As accessible midsize sedans go, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI is fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of charisma: On a scale of one to 10 — one being the most vanilla form of transportation possible and 10 being the most exotic — the diesel-powered Passat lands at about a four. While certainly not the most glamorous or technologically dazzling of rides, this TDI does somewhat redeem itself with excellent fuel economy, low cost of upkeep thanks to a maintenance-included warranty, and a comfortable, road-trip-friendly ride.
How does it perform in the fun-to-drive category? We decided to find out.
Exploring the Passat TDI’s Other Side
Because most of our time behind the wheel of the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI has involved kid hauling, grocery runs and road trips, we decided to dedicate some time to exploring the TDI’s wilder side.
Despite its reputation as a fuel sipper, the Passat TDI’s engine actually produces generous torque — 236 lb-ft, to be exact. In concert with its 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, the TDI manages to scoot along rather respectably, especially considering its utilitarian roots. That said, the combination of a torquey engine and eco-minded tires with a low-rolling-resistance compound (i.e., a hard rubber composition that reduces stick to the road) can lead to tire chirps under hard acceleration from a standstill. Thankfully, the car’s traction-control system intervenes for only a split second before power is restored to the front wheels, which enables aggressive merging into traffic. The turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine doesn’t particularly like to rev (redline starts at an early 5,000 rpm), but torque levels start their peak at a mere 1,750 rpm, enabling relatively loping engine speeds for reasonably aggressive acceleration.
Click the shifter down a notch, and the TDI goes into Sport mode, enabling surprisingly high rpms between gears and earlier, more aggressive downshifts. Click it to the right (into manual mode), and upshifts or downshifts can be managed by tapping the gearshift up or down. Unfortunately, the TDI is not equipped with paddle shifters. It’s not exactly a deal breaker, though their absence does serve as a reminder that this car’s focus is more functional than fun.
The Next Challenge: Throw It Some Curves
To further test the TDI’s fun factor, we traversed the winding hills of Malibu on some of Southern California’s twistiest stretches of road. While its tires weren’t very grippy during hard acceleration from a standstill, they performed a bit better in the canyons. There was still some howling and protesting during more aggressive cornering, but the Passat TDI’s overall demeanor, along with its diesel powertrain, sedan layout and long wheelbase, means that it doesn’t exactly beg for it to be flogged.
Particularly of note is how the car manages to accelerate confidently out of corners without having to extract high revs from the engine; if anything, the TDI feels low-key but capable, only managing to show its weak spots when pushed a tad too hard. Aggressive speeds reveal a nose-heavy weight distribution and a reluctance to corner sharply in smaller, more technical (e.g., twisty) bends, which may be a bit nitpicky considering the Passat’s intended purpose.
Not Quite High-Performance, but Still Fun to Drive
The Volkswagen Passat TDI’s performance capabilities have served it well for a vast majority of our driving needs, which underlies the fact that its clean diesel powertrain is capable of managing great fuel economy while producing decent power and a satisfying driving experience. Our canyon-carving experiment may have pushed the outer edges of what most drivers expect from their midsize sedan, but despite the Passat TDI’s shortcomings in the area of traction and balance, it was competent and grunty enough on canyon roads to keep from feeling entirely like a fish out of water. Though it will never be confused with a high-performance sedan, the Volkswagen Passat TDI’s well-rounded — if somewhat predictable — personality makes it a car that we don’t mind driving fast when the urge strikes.