In just six months’ time, our long-term 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI accumulated 12,557 miles on the clock, a number that barely surpasses the average limit for a year-long automotive lease. So why was the mileage so high, and how was Volkswagen’s $33,395 clean diesel sedan throughout the half-year of frequent driving? Read on to find out.
The Diesel Experiment: Expectations and Reality
The TDI variant of the Volkswagen Passat joined our garage as a long-term tester primarily because we wanted to find out if life with a modern clean diesel was all it’s cracked up to be. After all, we typically enjoy driving these inherently torquey machines, but had yet to live with this particular model. The time — and the miles — flew by during our 6-month experiment, which speaks volumes about the Passat TDI’s capabilities.
If you’re unfamiliar with the fundamental differences between diesel and gas-powered cars, it’s important to note that though they are mechanically dissimilar, the ownership experience is often virtually the same — thanks to modern technologies that make diesels quiet and clean-running. During the duration of our loan, diesel actually turned out to be cheaper than premium gas — sometimes by as much as 40 cents a gallon. Plus, we never had trouble finding diesel pumps. Not only did we spend less at the pump, we also stopped there less frequently because we averaged anywhere between 35 and 45 miles per gallon in real world driving, which beats the car’s official Environmental Protection Agency rating of 30 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. We also appreciated the convenience of only stopping every 600 miles or so to fill up.
Despite its humble engine output of 170 horsepower (and more generous 236 lb-ft of torque), the Passat TDI proved to be reasonably fun to drive, mostly due to its prodigious midrange torque levels. Though it didn’t quite behave like a sports car, we would be hard-pressed to find another eco-conscious car (save outliers such as the surprisingly spunky, all-electric FIAT 500e) that delivers this combination of driving enjoyment and fuel efficiency. Though its long wheelbase didn’t deliver particularly nimble handling, its smooth power and comfortable, spacious interior made it easy to encourage several long road trips (which, incidentally, wouldn’t have been possible with the battery-powered FIAT). A generous, free-maintenance warranty and a generally positive dealership experience with our 10,000-mile scheduled service made us more confident about Volkswagen’s reliability outlook than previous models might suggest.
What We Missed
Though the Passat TDI proved to be a reliable, competent workhorse over its six months of service, we sometimes wished our top-level SEL trim model had a few more bells and whistles. For starters, there was a distinct lack of techy features in our car, with items such as a blind spot monitoring system, parking sensors and adaptive cruise control unavailable at any cost. The absence of USB outlets and a finicky, proprietary MDI cable also necessitated purchasing a 12-volt adapter to charge mobile phones.
Finally, we also felt the TDI could have had just a bit more personality inside and out. Though it ticked many boxes when it came to transporting our 3-year-old son (thanks to easy ingress and egress, plenty of rear legroom and excellent safety ratings), we sometimes wished the Passat had the sexier styling and pillarless door design of its stablemate, the CC. Nonetheless, the Passat’s excellent Fender stereo system, comfortable seats and smooth ride made it rather easy to live with — enough so that those six months seemed to pass by in no time at all.
The (Near) Ultimate Endorsement: The Temptation of Purchase
There have been times that we have been perfectly content with saying goodbye to our long-term test cars. Other times, we’ve grown attached enough to seriously consider purchasing the vehicle. In the case of the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI, we appreciated its attributes so much that we inquired into the possibility of holding on to our tester and buying it from the manufacturer. Motivated by the Passat TDI’s spacious interior, quiet ride and excellent fuel economy, it seemed like this midsize sedan could make a solid addition to our garage. In fact, part of our motivation to commit to the Passat was largely due to its excellent fuel economy and comfortable ride. However, when the purchase price turned out to be higher than expected, we politely declined and bid our Passat a fond farewell as we handed it back over to Volkswagen.
We’ll miss its agreeable demeanor and low cost of operation, but most of all we appreciate how the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI gave us a deeper appreciation for clean diesel technology. It may not be the most exciting or charismatic car in its segment, but the Passat TDI proved to us that clean diesels are economical and exceptionally easy to live with. We now have a reason to believe that cars like the Passat TDI have a promising future with American car buyers.