Nuclear Passat

In the nuclear industry, in the critical parts of power stations where people carry radiation level indicators, an alternative type of alarm is used should there be an ‘incident’.  Most of us are used to car alarms and fire alarms and house alarms and the beeps for reversing trucks, but there is an inherent flaw.  What would happen if there was not only a fire but also an alarm failure?  

Companies try to mitigate this by doing occasional tests and having more than one alarm.  However, it is deemed so critical when playing with uranium that a safer method must be used.  So the alarm sounds all the time.  Obviously it is not a loud ringing; instead, a never-ending periodic beep occurs.  It is one which you become used to, I am told.

There is another positive flip side to this ‘always on’ alarm approach which is that it becomes so normal that once it stops people become aware very quickly of its absence – and then, presumably, leg it.

And so I come to the latest VW Passat, in its seventh generation.  Volkswagen has done to this model what it has to the rest of its range.  It is now more efficient and functional than ever but it has bled a little of the character out of it.  It rides well, it drives well.  I can’t fault the neutral handling or the cavernous boot.  Fit and finish is excellent.  I just know it will deal with everything thrown at it in the most competent manner.  I can’t even fault the styling – it’s all very neat.

It has moved on a great deal since the first Passat.  While the name has been around since 1973, some features of this model are still identifiable with the 1996 version, which had a slightly Bauhaus profile.  It was easily identifiable, certainly in saloon form.  Whether the slightly radioactive glare from the blue instruments was to your taste, it was distinctive and easy to read.  I liked it.  Now these features have gone, to be replaced with white dials, brushed aluminium and low reflective plastics. 

But what has all this to do with a nuclear reactor?  This model is fitted with auto stop/start to lower emissions and fuel consumption.  Apart from a slightly disconcerting moment when the computer decided to save the environment just as I was about to pull out onto a busy roundabout, it seemed to work well.  What surprised me was being reminded each time of the vibration of the diesel engine by its absence. 

The Passat’s ubiquitous 140 PS common rail diesel is very good and like the continuous beeps at the power station, one wouldn’t normally take any notice of it.  However, each time the engine is switched off, the stillness is very noticeable. The gentle, almost therapeutic vibration down the spine ceases and all is calm.  The vibration and noise insulation – this model is fitted with special sound insulating windscreen glass and new sound deadening materials – is executed more effectively than in many other cars but it’s the stopping of the engine which brings this constant reminder. 

So, four stars for the Passat.  What’s not to like?  I’m just sorry it has lost a little character.





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