For reasons known only to the company, Volkswagen sells two versions of the Passat.
The looker of the two, the CC, has dropped the Passat appellation. Under the skin, it's still much the same vehicle, but with more attractive sheet metal and a much nicer interior layout.
The garden variety, meanwhile, is available with three separate engine choices: a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, a 3.6-litre V-6 and VW's 2.0-litre TDI diesel. My tester, a top-of-the-range Highline version, had the diesel engine mated to a six-speed TipTronic automatic transmission. You can, depending upon the model, also get either a five- or six-speed manual gearbox. Price would be the determining factor; in this trim level, the Tiptronic adds $1,600 to the price-tag. Is it worth it? I suppose so, if you are dead set against shifting gears manually. However, a manual gearbox complements this engine nicely.
Specs for the TDI engine are 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. While the horsepower number is unimpressive, the torque is phenomenal for an engine of this size. By way of comparison, the 3.6-litre V-6, with twice the horsepower, has only marginally more torque: 258 lb-ft. That's what makes the TDI so attractive: little package, big numbers. During my time with this car, I often forgot that I was driving a 1,524-kilogram mid-size sedan powered by a two-litre engine, and power availability was never an issue.
Let's not forget fuel economy; the TDI version, with the Tiptronic, delivers an impressive 6.9 litres/100 km in town and a remarkable 4.9 on the highway. For a mid-size sedan, these numbers are top-notch. The Toyota Prius v, for example, is actually a smidgeon thirstier on the highway than the manual transmission version of this car. With its 70-litre fuel tank, the Passat TDI will take you from Toronto to, oh, Chicago non-stop, with plenty left over.
And the TDI behaves like a much larger engine. Thanks to all that torque, it has V-8-like punch coming off the line and all kinds of reserve power on the highway. VW has done such a nice of muffling this engine that you could be forgiven if you didn't realize it's diesel-fueled. Cold-morning start-ups involve a one- or two-second wait before the engine catches, but, with the push-button start, all you do is press the button and the engine purrs into life. That said, I can do without this last feature – if there's an advantage to a push-button starter, I've yet to experience it.
Elsewhere, what the TDI has going for it in terms of drivetrain sophistication, it lacks in presence. This is arguably the most banal-looking model in the company's stable and blends into the scenery like a mid-1980s General Motors product. Inspiring, it ain't – maybe VW is keeping it that way as a counterpoint to the CC, which starts at about $12,000 more.
Speaking of which, you can get a base, non-TDI Passat Trendline for less than $24,000 before taxes and extras, which makes it a fair deal. The TDI, meanwhile, starts at $26,575, which is still reasonable, but you have to decide if the money you spend off the top will come back to you in fuel economy savings. If you rack up the highway miles, the answer is yes, but otherwise – well, that's between you and your bank account.
One noteworthy feature about the Passat, regardless of the model, is the size of the trunk. It is absolutely cavernous back there, with more than 450 litres of cargo room. Comparatively, a Honda Accord will give you 439 litres, while a Nissan Altima is good for 436 litres.
Behind the wheel, it's the usual VW sensible-shoes approach to switchgear and ergonomics. I found the climate control system to be on the fussy side, and doors that self-lock once the vehicle's speed tops 13 km/h are annoying, but this latter feature can be disabled. My tester also had leather interior, paddle shifters, a navi system, rear-view camera and larger 18-inch wheels and tires, all of which add $2,250 to the sticker price. The Passat advertises seating for five and there's plenty of elbow room for all – 2,888 litres in total.
I also want to add a word about this car's handling/braking. It's first-rate. This rendition of the Passat can't be classed as a sport sedan by any stretch, but it will keep up to anything else in this category and will run rings around some others – the Sonata and Camry, for example – when the road starts to tighten up. That extra dimension of performance has always been one of VW's strongest points, and is a big plus.
2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Highline
Base Price: $30,575; as tested: $34,200
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed with Tiptronic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/4.9 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima