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2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI
Carey Russ Review

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2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review

Volkswagen's latest Passat has been the success that eluded its predecessors. Compared to previous versions, it's larger, more conservatively styled, and made in America for the North American market, at a new facility in Chattanooga, TN. That may have miffed the VW faithful a bit when it debuted in 2012, but it's brought many more people into VW ownership.

The biggest news for the VW's biggest sedan for 2014 is that the once-base 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is fading into history, slowly replaced during the model year by a new 1.8-liter turbo four. I've driven that when it was introduced to the automotive press a few months back, and it's good. Very good. But that was not the Passat in my driveway for the past week.

That was the fuel-economy special, the TDI. If your last memory of a diesel Volkswagen is of a slow and smoky Rabbit Diesel, that's the distant and not-missed past. This diesel is a wonderful representation of the state of diesel technology, and is capable of fuel economy that rivals some similarly-sized hybrids, with a much more engaging driving experience. Does Volkswagen Group understand diesels? Look in the record to see how many times cousin Audi has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its turbodiesel prototypes; (6 of the last 7 years). And VW's 2.0-liter TDI four-cylinder has much of the character of its competition cousins.

If its 140 horsepower sounds uninspiring, remember the old saying "Horsepower is what you brag about. Torque is what you feel". Torque here means 236 lb-ft, comparable to many a three-liter V6. It peaks at 1750 rpm and doesn't appreciably drop off for long after that, so "turbo lag" is a non-issue. Most diesels show a serious dropoff in power at the top of their rev range; this one, with a stick, will happily run right into its rev-limiter. In no way, even with the "automatic", is a VW TDI a bland and boring transportation appliance.

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My test car was a TDI SEL Premium. Compared to the SE, it adds leather, power sport seats with driver memory, an upgraded navigation system, SiriusXM Trafficā„¢ and Travel LinkĀ®, Fender (yes, that Fender) audio, woodgrain trim, and remote start to make a true Euro-American luxury car. If the near-$ 35,000 price seems steep, check prices on comparatively-sized "real" luxury cars, especially German. In any trim, the Passat TDI is plenty quick enough for the real world, offers a fine driving experience, and combines performance with excellent fuel economy. EPA estimates are 30 mpg city, 40 highway. As with most VW diesels (and unlike most hybrids), those are underestimates. I saw low 30s around town, mid to high 30s in mixed driving, and up to mid-40s on the highway. And enjoyed every minute of that.

APPEARANCE: While VW uses the same basic design language for the Passat as for the smaller Jetta, there is more involved than merely pressing the "larger" button on the CAD program. Yes, the chiseled, angular lines are simple, without the rococo complexity of some competitors. I suspect that means the Passat will still look fresh years into the future -- it will still look good when it's paid off.

COMFORT: Stylistically, the Passat's interior design follows the exterior. Simple can be elegant, and the shapes and contours are familiar VW motifs. It's a car, not a spaceship -- but there is plenty of space. It may be made in Tennessee, but it looks and feels German, and is not all that different from the previous Passat, just larger and roomier. SEL Premium means proximity-sensing doors, pushbutton start/stop, heated power leather sports seats, and all of the expected contemporary luxury trimmings including premium audio (AM/FM/SiriusXM/CD/DVD/SD card/20GB hard disc and external inputs) and navigation systems. (and no, the Fender audio system is not merely a Twin Reverb in the back seatā€¦) There is a backup camera, and the audio, phone, and nav systems are controlled via a simple hard button and touchscreen interface. HVAC controls are by simple knobs. VW was criticized in the past for ignoring American tastes in car interiors, as in minimal interior storage and cupholders and such. They've learned that lesson -- besides a locking glovebox, all doors have storage and drink bottle holders, there is covered space at the front of the console as well as a large console box with USB and jack inputs and a power point plus coin and toll pass holders. The leather-rimmed steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach, and has controls for information and phone systems. Instruments are simple and easy to read, with the information display between the tachometer and speedometer. The front seats provide excellent comfort and support. The spacious rear is, like nearly all sedans, contoured for the two outboard passengers. A high and wide central tunnel makes the center position less comfortable, just like most of the competition. The trunk is large, with a space-saver spare under its floor.

SAFETY: The Passat's passenger cabin is surrounded by a reinforced safety cage, enhanced by anti-intrusion side beams in the doors and forged steel B-pillars. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes get hydraulic Brake Assist, and the ESC electronic stability control system is standard in all models. A tire-pressure monitoring system is also standard, and the Intelligent Crash Response System automatically unlocks the doors, shuts off the fuel pump, and turns on the hazard warning lights in the event of a crash. Front, front side, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Nobody at VW's saying anything, but this Passat -- and others I drove at the recent press event -- felt a bit firmer than those at introduction in 2012. So perhaps there have been changes to the calibration of the fully-independent strut/multilink suspension to give it a more European-standard ride quality. That suits me just fine -- it's comfortably supple over poor road surfaces yet fun to drive and handles the twisties with the aplomb expected of a European sedan. Steering effort is appropriate and the brakes work well.

PERFORMANCE: Don't expect the acceleration and top speed of a Le Mans prototype, but you might be surprised by this diesel. Yes, the 2.0-liter TDI is the same engine used in the smaller Golf and Jetta, but at around 3500 pounds, the Passat is not that much heavier. The engine uses a sturdy cast-iron block and aluminum head, of now-standard 16-valve, twin-cam spec. If its 140 horsepower (at 4000 rpm) doesn't sound impressive, it's the 236 lb-ft of torque that really counts. And the torque peak is at 1750 rpm, with little falloff after that. Meaning instant turbo acceleration when needed or wanted. The 8.5 second or so 0-60 time is more than merely adequate for the real world -- and mileage is great even when pushing hard. This is not an old Rabbit Diesel! A six-speed stick is offered in the base model, but the six-speed twin-clutch automated manual DSG is the only choice in the SEL. No complaints -- it shifts as well as any torque converter automatic in D or Sport mode, and better than most of them manually. And does prevent acquaintance with the rev limiter. It's also more efficient than a torque converter box. Fuel economy is less dependent on restraint with the right foot than in a hybrid, and I easily saw 30 mpg around town and high 30s to mid-40s on the highway. With an 18.5-gallon tank, that could mean 650 miles before refueling at a mixed-road 35 mpg. Or much more on the highway. You'll likely need to stop firstā€¦

CONCLUSIONS: The Passat TDI combines comfort, space, and fuel efficiency with a typically Volkswagen fun-to-drive character.

2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL TDI

Base Price			$ 33,995
Price As Tested			$ 34,815
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 120 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed DSG dual-clutch automated manual
Wheelbase / Length		110.4 in. / 191.6 in.
Curb Weight			3459 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		24.7
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel
Tires				235/45R18 94H m+s Conti ProContact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and ESC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		30 / 40 / 35
0 to 60 mph				8.5  sec

Destination Charge			$ 820