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Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

It's an odd thing about diesels in North America - most are available either in small cars that are already gas-sippers in gasoline form, or in luxury SUVs whose owners you'd think could easily afford to support the drinking habits of a petrol-pig.

But then there's the Passat. Unique among its mid-size-sedan peer group, the built-for-Americans Volkswagen offers a diesel option in addition to the usual four-cylinder or V-6 offerings.

For 2015, the Passat TDI received VW's latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, which generates 150 horsepower (a gain of 10); peak torque stays at a robust 236 lb.-ft. but is maintained 500 rpm further up the rev range. Fuel economy is essentially unchanged from 2014 with manual transmission and slightly worse with the automatic.

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Last year, the Passat received a more fuel-efficient base gas engine. As a result, the TDI's official fuel-consumption advantage has fallen to about 19 per cent, which at current diesel versus gasoline prices makes the TDI's $2,600 premium tough to justify on a pay-back basis. On the other hand, oil prices won't stay this low forever.

Most hybrids claim even better fuel economy than the TDI, though that advantage doesn't always translate into real-world driving. And hybrids' base models tend to be pricier than the Passat.

As well, the trunk-mounted battery packs of hybrid sedans significantly reduce their cargo volume. The Passat's trunk is one of the segment's largest, and is matched by an equally cavernous – if somewhat spartan – cabin.

Another reason to choose the Passat over a hybrid is, simply, the more satisfying driving experience. No hybrid offers engaged drivers a stick-shift, which saves $1,400 on the MSRP and promises even better fuel economy than the automatic. And the diesel's effortless, torque-rich power delivery and friendly under-hood grumble are more appealing than hybrids' typically quiet but wheezy-sounding powertrains.

Then there's the Passat's light-and-lively steering and deft European handling and supremely long-legged cruising.

Like most diesels, the Passat's briskly without-trying performance can be deceptive. It promises a level of maximum-effort performance that ultimately isn't there. In a foot-flat green-light grand prix, most four-cylinder mid-size sedans could outrun the TDI.

None, however, can get close to the Passat's fuel economy. During my 1,300-kilometre test, the trip computer showed an overall average of 5.5 litres/100 km. Even after discounting trip-computer optimism – my measurements showed 6.05 litres/100 km – that's fabulous frugality for a car this size.

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You'll like this car if ... You like to save on gas, but a subcompact won't cut it for those long road trips with the family on board.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $26,575; as tested: $35,570
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel
  • Drive/Transmission: Front-wheel drive/six-speed automatic
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.9 city; 5.6 highway
  • Alternatives: Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Mazda6 GT i-ELoop, Toyota Camry Hybrid

RATINGS

  • Looks: It’s a big car, and conservatively handsome in a way specifically designed to appeal to middle America.
  • Interior: It feels roomier inside than the official numbers say, with a rear seat worthy of a basketball squad.
  • Technology: None of today’s active-safety co-pilots (lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise, automatic braking, etc.) is available. On the infotainment side, the mid trim still has a six-CD changer!
  • Performance: Its strong, effortless acceleration in low-rev, part-throttle (i.e., normal) driving more than compensates for its relative sloth when you ask for maximum effort.
  • Cargo: The trunk is one
  • of the segment’s
  • largest.

The Verdict

8.5

A unique fusion of interior space and fuel efficiency that's more appealing to drive than the typically bland, hybrid alternatives.

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