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2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Road Test Review - Road & Travel Magazine's 2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

It could remind one of its German-engineered Audi cousin with its haughty, European good looks. It cruises with authority at hyper highway speeds. It has elbow room to spare both in front and rear seating. And yet it falls into the earth-friendly, fuel-saving category thanks to its "clean diesel" technology. Score a big one for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI.

My one-day driving encounter with the new, clean diesel VW Passat was briefer than I hoped for, but sufficiently long to recognize this was attention-getting technology at its best. A tour around metro Detroit's "Motown" country served as backdrop for some express road, country road and city street driving in Germanic style.

Style-wise the Passat isn't in-your-face. And unless you hear the muffled diesel purr that barely signals its underpinnings, you'd probably never realize it's an environmentally-responsible version of an iconoclastic Euro road cruiser, but designed for U.S. consumption.

The six-speed automatic on my test vehicle had manual mode when spontaneous upticks were desired. The overall feel of the drive was typical VW style, a bit weightier than one would expect from a compact, but not surprising considering the Passat's overall dimensions. Size wise, it gains a shade in passenger room for 2012. This is a true midsize auto, not the compact of electrified competitors.

The front-drive Passat loped in passing gear when a surge of speed was needed to maneuver around a struggling trash truck. That was chump change for the Passat that is "limited" to 118 MPH in the U.S. because of speed restrictions -- and tantalizingly out of reach.

Diesel power comes from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline, 140-HP four. VW cites a 43 MPG highway fuel economy expectation, with a driving range of nearly 800 miles between fill-ups. Once-stinky U.S. diesel fuel has been scrubbed, and the Passat wears a warning to use only new clean diesel fuel.

Comparisons with premium Audi probably will be inevitable, since the Passat has many luxury characteristics. Inside my test car a subtle, but delicious combination of light beige, off-black and burled wood trim blended into a sophisticated, luxury car look that belied a diesel base $25,995 sticker, or $32,195 sticker for the SEL Premium model. Among options, a $2,900 sunroof, along with navigation system and the superior Fender Premium audio upgrade on my test version. Advantages of diesel versus hybrid are evident in the huge trunk, not compromised by the bulky battery packs of hybrids.
For those with America-only leanings, one might note that VW was one of the earliest car companies to bring production to the U.S., originally in Pennsylvania until the '80s. It now assembles the Passat in Chattanooga, Tenn.

And whether or not the Passat was designed to wake up those American drivers who haven't exactly rushed into the diesel market, it could have that impact as the U.S. moves toward more stringent fuel economy standards in a few short years. Now if VW can only convince American drivers that diesel really is the fuel efficient way to go.

For more info on the Volkswagen Passat TDI, click here.