Volkswagen Passat: Fun, peppy, economical
Designed for the U.S. market and assembled here, the current generation Volkswagen Passat has proven itself a delightful mid-priced, mid-sized sedan. The car is comfortable, quiet, exceptionally roomy, and athletic enough to be fun to drive.
The fun quotient is particularly high in the diesel-powered, top-of-the-line TDI SEL Premium model, with which I recently spent a pleasant week (I drove a 2013 model, which is virtually identical to the 2014).
TDI is VW speak for the two-liter turbo-diesel the automaker also employs in such cars as the Jetta and Beetle. It is a peppy, extremely economical engine that explains why VW has 75 percent of the diesel pleasure-car market in this country.
The test car had EPA mileage ratings of 30 city and 40 highway with a six-speed automatic transmission. Button that engine to a manual gearbox, and the numbers go up to 31 and 43. I got nearly 39 miles per gallon in mixed driving. MotorTrend reported nearly 50 miles per gallon on the highway, which, of course, is where diesels shine.
Although you don't have to spend the loaded test car's $32,915 base price to get a Passat diesel (the manual 2014 TDI SE starts at $26,295) it is true that the diesel engine adds thousands of dollars to the sticker. But the fuel savings are so significant over the Passat's base gas engine that you'll get the price difference back in the first 60,000 miles. Additionally, you'll benefit from the excellent resale value of a VW diesel.
The diesel's marvelous fuel economy doesn't translate into dreary driving. There's no trade-off here. The little turbo diesel proves lively motivation for this spacious sedan.
And don't be deceived by the modest 140-horsepower rating. Diesels have relatively low horsepower counts, but produce lots of torque, or pulling ability. And that's what gets you out of the chute in real-world driving.
The Passat's strong suits go beyond the willing engine. The tester's styling inside and out was clean, conservative, and pleasing.
Build quality was another plus. Paint work and body margins were right there. The interior benefited from accurate workmanship and good quality materials
The car is also surprisingly roomy. I've been in a number of larger cars that didn't have this sedan's rear-seat legroom. Mix in the seat comfort and hushed cabin, and you have the recipe for pleasant highway cruising.
The Passat TDI is also a lot of fun for popularly priced family transit. Wax aggressive on a winding back road, and you'll find yourself in a car that feels smaller than it is, which is a good thing. It exhibits good balance during brisk calisthenics, and the front driver's independent suspension remains calm and composed. The disc brakes proved more than adequate, and the steering was linear and not stingy with road feel.
Although the TDI SEL Premium remains virtually the same for 2014, there are some Passat revisions. A 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine will now serve as Passat's base engine. It replaces the naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. The turbo 4 develops the same 170 horses engendered by the 5-cylinder and gets better mileage in the process. The turbo will first appear in the SEL Premium, then filter down to its poorer relations.
Halfway through the 2014 model year, VW plans to introduce the Passat Sport. This model will field lots of sporty styling cues, such as special gray paint, a black roof, sports seats, and paddle shifters. No word yet whether actual sporting gear like a special suspension will be included.
The Passat has a top federal crash rating.
2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium
Base price: $32,915.
As tested: $33,710.
Standard equipment: 2-liter turbo-diesel engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front drive, and amenities such as navigation, an electronic differential lock, and a tilt/gliding sunroof.
Fuel economy: 30 city and 40 highway.
Engine performance: Lively enough.
Styling: Pleasingly conservative.
Ride comfort: Good.
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and free scheduled maintenance for that period.
Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.
Contact Al Haas at email@example.com.