For a long time – until very recently, in fact – VW was the only car company selling affordable diesel-powered cars. The handful of others were all high-end luxury brands (Mercedes, BMW, Audi).
Now VW is striving to make its gas-powered offerings more efficient, too.
The 2014 Passat, for instance, can now be ordered with a new 1.8 liter turbo four, which over the next few months will be phased in as the Passat’s main vein gas engine – with the performance-minded 3.6 liter VR6 still available as an option, along with the superb 2.0 turbodiesel (TDI) four.
The new direct-injected 1.8 turbo is a two-fer: Better mileage and better performance. But the best part is there’s only about a $50 price increase to get it, too.
I’ll clap to that.
WHAT IT IS
The Passat is VW’s largest sedan – built specifically for the U.S. market (and made here in the U.S., too – in TN). It is a bit larger outside – and roomier on the inside – than several Japanese competitors, including the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – and is unique in being the only largish sedan in its segment that can be ordered with a diesel engine.
Prices start at $20,845 for the base S model with 2.5 liter five-cylinder gas engine- which will still be offered for the first few months of 2014. However, you can upgrade to the new, more powerful (and fuel-sippy) 1.8 liter turbo four for just $50 more – $20,895.
Sport and SEL trims now come standard with the 1.8 liter engine.
The performance-themed VR6 will remain available – as will the TDI diesel version.
The big news is the new 1.8 liter turbo’d (and direct injected) TSI four cylinder engine, which delivers the same 170 hp as the fading-away 2.5 liter non-turbo five – but more torque much lower down (184 ft.-lbs. at 1,500 RPM vs. 177 ft. lbs. at 4,250 RPM) and, as a result, significantly improved fuel economy and performance.
All but base S trims now come with a standard rearview back-up camera and VW’s Car-Net telematics system is optional in the higher trims. The audiophile Fender music system – tuned to the acoustics of the car’s interior – continues to be available as an option as well. This package also includes interior enhancement based on the appearance of Fender guitars.
Audi-esque feel/fit/finish and handling . . . VW price tag.
Available diesel engine – and 43-plus MPG on the highway.
New 1.8 liter gas engine delivers 34 on the highway and 0-60 in 7.6 seconds (vs. 9 with the old 2.5 liter five).
Manual transmission available with all Passat engines except VR6.
Roomier inside (especially in back) than most of the competition.
U.S. buyers won’t get 50 MPG-capable Euro-market 1.6 liter TDI diesel engine.
U.S. buyers can’t get the wagon version of the Passat (also Euro-only) and AWD is no longer offered . . .
UNDER THE HOOD
The Passat’s standard 2.5 liter engine is unusual – unique in this class – because it’s not a four cylinder engine, unlike the standard engines in every other car in this segment. It’s a five-cylinder – and makes 170 hp and 177 lbs.-ft. of torque. However, despite its additional piston, the 2.5 liter five’s power/torque output isn’t better than several competitors’ smaller displacement fours – and in some cases, it’s less. The Honda Accord’s standard 2.4 liter four, for example, makes 185 hp – and 181 ft.-lbs. of torque.
The Nissan Altima’s 2.5 liter four makes 182 hp and 180 ft.-lbs. The base Camry four produces 178 hp.
The Five is also not very economical – 22 city, 32 highway with the manual transaxle. With the optional six-speed automatic, the highway number drops to 31. This would be palatable if acceleration were standout – and it is, but in the wrong way. The 2.5 equipped Passat take about 9 seconds to get to 60 with the automatic, doggy performance for a subcompact economy car and unacceptably sluggish for a car in the Passat’s class.
Manual versions are only slightly quicker.
Enter the new 1.8 turbo TSI engine. Due chiefly to its instant-on torque (peak arrives 3,000 RPM sooner than the 2.5 liter’s max effort) the car accelerates much more acceptably: Zero to 60 in 7.6-7.7 seconds (depending on the transmission; both manual and automatic gearboxes are available). This is more than a full second quicker than the 2.5 liter Passat and – here’s the bonus – gas mileage is better, too: 24 city, 34 highway with either transmission. These figures put the Passat right in the thick of things again – instead of way back there somewhere.
