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2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

In our quest to meet stringent government mandated fuel economy standards in the next decade I’m often amazed that we pay so little attention to an obvious contributor to the strategy of reaching those goals – the diesel powertrain. We are slowly seeing a little more attention like Chevy’s announcement that we’ll soon have a diesel Cruze and Mazda’ promise of diesel-powered CX5 and Mazda6 soon. We’ll also have a diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee before long.

VW has been immersed in that technology for more than a quarter century and it is one of their most popular powertrains in the U.S. Many owners claim as much as 50-mpg under ideal conditions. Let’s have a look at their newest compression-ignition offering.

Our test car this week is the new VW Passat TDI SEL Premium built in the new plant near Chattanooga. Freshly redesigned, this newest version of the Passat is an amazing car in many ways, though at first blush we might think it as plain as white bread in style and design. Take a closer look and you may think differently.

We first saw the new Passat at the Detroit auto show a couple seasons ago and thought just that: how plain and unadorned it is. Most of our colleagues had that same first impression except Thom Cannell who redirected our attention particularly to the interior. Most of us thought that it exemplified the point often made by those who insist you can’t tell one car from another anymore. From a short distance away, and for someone unfamiliar with automotive design, that is true for the Passat. But, we found it more impressive on closer inspection.

It would be hard to mistake this for anything but a Volkswagen with the large emblem in the simple horizontal grille, but without that moniker, from the side or rear, it would be tough to distinguish its make. The profile, stance, character lines and jewelry offer no distinctive character or hint of brand. The casual observer would not be surprised, though, to be told it was German considering its simplicity, apparent quality and functional design. Having lived with the car for a week I can confidently say I have a deep appreciation for all that Teutonic character and would be pleased to have it in my garage permanently.

Powering this efficient sedan is VW’s trusty 2.0-liter clean turbo-diesel making 140 horsepower and a substantial 236 pound-feet of torque mated to a fast-shifting, 6-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. (You can have a six-speed manual in the lesser trim level.) When trying to evaluate acceleration or towing power by the numbers it is that torque number that means most, of course. While it feels mighty tepid under normal acceleration it has substantial grunt when you put your foot in it. Rated by the EPA at 30-mpg in the city, 40 on the highway and 34 combined it is well on the way to meeting those fuel-efficiency standards referenced above. We managed just 36-mpg on a couple of highway trips but that was at modestly extra-legal speeds during a week of single-digit temps. I don’t doubt the stated mileage would be easily achieved under normal conditions. Most gratifying for me is the 650-mile cruising range.

Like the exterior, I found the interior simple and plain but of impeccable quality. As we expect from VW the instruments and controls are designed to impart information and manage functions efficiently without ostentation. With just a subtle nod to elegance they’ve included an analog clock in the center of the dash. Our rear seat passengers this week raved about all the room they had back there. For a mid-size sedan the leg room is impressive. A fold-down center armrest provides cup holders and storage. The rear seatbacks fold 60/40 but the seatback release is accessed only from the trunk. That’s not a design I find optimal.

Handling and vehicle dynamics are other areas in which we expect VW products to excel, and we were not disappointed. The Passat exudes agility without being harsh. While our weather this week precluded the usual thrashing. It managed the snow and slush just fine in spite of not having all-wheel drive. Just about all cars these days have the chassis controls like ABS, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, and the Passat is no exception. Electric power steering is well programed and you would never know that it was not the old-fashioned hydraulic system.

Passat comes in 14 - count ‘em . . .14 - different iterations (see them all below), from the basic 5-cylinder S beginning at less than 21 grand, to the V6 SEL Premium starting at about $33,500. Four trim levels are offered with the TDI powertrain. All-wheel drive is not offered. The price premium for the TDI over the 5-cylinder is about 5 grand and over the V6 is about 3 grand.

Drivability is entirely uncompromised by the diesel engine – unlike diesels of yore. On a cold morning a significant hesitation – probably three full seconds – greets us when we push the start button. That probably has something to do with pre-warming of the combustion chamber. Do you remember when we had glow plugs on our diesel cars?

Our TDI SEL Premium test car shows no options and with the $795 destination charge has a bottom line of $33,710. As the top-of-the-line model it includes 18-inch alloy wheels, power tilt and sliding sunroof, premium Fender sound system, leather seats and trim, push-button start, rear-view camera, power and heated front seats, fog lights, dual-zone climate control, premium navigation system, and all the expected electronic media connections.

VW’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and scheduled maintenance is free for that period as well. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The last VW diesel I owned was in 1980 – a Rabbit diesel that was so slow it couldn’t get out of it’s own way. If you wanted to pass on a two lane you had to make arrangements a couple days in advance. It smoked. It rattled. And, worst of all, when the fuel gauge needle just barely touched the ‘E’ it was out of fuel. In spite of all that, it was great fun to drive, believe it or not. Part of the fun, I must admit, was spending so little on fuel.

Today’s TDI is fast, efficient, quiet, clean and still fun to drive, though it would be more fun with the manual transmission, in my old-fashioned view. And, it’s still gratifying to travel so far on a tank of fuel.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved