With sales of sports utility vehicles continuing to soar, you might wonder if there is any place left for the good old estate car.

But when it is as capable, classy and as clever as the updated Passat, the answer is a resounding yes.

With more than 30 million sold worldwide since its launch in 1973, the Passat is the best-selling mid-size model in the world. The latest, eighth generation, version, which is priced from £25,370, is also the smartest yet – in every sense of the word.

The range has been slimmed to eight versions in the UK, where the estate outsells the saloon by two to one. Engine choice is made up of three petrol, four diesel and a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, with all engines now fitted with particulate filters.

I drove a selection of the new models recently, all of which are the first Volkswagens to be fitted with Travel Assist, a system that allows the car to be driven in a partially automated mode. It uses the latest version of adaptive cruise control, collecting information from road signs and GPS to automatically adjust the car’s speed, slowing for junctions and corners and spotting temporary speed limits.

This is combined with the latest version of lane assist, which can now recognise kerbs and grass verges as well as road markings.

The technology packed on board is most clearly demonstrated in the new GTE plug-in hybrid which is roughly £2,500 cheaper than the previous model.

Volkswagen expects the new GTE to make up one in four Passats sold in the UK, compared with one in ten previously.

The new GTE with its distinctive ‘C’ shape front LED running lights and blue brake callipers, has an increased 34-mile range on pure electric power.

As standard, it features 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, satellite navigation system with eight-inch colour screen and a charging point in the radiator grille.

Move up to the £40,470 Advance model and you get 18-inch alloy wheels, LED matrix headlights, a satnav system with a 9.2-inch colour screen and keyless entry with a powered tailgate.  That can be operated by moving your foot under the rear bumper.

Power comes from a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine combined with an electric motor, delivering a combined output of 218 horsepower. On the road it is smooth, responsive and eerily quiet. Slipping the six-speed automatic gearbox from its normal drive mode into the ‘B’ setting greatly increases the braking force from the engine, which means if you drive smoothly it is almost possible to avoid using the brake pedal.

The Passat Alltrack has also been updated with 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior mirrors, raised suspension and protection for the underbody and wheel arches.

The entire range is now fitted with wireless App Connect, allowing you to connect a smartphone to the Passat’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink via Bluetooth, without the need to plug the device in via a USB cable. 

The head of press and public relations for Volkswagen in the UK, Mike Orford, said in the first six months of the year Volkswagen Group cars had sold just under three million cars worldwide, with half of those sold in China. UK sales in the year to date were 137,408 with the Golf and Polo both in the list of UK top ten best-selling cars. He said Volkswagen was planning to launch a ‘huge range’ of electric cars in the coming years.

Volkswagen UK product affairs manager, Tom Lynch, said the launch of the pure electric ID. range, starting with the ID.3 which will go on sale in the middle of next year, would open a new chapter for the company, comparable with the launch of the iconic Beetle and Golf models.