And of course, you can put some real distance between yourself, the competition – and gas stations – if you choose the available 2.0 TDI diesel. It delivers an untouchable (in this segment) 31 city, 43 highway. I’ve driven this version of the Passat extensively and can report that – for once – the advertised/EPA mileage figures are below what the car is realistically capable of. I’ve seen 45-47 MPG on the highway. This is exceptional. Only a few hybrids do better – and not by much. Moreover, the diesel will probably last longer – and cost you less to maintain. The TDI Passat also performs – courtesy of the tremendous torque output of the diesel engine (236 lbs.-ft., produced just over idle speed). It pulls hard off the line – and has excellent passing power.
If more performance is wanted, VW still offers the 280 hp 3.6 liter V-6. So equipped, the Passat is capable of reaching 60 in about 6.3 seconds. That’s about half a second quicker than the top-of-the-line Ford Fusion equipped with its turbo 2.0 engine (240 hp) and just a tick behind the quickest car in this class, the V-6 powered Accord (278 hp) which gets to 60 in 6.1 seconds.
Unfortunately, the Passat’s V-6 is not offered with a manual transmission – just the DSG six-speed automated manual. Probably because of fuel efficiency pressures. With the very efficient DSG automatic, the 3.6 liter engine manages a not-bad 20 city, 28 highway. With a manual, this number might have been lower – and in these CAFE conscious days, even a nominal 2-3 MPG difference can spell The End for a manual transmission (or for that matter, a five-cylinder engine).
For example, while the automatic-equipped V-6 Accord gets 21 city, 34 highway, the same engine with a manual transmission (in the Accord coupe) drops to 18 city, 28 highway.
VW – like everyone else – has to sweat the MPGs. Not so much because buyers are demanding fractional improvements but because the government requires it. Two model years from now – 2016 – any car that doesn’t average 35.5 MPG will come with “gas guzzler” fines tacked on to its MSRP.
While it used to be true that a manual offered an efficiency advantage vs. an automatic, today, the reverse is often true. Modern automatics – especially CVT and DSG-types – are frequently more economical than manual transmissions.
That’s why most car companies are going over to automatics – and in more and more cases, dropping manuals from the roster entirely.
We should be grateful that VW still offers manual transmissions at all – and ecstatic that they’re available with three of the four available Passat engines.
ON THE ROAD
The Passat’s personality range is wider than most of its rivals – because most cars in this class only offer two engine options – the “economy” engine and the “performance” engine. There’s not much in the middle. With Passat, you can go with the base 2.5 engine, the new 1.8 turbo TSI gas engine, the VR6 – or the TDI diesel.
That’s a lot of options – and a wide variety of personalities.
The Ford Fusion is one of the Passat’s few rivals that offers three engine options, but the base- engined version (being sold only with an automatic) is about as much fun as leftover hospital food. It gets the job done – nothing extra. And the Fusion – like every other car in this segment – simply hasn’t got anything in its roster that can compare with the TDI -equipped Passat’s exceptional economy, fun-to-drive character and probable service life of 300k-plus with decent treatment (being a diesel).
Though not a threat to Corvettes, you can have a lot of fun with that TDI – which can do a pretty impressive front-wheel-drive burnout, if you want it to. The V-6 Passat, on the other hand, would be more appealing if you could shift for yourself. Granted, pretty much all of the Passat VR6’s competition is also automatic-only but that’s all the more reason for VW to offer a manual with the V-6. With the DSG, the Passat sometimes feels sluggish – there’s a slight but noticeable lag in between what your right foot inputs and when the transmission responds. As far as the base 2.5 engine, it’s a milder-mannered counterpoint to the peaky power of the smaller/higher-strung fours in the competition. Teamed up with the standard manual transmission, it also makes the Passat fun to drive, despite being slower than the competition. A manual-equipped car is always the more engaging/involving car.
The new 1.8 liter engine, though, may be the pick of the litter.
It may not be quite as efficient as the TDI, but it’s not all that far off. And it costs several thousand dollars less to buy – which means the break-even point for the TDI is at least several years of driving down the road. The 1.8 engine also outclasses the outgoing 2.5 liter engine in every way – and given the small additional cost of acquisition, it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to stick with the old five over this new four.
