The 2012 Volkswagen Passat has been completely redesigned for the American market, and most of the media coverage has been focused on its "Americanization." The Passat is bigger now, with more passenger and cargo space. It's softer, in deference to our pockmarked roads. And perhaps most importantly, it's a better value, delivering more for less in the grand American tradition.
But there's one way in which the Passat is defiantly European: in TDI trim, it's the only American family sedan that's powered by a turbo-diesel engine. Sure, you can also choose from a couple of gas engines, a quirky inline-5-cylinder and a broad-shouldered V6. But it's the Passat TDI that we want to talk about here. It's got all the America-friendly features of the regular Passat - and all the European cleverness of a modern turbo diesel. Here are 5 reasons why the Passat TDI, in particular, belongs on your shopping list.
1. Best fuel economy of any non-hybrid family sedan
With the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the Passat TDI is EPA-rated at 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. The optional 6-speed "DSG" dual-clutch automatic transmission is right behind at 30/40 mpg. That's easily the best fuel economy of any family sedan that's not a gas-electric hybrid; in fact, the competition isn't even close. The new 4-cylinder Toyota Camry, for example, is an exceptionally efficient family sedan, and it's only rated at 25/35 mpg.
2. Serious torque
If you don't associate diesel engines with a strong shove in the chest, you haven't spent enough time driving them. Modern turbo diesels invariably deliver a strong dose of low-end torque, and the TDI engine is no exception, cranking out its maximum 236 lb-ft of torque almost as soon as you start rolling. Let's use that Camry again for comparison: it makes 170 lb-ft, and it needs to work a lot harder to get there. That means the Passat TDI is a champ at slicing through low-speed traffic on the commute, even if its 140-horsepower output is relatively modest.
3. Awesome range
Fuel economy is one thing, but how far can you go on a single tank? Well, the Passat TDI has an 18.5-gallon tank, and it gets up to 43 mpg on the highway. Some simple math yields a theoretical range of 795 miles. Read that again; that's nearly 800 miles on one tank. You could drive from LA to San Francisco and back - and still have enough diesel left to drive to work the next day.
4. Premium Cabin
We were concerned that the new Passat would lose some of the premium European vibe for which previous Passats were renowned, but we needn't have worried. Although the American Passat is built to a price, it's clearly built well, with pleasantly upscale interior materials. There's even a touch of luxury inside the Passat, which we certainly can't say of most mainstream family sedans.
5. Big back seat
When we first laid eyes on the redesigned Passat, we were instantly reminded of the Volkswagen Phaeton, an ambitious full-size luxury sedan that was briefly available some years back. Like the Phaeton, the Passat has an imposing presence, and it backs up that impression with a king-size back seat. It doesn't matter how tall you are, or how tall the front occupants are; you'll fit with ease in the Passat's generous rear quarters. In this respect, at least, the Tennessee-built Passat is a dyed-in-the-wool American.