2015 VW Passat TDI

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When you’re the only game in town, you’ve pretty much got the market cornered.'15 Passat lead

But it helps when what you’re selling is also what people want.

People want Passats.

It’s a very popular car, in part because it’s the only German car in its class – and in this price range. The rest are (cue the italics and the umlaut) uber expensive due to their prestige branding.

Well, and the fact that anything with an Audi, BMW or Mercedes badge will also tend to be loaded with amenities and features – though sometimes, you’d be surprised what you don’t get unless you pay extra. Many BMWs, for instance, do not come standard with either seat heaters or satellite radio.

Neither does the Passat.'15 Passat TDI engine 1

But then, it starts just over $21k(vs. twice-plus that for the prestige-badged jobs just mentioned).

And it’s a full-size sedan, or nearly so – roomier inside than an Audi A6,  BMW 5 or Benz E.

And if you want a diesel engine?

Forget about it!

Well, unless you’re ready to pay $50k-plus for it (the least expensive of the three above being the Benz E250 BluTEC, which starts at $54,300.

The A6 TDI starts at $59,500.

A BMW 535d starts at $57,100

And you’ll still pay extra for the seat heaters and the satellite radio.

No, really.'15 Passat dash detail

Meanwhile, you can slide out the door in a new Passat TDI for just over $27k.

Add seat heaters if you like and still be out the door for under $30k.

In German, there’s a word for this.

Ausgezeichnet.

WHAT IT IS

The Passat is VW’s largest sedan – very close in terms of exterior dimensions to premium-badged large sedans like the Audi A6 (which is its corporate cousin), the BMW 5 and the Benz E sedan.

Interestingly, it turns out that the Passat is roomier inside than all three.

And not by a little bit.

Like its German uber-sedan kin, you can also get a diesel engine in the VW.

But unlike its diesel powered Germanic brethren, you can get it for $27, 095 to start.

No other (non-German) large sedan currently on the market offers a diesel engine at all – which leaves the Passat TDI in a class (and at a price point) all to itself.

WHAT’S NEW'15 Passat ad copy

VW has muscled up the power of the available TDI diesel engine (subject of this review). Claimed output is up to 150 hp vs. 140 last year. Performance is improved – and fuel efficiency is slightly better now than before.

The ’15 Passat TDI rates a very impressive 30 MPG in city driving and 44 on the highway with the standard six-speed manual transmission (another uniqueness, incidentally; good luck finding a diesel engine paired with a manual transmission in any other car that’s not a VW).

WHAT’S GOOD

Exceptional mileage (expect higher than the EPA’s numbers), range and value.

Standard six-speed manual (available six-speed automated manual) vs. automatic-only A6 TDI, Benz E250 and BMW 535d.

First class second row accommodations vs. coach class in the E250, Benz E and corporate cousin A6 TDI.

Though not “prestige” badged, same cut-above German feel/fit and finish.

At a Japanese (or American) price point.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD'15 Passat 4motion

Thanks to Uncle, diesel fuel costs a lot more than regular unleaded, which undermines the economic case for diesel power to some extent at least.

Thanks to Uncle, VW (and every other automaker trying to sell diesels) has had to fit the Passat TDI with urea injection to maintain “50 state” emissions compliance. This means you’ll have to periodically top-off the tank with Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). It’s not a big deal – or expense.

But it is a small hassle – and an additional small expense.   

No 4-Motion AWD Passat TDIs… for us here in America.

Standard 17 inch wheels are not the hot ticket for maximum mileage. And the low aspect ratio (thin sidewall) tires that come with them are more vulnerable to damage from potholes and rocks in the road (more below).

UNDER THE HOOD

The ’15 Passat TDI has a 2.0 liter turbocharged, direct injected (hence “TDI”) diesel four cylinder engine -same displacement as the the ’14 Passat’s 2.0 liter TDI engine.'15 Passat TDI engine detail

Except that the ’15 TDI 2.0 is stronger by 10 hp  – up to 150 hp now (torque output remains the same: 236 ft.-lbs. at 1,750 RPM). It has also been extensively redesigned and will form the basis of all future U.S.-spec. VW diesel engines. It features a turbocharger that’s physically integrated with the intake manifold rather than bolted on as an afterthought – as has historically been the practice. This new way sharpens up throttle response and (VW says) helps to lower the mill’s emissions -a huge big deal nowadays, especially for diesel engines. The block is cast iron (rather than aluminum) for sturdiness and has two gear driven counter-rotating balance shafts to deliver gas burner-smooth idle quality.

