The VW Passat is something of an unsung hero on long-distance trips.

THIS past month was relatively busy for our long-term Volkswagen Passat as it was tasked with taking this scribe and two passengers on a 300km round trip to Bethal in Mpumalanga to attend a funeral.

Instead of filling the fuel tank to the brim on Saturday morning I decided to add R300 worth of fuel to the existing quarter to give me half a tank, which seemed sufficient to take me there but surely not all the way back. Nevertheless, I gently nosed the vehicle on to the N17 highway and headed east towards the small mining town.

Being the heart of winter those heated front seats were called upon and what a comfort to have at this time of year. Once on the road it was a case of engaging the intuitive cruise control and settling into the sojourn with tunes blaring through the sound system. While I have a healthy collection of CDs, I would have appreciated some external playback function from our test car, which would mean either using my cellphone, USB stick or even SD cards instead of lugging around a bunch of CD cases. I was told recently by a company spokesman that the next generation of cars will have most of those features as standard.

Audio issues aside, the combination of the turbo engine and DSG gearbox is a match made in heaven. Depending on your driving style the transmission will shift below the 2000r/min mark when driven sedately with imperceptible gear changes. The suspension is exemplary and while the N17's bitumen is largely in good nick, the vehicle never faltered when subjected to the occasional rut on the road. Although only three-up throughout the trip, both my passengers commented on how comfortable and spacious the vehicle is and how it would be ideal for long-distance family trips.

While the 1.8l TSi engine has done duty in various Audi and VW models in the past, it still manages to impress with its blend of power, economy and refinement.

The roads leading into Bethal have certainly seen better days but the Passat soaked them up with aplomb. On the instrument cluster the average fuel consumption beamed 8.3l /100km, with just under half a tank of fuel to spare after the 150km journey - impressive indeed. The trip back in the evening tested the vehicle's low and high beams, to good effect. Rarely did I need to switch to the latter setting as the former lit up the road ahead well.

As I docked at home with 300km covered I felt relaxed, with a fuel range of 250km still possible according to the on-board computer. As an economical sedan it is impressive, which makes me wonder just how frugal the diesel variant is.

I am certainly enjoying this unsung hero of the motoring world and look forward to more road trips in the coming months.