What Is It?

The Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion Concept takes technology we normally associate with modern V8 engines and puts it into a 4-cylinder. Also up its metaphorical sleeve are a couple of tricks usually found on hybrid cars. The result is a Passat -- a midsize sedan built in Chattanooga -- with an estimated highway fuel consumption of 42 miles per gallon. And that's running on gasoline, not diesel.

Under the hood is the world's first inline 4-cylinder engine to use cylinder deactivation. When the driver uses just a light throttle -- to maintain a slow, steady pace -- the computerized management system shuts down cylinders two and three. Cue one of those "why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" moments.

Total displacement is a tiny 1.4 liters, but the engine is turbocharged and uses variable valve timing to get the most out of it, adding up to a respectable 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque when the whole quartet is playing in tune.

The hybrid trickery is a coasting feature that decouples the engine on downhill stretches (achieving the lowest possible mechanical drag), along with the increasingly common start/stop function. Come to a set of traffic lights (or any other temporary halt), press the brake and the engine stops. As the foot comes off the brake, in preparation to engage the accelerator, the engine fires up again.

The Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion Concept also comes with the company's excellent DSG dual clutch, 6-speed transmission. Drivers who are used to automatics can just select D and get on with listening to the radio, but those who like to shift gears themselves occasionally can use the paddle shifters under the steering wheel. This setup offers the best of both worlds.

Volkswagen tends to add the "Blue" name to anything that could be "green" or at least thrifty with fuel. The company has even painted this concept in Reef Blue Metallic, which will be available on other Passat versions.

Will They Ever Sell It?

Since most of the clever stuff is in the software, not the hardware, this would be much cheaper to produce than a hybrid -- no batteries or electric motors to deal with. Yet it can offer similar fuel economy, and it doesn't ask the American motorist to pull up to the smellier and stickier diesel pump. It works for buyers, and it works for VW's corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) figures, which are an important consideration. Building this car would be a smart idea. There's no reason why there couldn't be a Jetta version, as well.

Why It's Important

VW hasn't been selling vehicles in the numbers it needs to, especially in the U.S. It's not enough just to produce so-so sedans. Something like this could not only spark greater interest in the brand but also prompt other companies to try something similar. So even more people save on gas.

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Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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