2012 Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen recently revealed that the TDI turbocharged diesel version of its new 2012 Passat sedan will get up to 43 miles per gallon – good enough to rival the hybrids in the midsize sedan segment.

Diesel is the fuel of choice in Europe, where car buyers appreciate the increased fuel economy and lower cost per gallon compared to gasoline. Volkswagen, like many other European manufacturers, has spent a lot of time and energy developing diesel technology for just that reason.

New technology has improved the diesel engine dramatically over the years, and now rising gas prices are making US buyers reconsider the alternative fuel.

Diesel proponents in the US have long been fans of Volkswagen's TDI diesel engines. Volkswagen has offered diesel options to economy-minded car buyers for most of the past three decades, even when gas was cheap and most consumers were buying big SUVs.

The Passat TDI starts at $25,995, which is a hefty premium over the $19,995 base price of the cheapest gasoline-powered Passat. But it's worth noting that on the highway the Passat TDI gets just five miles per gallon less than the current Toyota Prius hybrid, which starts at $23,520. And the Passat is a much larger and roomier car than the Prius.

The TDI diesel will be one of the three engine options available in the 2012 Passat. The base model will have a 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 170 horsepower. Passat buyers looking for more muscle can opt for the 280 horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 engine.

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J. Mark Sternberg is an automotive journalist, car enthusiast and writer with a degree from the University of Arizona. Mark is a devoted Formula 1 fan and also enjoys boating, flying and attending the occasional track day.

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