2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Passat’s diesel economical and we’re not blowing smoke!

Perception often matters as much as reality, especially in the retail world of which the auto business is a top dog.vw1

So the perception of a diesel engine being loud, smoky and not terribly pleasant to drive remains Volkswagen’s biggest obstacle when selling its pleasant mid-size front-drive Passat. This and the Chevrolet Cruze are the main turbo diesel cars available on our market today.

Their advantage is excellent fuel economy and reduced engine maintenance. That’s the case for both.

But VW has been offering its turbo diesels (TDI in VW parlance) for years, so you’d expect its version to perform better and feel more refined. It does not. My test earlier this year of the Cruze shows it to be quieter, run smoother and feel, well, more refined.

However, the tested champagne silver Passat TDI SEL, got excellent fuel mileage. Rated 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, I got a stellar 41.4 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving. The Cruze, while rated at 27 mpg city and 46 mpg highway netted me just 35 mpg in a drive tilted toward highway miles.

So VW wins that part of the battle, but its 2.0-liter, I4 turbo diesel delivers 140 hp and a 236 torque rating compared with 148 and 258, respectively, for the Cruze. The Passat, which weighs roughly the same at 3,459 lbs. spread over a roughly 5-inch longer wheelbase feels heavier and acceleration feels slower.

Don’t mistake this for a slug though, press the accelerator hard and there’s plenty of torque in the VW. Yet under normal acceleration there’s hesitation that you will not feel in the gas-powered Passat, which I had a couple years back. All diesels grumble a bit when first started. This one chugs pretty hard for the first several miles until it’s warmed thoroughly, and I had this in warm summer-like weather. Winter would likely not improve its temperament.

I also was disappointed by the six-speed automatic transmission. Shifts were not as refined and smooth as I’ve witnessed in other mid-size models. A DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) also is available on Passat. That’s basically a clutchless manual and might be the better option.

vw2Yet Passat’s handling is its savior, along with the fuel mileage. Steering effort is well weighted and the car turns into corners in a sporty, lively manner. Passat has a sportier overall feel than many mid-size family sedans. I felt little lean in tight cornering moves, making this a fun drive on winding roads and highways.

Ride was well controlled, but not as smooth as I’d witnessed in my previous gas-powered test model. Suspension is independent front and rear with anti-roll bars at each end. Ride wasn’t too firm, as in some past VW models, but still could become a bit jittery on crumbling cement streets.

VW delivers vented disc brakes up front and standard discs in back, along with traction and stability control.

Passat’s other advantage is its size. Being a little longer it has generous interior space, especially in the rear seat, which easily holds three adults. Also a winner, the trunk is a spacious 16 cubic feet with split rear seats that fold to increase space, plus a pass-thru for carrying long items.

Overall the VW’s interior is quiet and well laid out, the test car featuring a black over tan dash with wood trim on the dash and doors. That and the tan leatherette and suede seats look fine, but the textured creamy colored dash and door trim looks and feels too much like the plastic that it is, giving the interior a bit of a low-rent feel.

The test car’s seats feature fairly flat bottom cushions but well contoured back cushion and are firm, yet comfortable. The power seats feature three-level heat and the driver’s seat offers three memory settings and power lumbar support.vw3

Other pluses inside include a tilt/telescope steering wheel with radio, trip computer and cruise controls on the hub. Sadly the wheel partially obscures the gauges for shorter drivers. But I like that Passat comes with automatic lights, HomeLink, satellite radio and push-button start. The glove box is huge too, plus there’s a big storage compartment on the dash’s far left side.

Gauges are simple white on black with a digital trip computer readout between them and there is a clock mid-dash between the central air vents. The radio touch screen is surrounded by decent-sized buttons that are easy to use and the navigation system run through the screen includes a Real Time Traffic alert system. Radio knobs are smallish, but the three dual climate control knobs are larger. There also is a rear-view camera displayed through the tough screen.

Audiophiles will appreciate that VW includes a 400-watt Fender sound system too, and overhead is a large sunroof that operates by turning a knob and the car’s sun visors slide.

Price is just beyond the average sale price of a car today. The test model listing at $32,915 and with an $820 delivery fee and no options hit $33,735. A base S model with 2.5-liter I-5 gas engine that creates 170 horses lists at $20,845. It also features a 5-speed manual gearbox and the car is rated 22 mpg city and 32 highway.

Remember the test car is a turbo diesel that’ll get you better gas mileage overall, so you pay a premium for TDI models. And while you won’t have to worry about a smoky, noisy engine, you will have to keep a glove handy in the trunk to use for fill-ups at gas stations, as all diesel pumps have an oily residue on the handle.

FAST Stats: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Hits: Good fuel mileage, plenty of torque, roomy sedan for 5 adults, big trunk and pleasant exterior. Car handles well with good steering feel. Dash is well laid out, includes backup camera, plus car has comfortable seats with three memory settings and lumbar support.

Misses: Plastic laden dash/doors look a bit low rent, plus trucky grumble in cockpit, slow chuggy starts and less refined transmission shifts than competition. Steering wheel blocks part of main dash gauge view. Fill-ups are sloppy as diesel pumps are always oily.

Made in: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Engine: 2.0-liter, I4 turbo diesel, 140 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,459 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.4 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 30/40

Base Price: $32,915

Dealer’s Price: $31,564

Major Options: None

Delivery: $820

Test vehicle: $33,735

Sources: Volkswagen, www.autos.yahoo.com

Photos: Courtesy of Volkswagen


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