Handling is tight, precise – very German car. Though some critics point out that the U.S.-spec Passat is bigger, heavier (and yes, softer) than the Euro-spec./previous generation Passat, it is still a very neutral-handling, responsive car that will not disappoint drivers who enjoy a more rapid pace.
It’s just a crying shame American buyers can’t get either the wagon – or the AWD system. These are for European buyers only.
But – light at the end of the tunnel – the Alltrack wagon is on deck for 2015. Though not technically a Passat – it’s based on the Passat, it’s bigger than the Jetta, it will offer AWD and the new 1.8 engine, too.
AT THE CURB
This is a handsome, nicely put together car.
Park the Passat next to an Audi A4 or A6 and you’ll see the kinship in form. Same goes for the interior, which is a cut above others in this price range in terms of feel, fit and finish. It’s almost-Audi, which should not be surprising given the corporate cross-pollination.
Another aspect of the Passat’s perennial appeal is its conservatively evolving styling – which keeps older models looking current longer and will probably do the same for this model, too.
But, the big news about the current Passat is that it’s a bigger-than-ever Passat: 191.6 inches long overall vs. 188.2 for the previous gen. Passat – and rides on almost four inches more wheelbase (110.4 inches vs. 106.7). This was all done to carve out more interior room, to make the German-brand Passat a bit more appealing to American buyer preferences.
How about an inch more front seat legroom (42.4 inches vs. 41.4) and 1.4 inches more second row legroom (39.1 inches vs. 37.7 inches)?
Ok, that’s not earth-shakingly different. Here’s one stat that is: The 2014 Passat has 2.4 inches more shoulder room in back (and 1.2 more up front) than the previous gen. Passat – a difference in dimension that’s immediately apparent if you sit in the old car and then sit in the new one. VW adds to the effect by cleverly scalloping out the inner door panels, leaving you both the impression and the actuality of more elbow room.
The trunk is slightly larger now, too: 15.9 cubic feet vs. 14.2 before.
The current Passat has more front and and rear legroom (42.4 inches and 39.1 inches, respectively) than the best-selling Camry (41.6 inches and 38.9 inches) whereas the old Passat was noticeably tighter fitting relative to cars like the Camry – especially in the back seat.
Some fault VW for up-sizing the Passat but it makes sense from a business point-of-view. Though the previous Passat was more like the VWs in Europe, where smaller is often regarded as better, the fact is this is America – and different rules apply.
People here are larger – and larger people want larger cars.
In any case, the current Passat no longer has to make excuses for being a bit smaller outside – and a tighter fit on the inside – than the others in this segment.
It’s frankly hard to find much to criticize about this car. The Passat costs less to start than pretty much any other car in this segment, it’s got more engine/transmission options, it is wonderfully roomy and comfortable, drives beautifully.
Good looking, too.
Excellent seat heaters; the Fender audio package rocks.
I would like to see VW offer a “value package” TDI Passat equipped with just the TDI engine, the manual transmission and a handful of necessary basic equipment like AC – and all the rest available but optional. This way, VW could offer the superb TDI engine and the superb fuel economy it delivers at a much more economical price. Maybe $23k or so – vs. the current $26k – which would give the competition conniption fits but put a smile on the face of many a buyer.
This, by the way, is how diesel-powered cars are generally sold in Europe. Basic – as opposed to loaded. Here, they’re sold as higher-trim/higher-priced models, typically loaded up with cost-adding luxury features that are certainly nice to have but which also eat away at the primary reason for buying a diesel-powered car.
You know – to save money.
I’d also like VW to re-locate the controls for the outside rearview mirrors to a less awkward-to-get-at place. Right now, they’re positioned at an unnatural angle (for the human wrist) on the door panel – because the current shape of the arm rest doesn’t leave much room for the controls. Also, the little toggle button seemed fragile to me – and likely to break off at some point down the road.
But these are small things – literally.
I had to come up with something.
The new 1.8 liter engine corrects the only serious criticism one could level at last year’s Passat – that in gas-engined guise, it wasn’t very fuel efficient relative to the competition – and was too slow (in base engined form) relative to the competition.
Now about that TDI wagon . . .
Throw it in the Woods?
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