Ask any automotive enthusiast to name a dull car, and there's a fair chance they might name the Passat. But Volkswagen has sold 22 million of the things since 1973, so clearly the gear-heads are missing something.

For 2015, there's a new Passat to tempt a new generation. It went on sale at the back-end of last year and the first UK cars are landing right about now in saloon or estate body style options – both of which we've driven as part of a driving day to sample the whole diesel range.

VW has thrown the kitchen sink at the new Passat to turn it into a tech-fest on wheels, and refreshed the design to make it look more premium, but in a way that retains the Passat's obvious look. Is it a case of not so dull for 2015?

The biggest seller of the range is likely to be the 2.0TDi SE Business edition. This model has been deliberately specced to appeal to the 80 per cent of Passat buyers who will be getting one as a fleet, lease or company car. Which means it comes with VW's 6.5-inch Discover sat nav system, Bluetooth, parking sensors, all the useful stuff – you know the drill.

It's a fine cabin to sit in too, with its "ergoComfort" seats, super-clear VW dials and an easy-to-use touchscreen system, which includes the proximity sensor from the VW Golf – so the menu pops up as your hand approaches the screen.

What's more, compared to the BMW 318d we stepped out of, the 150bhp Passat feels immediately quicker and its engine less diesel-like. With a quick-throw six-speed gearbox this VW was genuinely nice to drive and easy as pie to row along the road. We'd certainly be happy with the 6-speed manual given the saving you make not splashing out for the DSG auto. But then we don't do 20,000 miles per year. If you do, the auto may make sense.

The base 1.6 TDi S spec car was surprisingly sweet too. The cabin is notably less plush, with fewer buttons and techie things, but the most basic Passat makes a good argument for being the sweetest of all. It's not fast, but small wheels mean it has a lovely ride, and the engine lacks the coarseness of many diesels.

The higher power TDI SCR 190 DSG is a bit of a mouthful in name, but as the acronyms suggest, it's a higher power 190bhp diesel, attached to the 6-speed auto DSG gearbox, and designed to do battle with BMW's all-conquering 320d.

It's easy to make an argument that all most people need is the 150bhp TDi engine, but this specced-out GT trim car gets a raft of extra safety kit , including collision prevention systems, bigger alloy wheels, part leather and heated seats, and still comes in for less than £30k.

Get over any badge snobbery or need to drive sideways, and the Passat might be a better place to spend 20,000 miles a year than in the BMW. It's that impressive.

Top spec for now is a twin-turbo diesel, four-wheel drive Passat, which we drove in (massively commodious) Estate form. At close to £40k as tested, it's the point in the Passat world you really ought to be considering a bigger-engine Mercedes or BMW. Nonetheless, it is hilariously swift – the 7-speed DSG gearbox meaning you can swat through overtakes like the other traffic's not there – while the 4motion four wheel drive system keeps you nice and secure in the nasty British winter weather. Think of it as a cut-price Audi A6 Avant Quattro and it makes more sense.

And that last sentence sums up the Passat in many ways. There will always be those who think it dull, and there are many company cars buyers for whom the Passat will lose out, based on badge snobbery, to a BMW, Audi or Mercedes.

But this is such a complete, well-developed and impressive car that it carves its own niche. We haven't driven the new Ford Mondeo yet, but we've sat in it and the feel and quality of the Passat are in a different league. So while it might not have the kudos of some of the other German marques, in terms of objective feel, specification and performance this new car is much closer to a Merc than it is to mainstream brand rep-mobiles.

Elsewhere on the tech front, it's worth noting that for a bit of extra cash (which depends on the model and spec you choose in the first place), on pretty much any model VW will sell you a Passat with the 8-inch Discover Pro sat nav system, which not only looks great but finishes the cabin a treat. It also happens to be just about the best touchscreen system currently on the market, until Volvo's new Sensus system arrives in the XC90.

Meanwhile the £1,995 Driver's Assistance Plus package sounds pricey, until you realise it'll drive the car for you in traffic jams (yes, even steering) and perform emergency stops if you fail to spot the drunk pedestrian stumbling into the road. As well as recognising traffic signs, calling the emergency services and bringing the car to a halt if you're unfortunate enough to pass out at the wheel. Oh and later in the year you'll be able to get the 12-inch full TFT gauge display from the Audi TT in place of the analogue gauges – told you it was a tech-fest.

So the Passat is a car that makes lots of sense, impresses, is easy to live with and hard not to like and respect. There's vast amounts of space inside, the Estate in particular looks smart, and it'll be no more common on the road than a 3-Series. Ultimately, it gives you nearly all the qualities of premium models, at a price barely above mainstream brands.

Go try one. Sometimes dull is great.