Interestingly – happily – the power boost does not come at the expense of MPGs. It turns out the more powerful ’15 TDI is more fuel-efficient: 30 city, 44 highway with the standard six-speed manual vs. 31 city, 43 MPG last year with the same combo. With the optional “direct shift” – DSG – six-speed automated manual, the number declines a little  (vs. the six-speed you-shift-it-manual) to 30 city, 42 highway – still an uptick over the ’14 Passat TDI DSG’s 30 city, 40 highway.

The above is slightly unusual – for modern cars – in that it’s now actually more common for a given car with a manual transmission to deliver slightly lower fuel economy stats than the same car with an automatic transmission. So why the reverse here? It may be because the VW’s DSG automatic has only six forward gears –  as opposed to seven or eight, as is becoming fairly common (the BMW 335d, as a for-instance, comes standard with an eight speed automatic; the Benz E250 with a seven-speed).'15 Passat consumption

Regardless, the Passat TDI’s mileage is exceptionally good, regardless of the transmission you choose. I never averaged less than 43.6 MPG, incidentally. And my “high” was close to 50 MPG. This is typical. Ask someone who owns a Passat or any VW diesel.

They routinely outperform their EPA “best case” numbers.

This is really important to know in a grander scheme of things way.

Meaning, don’t be reluctant to buy the TDI because it looks like the diesel’s over-the-road advantage in economy (by the EPA numbers) is not too far removed from the economy of the gas-engined Passat’s (24 city, 36 highway with the automatic) while the up-front cost to buy the TDI is high enough that – you may think – you’ll never reach break even, or it’ll take a long time.

Trust me. It won’t. Reread the average numbers again. Even if you hammer the TDI, it’s almost impossible to get less than 40 MPG – average – out of it.'15 Passat manual detail

The gas engine, on the other hand, will – based on my personal experience driving several VWs so equipped – typically give you a bit less than the advertised mileage unless you drive it Granny Style. The mileage is still very good – for a gas burner – but it can’t touch what the TDI oil burner will give you.

Oh, and by the way – compared the mileage of the Passat TDI – the advertised mileage – with the advertised mileage of the $50k-and-up Audi, BMW and Benz diesels we’ve been talking about.

The A6 TDI  – this is the 2016 model –   only manages 25 city, 38 highway. A fairly weak 26 city, 38 highway for the BMW 5 diesel. The Benz does better: 28 city, 42 highway.

But none match the VW’s numbers.

All U.S.-spec. Passats are front-wheel-drive only.

ON THE ROAD'15 Passat road 1

Hybrids get most of the press because they’re considered sexier somehow. I don’t get it, myself.

Why would you want to buy two engines (well, one engine plus an electric motor… plus a battery pack) to not go as far on a gallon of gas?

I don’t mean just MPGs, either – though there’s that. The Ford Fusion, hybrid, for example, rates 44 city, 41 highway – but it real-world averages mid-30s if you drive faster than 50 MPH about half the time. This is reflected by another number – the maximum miles you can travel on the highway on a full tank: 567 miles.

The Passat TDI is capable of going nearly 820 miles.

That’s one long-legged mack daddy. You can literally drive from say my neck of The Woods outside Roanoke, Virginia up to DC – about 220 miles, one way – turn around, come back… and not have to stop once for fuel.  '15 Passat road 2    

But it’s about more than the range and economy of operation. Unlike hybrids, the TDI is – wait for it – quiet. Yes, yes, the hybrid makes no noise when the gas engine’s off and it’s creeping along on the batteries. But they run dry – get electric ED – real quick (typically, after maybe a mile of creeping along at stop-and-go speeds) and then (noticeable transition) on comes the gas engine. Which is a small, underpowered unit that wails its sorrows when taxed with other than languid acceleration. Most hybrids – the Ford Fusion hybrid, for example – have (effectively) one-speed continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmissions that are great for mileage, not so much for your ears. They rev the little gas engine to redline (or close to it) and hold it there – because the upper reaches of the RPM band are where gas engines make their power. And the undersized gas engines in hybrids don’t make much power.

Diesels make gobs of power – and they make it down low. In the Passat’s case, 236 ft.-lbs. at just off idle speed (1,750 RPM) which means maximum take-off thrust is available immediately – no waiting. And no thrashing. Just a nudge of the accelerator results in forceful thrust. If you push it down harder, you’ll squeal the tires. The manual makes it all the more fun but the DSG auto-box works well, too – because automatics work well with torquey engines – and the TDI is plenty that.'15 Passat tail view

It’s also nice to be able to rack it up to 80 and have the engine basically yawning – turning a mere 2,100 or so revs at that speed in top gear.

