Test Drive: Volkswagen Passat TDI

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

?????????? For years we?ve been advocating the expanded use of diesel engine in cars, but every time we bring the subject up to someone, other than the owner of a diesel-powered car or another automotive journalist, we get a that strange ?you are kidding? look.

Most people seem to still associate ?diesel? with the noisy, dirty, rough sounding pickup trucks they sit next to at stop lights, or behind in drive-thru lanes.? On the other hand, maybe people still remember the ugly diesel-powered cars from the 80?s.

Today?s diesel powered cars are amazing.? They are clean, quiet, powerful and the fuel economy is amazing, even with the higher price of diesel fuel.

To try the latest new diesel car, we got our hands on the new Volkswagen Passat TDI (that?s Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesel for a short 400 mile road trip to southern Oregon and back.? Cruising at about 10 miles per hour over the posted 65 mph limits ? to keep up with traffic — we averaged 43.1 mpg.? The EPA estimates the Passat TDI will average 30 in city driving and 40 on the highway, so we thought we did extremely well.? Had Barbara driven the entire way, we would have likely averaged 46 to 48 mpg.

???????? The car is quiet, there is no smoke and the high torque four-cylinder engine has plenty of power for passing and merging with fast moving traffic.

The new Passat is significantly larger than the previous Passat.? It mimics the mid-size dimensions and prices of the competitive models like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Focus, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and a few others.? Available in three trims S, SE and SEL, the S starts at $19,995, plus $770 destination charge.

In addition to the three models, the front-wheel drive Passat offers three engine choices, which are all carryovers from the previous model.? The base engine for the S and SE models is a 170-hp, five-cylinder gasoline engine, and it no doubt will be the engine most buyers choose.? EPA fuel economy estimates are 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with the DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) transmission.? Volkswagen was the first company to offer a production version of this double clutch automatic transmission in 2003 and it?s very efficient shifting fast and smooth.

The Passat is the only car in its class offered with a diesel engine option.? The TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) engine produces140-hp and 236-lb.ft. of torque at 1,500 to 2,500 rpms.? This little diesel has enough power to spin the front tires a little under hard acceleration and it accelerates from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds.? The TDI is a clean diesel and the same engine used in the Volkswagen Golf TDI, which was named one of the top 10 Green Cars of 2011 by Kelley Blue Book. With its 40 mpg highway fuel economy rating and 18.5-gallon fuel tank, the TDI is capable of going up to 740 miles between fill-ups making it the longest distance production car sold in the US.?? The TDI gets significantly better fuel economy than competitor hybrids.

The diesel TDI engine is available in both the SE and SEL models and cost from $2,270 to $2,700 more than the base five-cylinder model; however, the TDI is $755 to $1,100 less than the comparable V-6 versions.

On the high end of the Passat lineup, the SEL with the 3.6-liter V-6 and the premium package tops out at $33,720, including the destination charge, and adds all the typical luxury and convenience appointments like leather seating with heated front seats, navigation, sunroof, remote start and all the features we would expect to see in the top model.? The 280-hp 3.6-liter VR6 makes a 0 to 60 mph time run in 6.5 seconds and has a fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Looking at Passat photos, you see a stylish four-door sedan with Volkswagen family characteristics and clean crisp lines.? Seeing the Passat in person, the lines take on more dimension and a Teutonic elegance befitting a German engineered car built in the U.S. specifically for the North American marketplace.

The American influence is especially prominent on the interior, which includes abundant drink holders, storage areas and well thought out control placement on both the center stack and steering wheel.? The seats have excellent support and side bolsters with just the right amount of softness for added comfort on longer trips.

The new Passat is one of the first Volkswagens to offer the new Fender audio system.? The famous guitar maker?s system produces excellent sounds, but with a different bias than we are used to.? Because music at concerts comes from in front, Fender uses the same approach to creating sounds in the Passat, rather than surrounding the cabin with music.? The music has a heavy front bias, and it?s great.

The back seat was equally comfortable and capable of carrying three adults without too much overcrowding. We thought the Passat was more roomy and comfortable than the Camry and Sonata and about par with the Accord, which is rated as a ?large? car by EPA standards.? The Passat also has a spacious 15.9 cubic foot cargo area that should easily handle three or four sets of golf clubs or four large suitcases.

The Volkswagen Passat stands as a strong competitor to all the tops selling mid-size sedans, but goes a step beyond by being the only one to offer the diesel engine and we love it!