Garage Band-wagon : 2018 VW Passat Variant 2.0 TSI Driven

By topgear, 07 October 2018

batch DSC 3703

batch DSC 3792

Singapore - 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.

batch DSC 3565

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.

batch DSC 3773

batch DSC 3822(View of the load-area with the rear seats up)

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 to read about Ferrari's Shooting-Brake 'wagon', the GTC4Lusso!)

batch DSC 3783

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.

batch DSC 3798

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.

batch DSC 3500

batch DSC 3497

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.

batch DSC 3827

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.

batch DSC 3834(View of the load area with the rear-seats folded)

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...

batch DSC 3499

batch DSC 3507

batch DSC 3536

batch DSC 3541

batch DSC 3545a

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.

batch DSC 3628(Yeah, all that gear on the right came out of the Passat)

batch DSC 3632(Ed: Honest, we couldn't lend a hand for the sake of continuity!)

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.

batch DSC 3708

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

batch DSC 3761(This is Pat...)

batch DSC 3673(That's Jeff in the middle)

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.

batch DSC 3621

batch DSC 3636

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.

batch DSC 3733

batch DSC 3646

batch DSC 3712

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.

batch DSC 3663
(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.

batch DSC 3781

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

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

Related Articles