2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEPosted on February 24th, 2014
Clean diesel five-passenger midsize sedan
By Nina Russin
It appears that Americans are finally realizing clean diesel is a win/win proposition. It’s about time.
Cars that run on low sulfur diesel have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline-powered equivalents. Diesel has the advantage over other forms of alternative fuel in that it utilizes the existing infrastructure. The technology adds little to no additional expense to the MSRP, and extends fuel economy by about 25 percent over gasoline.
The midsize Passat produced at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant is a perfect example. Base price for the upscale SE model with a sunroof is $28,295, excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leatherette seating, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera, sunroof, automatic headlamps and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. Final MSRP is $29,115.
The turbo-diesel version averages 34 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA, but the sedan did much better on my 130-mile test-drive: 37.7 miles-per-gallon. The two-liter engine delivers 140 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque for excellent power off the line.
Test drive in Phoenix
I drove the Passat on highways and surface streets in the Phoenix, Scottsdale and Chandler, Arizona metropolitan areas, as well as a section of the Gila River Indian reservation south of town.
Except for not being able to adjust the driver’s seat up as high as I would have liked, it was hard to find anything wrong with the car. The Passat is a spacious, attractive, solidly built midsize sedan with a spacious trunk, a high level of standard safety features and a supple ride.
Those unfamiliar with the newest generation of diesel engines will be surprised by the conspicuous lack of diesel tick and more important, diesel lag. The reason is common-rail technology that utilizes much higher fuel pressures and therefore faster fuel delivery. The engine develops peak torque as low as 1750 rpm, making it easy to reach the front of the pack when merging from a ramp into highway traffic.
A six-speed DSG automatic transmission on the test car is smooth and crisp. The transmission utilizes dual clutches to engage and disengage gears more quickly, and mimic the performance of a manual gearbox.
The overdrive gear extends fuel economy up to 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The driver can manually select gears with the shift lever for more aggressive performance.
The front-wheel drive platform is well balanced, with no overt tendency to understeer. I took some decreasing radius turns pretty hard and felt well in control of the car.
The electric power steering has the soft on-center response that characterizes these systems, but I did not feel disconnected from the wheels of the car. The Passat’s turning circle is a very reasonable 36.4-feet.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts and springs up front and a multi-link setup in the back. The ride is firm, yet comfortable.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. The B pillars are a bit thick, but I was able to monitor traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway easily. A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse. Lines superimposed over the image show the car’s trajectory according to steering inputs.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior. There is some tire noise at higher highway speeds, but nothing that would interfere with the passengers’ ability to hold a conversation.
The Passat interior is attractive and versatile. The car’s high floor tunnel takes up a good bit of the legroom in the center second-row position, so four adults will be more comfortable than five on longer road trips.
Both rows of seating get overhead reading lamps, air vents, cup and bottle holders and 12-volt power points. An iPod connector in the center console bin enables the driver to hook up a portable music device. There is a small open bin for holding cell phones in the center console, and a small covered bin with a power point at the base of the center stack. A locking glove box provides secure storage inside the cabin.
I appreciated the dead pedal on the driver’s side: it reduces leg fatigue on longer drives. The seat provided adequate lower lumbar support.
Both the gauge cluster and center stack screen are easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark. A digital display in the gauge cluster includes ambient temperature, odometer, trip meter, driving range, elapsed time, instant and average fuel economy.
The trunk is quite spacious, with plenty of room for luggage, groceries, golf bags and small camping equipment. Levers near the lip of the trunk fold the second-row seats flat to extend the cargo floor for longer items. Although I would not call a sedan bicycle-friendly, it would be possible to load a road bike in back with the front wheel removed.
The Passat now comes with a trial membership to VW Car-Net emergency services that include automatic crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location. Other standard safety features include front, side and side curtain airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring.
Volkswagen provides complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first two years or 24,000 miles.
Like: An attractive, solidly built midsize sedan with exceptional fuel economy.
Model: Passat TDI SE with sunroof
Base price: $28,295
As tested: $29,115
Horsepower: 140 Hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lbs.-ft. @ 1750 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 30/40 mpg city/highway
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