Volkswagen’s new Passat TDI turbo-diesel sedan brings to mind one of the world’s first successful repeating rifles, the 16-shot American Civil War Henry the Confederates dubbed “that damned Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
The modern automotive equivalent in reference to the TDI could read “that damned Tennessee-built, German-designed, American-sized family sedan you can fill up on Sunday and drive all week – or maybe through the one after that, too.”
With automatic transmission, the restyled and redesigned for 2012 mid-size TDI, the first Passat diesel we’ve seen in half a dozen years, has fuel economy ratings that are in the compact-car category. It matches one of the most fuel-efficient cars in that class, the Hyundai Elantra, at 6.9 litres/100 km city and 4.9 highway.
And on a four-lane long-distance run, at keeping up with traffic speeds, you can actually do better than that. Which means you’ll likely be looking for somewhere to pull over for a comfort break long before you drain its tank dry, somewhere past about 1,100 kilometres.
It’s even more efficient with the six-speed manual gearbox, delivering ratings of 6.8 city and a phenomenal 4.4 highway, which is better than 60 old-style miles per gallon.
Other auto-box-equipped mid-sizers, with gasoline-fuelled fours, come close to its highway number: Honda’s Accord is rated at 5.8, the Hyundai Sonata 5.7 and the gas-engined Passat at 6.7. But with higher city ratings they won’t (in most real world driving circumstances) match the TDI in overall consumption.
And you don’t have to pay a serious performance price to reduce your annual tally of trips to a filling station. The TDI’s 2.0-litre, turbocharged, direct-injection diesel engine produces only 140 hp but this is backed by 236 lb-ft of torque, which is made available to the six-speed DSG automatic transmission from just 1,750 rpm.
The DSG transmission combines manual gearbox efficiency with automatic convenience, with a slight penalty in transparency. Shifts are brilliantly quick, but you’ll notice them a bit more compared to many modern automatic transmissions. You can shift it manually with either paddles or the stick.
It’s not quite as quick as some of its gasoline-engined rivals with a 0-100 km/h time (as tested by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) of 10 seconds, compared to the Toyota Camry’s 9.1 and the Kia Optima’s 8.7.
Its 80-to-120 km/h acceleration time of 7.4 seconds is slower than the 6.0 seconds posted by both the Camry and Optima. But with six ratios and plenty of low-end grunt, the TDI delivers prompt response when required and simply always feels strong. Torque is a wonderful thing.
And like all modern diesels, it starts up without fuss – after a brief delay when it’s cold – doesn’t leave a plume of black smoke in its wake (soot has been reduced 90 per cent), produces less greenhouse gas emissions (about a wash with gas engines) and makes a much less noticeable diesel clatter.
You do pay a couple of premiums, though. Fuel costs fluctuate but in mid-December Ontario prices for diesel were about 15 cents a litre higher than regular gasoline. And the 18.5-litre tank of urea-based adBlue fluid that helps tame NOx emissions costs has to be topped up every 15,000 km, which costs $90 at your VW dealer.
There’s also a price-of-entry premium. A gas-engined manual gearbox Passat Trendline starts at $23,975 with the Trendline+ at $24,875. The TDI starts at the Trendline+ trim listing at $27,475. The automatic transmission-equipped test car was priced at $28,875.
This new-generation Passat is larger outside than its predecessor and about the same length as other mid-size cars, but a 91-mm stretch in wheelbase has given it a pleasantly open feeling, roomy and quiet cabin that can match interior volumes with some full-size cars. And a large 430-litre trunk.
The tester’s interior was done in charcoal over light beige with techy-looking trim under the angular and not too elbow-friendly door caps and, on the dash, VW’s traditional Euro-look was done with a lighter touch. Unless you’re oddly shaped, you won’t find anything to complain about with the seats.
Equipment includes 60/40-split rear seatback, dual zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, leather-wrapped wheel, trip computer and a trip computer. The Trendline+ package with the TDI replaces steel wheels with alloys, adds heated front seats, a rear-seat armrest, illuminated vanity mirrors, some exterior chrome, fog lights and a block heater.
You’d need to look closely at the economics of TDI ownership versus the gasoline versions, which have a slight edge in day-to-day driving performance terms. Starting with the additional $2,600 in price, the extra fuel cost and the $600 adBlue fluid will cost every 100,000 km. These may be partly offset by some reduced maintenance costs.
But if you envision high-mileage usage or a long-term relationship, the TDI could make a lot of sense.
2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $27,475; as tested, $30,340
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, turbo-diesel inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/4.9 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Buick Regal