and singing within two minutes of departure, with an amped acoustic guitar plugged-in for accompaniment – the Variant has great acoustics, but the fact that it was fully packed helped as well.

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The full brunt of the afternoon sun was beating down mercilessly by the time we pulled into The Handlebar.

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Our guest guitarist and bassist, Jeff and Pat, agreed to help us out with this impromptu Jamboree and were tuning their instruments. They visibly gawped when they spotted the amount of gear we’d managed to stuff into the stationwagon. We quickly realised that getting everything to the venue was the easy part – we now had to jam in front of our friends, family and random pockets of strangers.

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Thanks to the pre-gig practice, we were up and running in no time. I snuck a glance at the emptied-out car alongside our entire setup, with wires streaming out of its open rear doors and tailgate and emptied bags stuffed neatly within the open cabin area in waiting. I felt the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with accomplishing something spectacular... the Passat was now a real member of the band.

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We managed a medley of classic rock and country songs. It wasn’t perfect but it was full of body, it was real, a little rough, but right up our alley. It left us with just enough room for improvement (too little would be cocky and too much would be demoralising). We were pleased, both with the take-aways we had personally, and for the people who came to share in our merry moment.

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(Nicely lubed-up with a couple of beers, I really got into the groove of the gig)

It was my first time out singing (it’s been awhile for the others), and I was eager to experience the aftermath of every performance - the depressing low of empty after the euphoric high, when everyone’s gone and you’re the last one standing, and you still have to lug all your s**t home.

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I turn back and see the Variant sitting pretty; she was definitely ready for anything we could inflict on her. Quietly and fuss-free, she took us home from what had become a bustling crowd and a carpark full of nice bikes. As far as encores go, her performance deserves a standing ovation.

STORY Enrique Tan
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
LOCATION The Handlebar, Gillman Barracks

VW PASSAT VARIANT 2.0 TSI
Engine 1984cc, inline4
Power/rpm 217bhp/4500-6200rpm
Torque/rpm 350Nm/1500-4400rpm
Transmission 6spd DSG dual-clutch
0-100km/h 6.9secs
Top Speed 244km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.5l/100km
CO2 152g/km

TopGear
Author: TopGear
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.