And you’ll still be getting 40-something MPG.

Forget about that in a hybrid.

Their mileage droops like most men’s enthusiasm at the thought of a naked and fast-approaching Hillary Clinton. If you think you’re gonna get 41 (or 40 anything) on the highway out of a hybrid while driving 80… well, god bless you.

There is a serenity about the Passat. It’s unusually silent (yes, even with a diesel engine under the hood), confidently accelerates without the revvy drama of a gasser) and all around relaxes you. Drive one and then go try something like an Audi A6 TDI (they’re blood kin) and see what I mean. Then see what the difference in price is.

AT THE CURB'15 Passat curb 1

Speaking of the A6… the Passat is roomier inside.

More legroom in both rows (a lot more legroom in the second row).  42.4 inches for the driver and front seat passenger – 39.1 inches for the backseat passengers. The A6 – which is slightly linger overall (193.9 inches vs. 191.6 for the Passat) has 41.3 inches up front and 37.4 in the second row.

But the real shocker comes when you take a look at what you get – er, don’t get – in “mid-sized” sedans like the BMW 5 and Mercedes E.

How’s 35.3 and 35.8 inches (respectively) strike you?

The disparity arises from the fact that the Passat is closer – physically closer – to being a full-sized car.'15 Passat cut-away

On the inside, at least.

Did you know that the Passat has more backseat legroom than an Audi A8?

Well, now you do.

Some will say the comparison’s not apt because, after all, the A8 (and A6 and the BMW 5 and Benz E) are all “luxury” sedans and in a different class. Well, sure. In terms of price. But they’re all sedans – and the Passat’s got more room inside than they do.

A huge trunk, too – 15.9 cubic feet.

A BMW 5’s trunk is tiny: 14 cubic feet. So’s the A6’s: 14.1 cubes.'15 Passat center stack

There are closer-in-pricer (and “prestige”) sedans like the Toyota Avalon and the Chevy Impala that have similarly comfortable – and spacious – cabins (and trunks).

Ah, but they don’t offer diesel power (and economy and long legs) do they?

It must also be mentioned that the Avalon costs about $5k more to buy: $32,285 vs. $27,095 for the base Passat TDI. But hey, you do get 1/10th of an inch more backseat legroom (39.2 inches) in the Toyota for your $5k extra.

And 21 city, 31 highway, too.

VW equips the TDI Passat generously (it comes with the same roster of standard equipment as the gas-engined SE and top-of-the-line SEL trims) but not ostentatiously. Seventeen inch wheels/tires (more on that below), heated outside mirrors, a nicer gauge package and an upgraded eight-speaker stereo are all included, along with the base S trim’s standard tilt/telescoping wheel, cruise control and most power accessories.

SEL TDIs add leather seats with handsome suede/Alcantara inserts, auto climate control and HD audio with a music storage hard drive.   

THE REST'15 Passat clock detail

The Passat can be looked at as a budget-priced Audi – which it is. All VWs are unique in this respect, being DNA kin to Audis and also being the only German-made cars that aren’t also high-end/high-priced cars.

It hasn’t got the monied luminosity of an Audi – or BMW or Benz. Meaning, you won’t feel or look like a member of the Top Hat Club.

But the Passat can be parked without worry on public streets.

And once you’re inside, you get two-thirds the Top Hat Club experience. And the other third – the profusion of typically over-the-tope electronic gewgaws that are common in the prestige branded stuff – well, that’s stuff many people (me among them) happily do without. There’s no mouse input in the Passat; no “haptic” fingerslide/microwave oven-style touchpads.'15 Passat seat heaters

But you can order those really excellent three-stage seat heaters (seat heaters in German cars always get hot, not merely warm) and while satellite radio and GPS are not standard, they are available – and you can kit your Passat TDI with both and still slide in under $30k.

On incongruity is the fitment of 17-inch wheels (18s, if you go with the SEL), which increase rolling resistance via additional unsprung mass. Big wheels might be sensible for the Passat Sport and Wolfsburg Editions. But for the TDI, the base S trim’s 16-inch wheels seem a better match. Not only would replacement tires be cheaper, but the ride quality would be softer and – big item – probably, fuel economy would be even better.

Also, the low aspect ratio (thin sidewall) tires that come with 17, 18 inch (and larger) rims are more vulnerable to damage from potholes – and rocks in the road – because they have less give built in. I encountered a small rockslide while driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, ran over two fist-sized rocks and lost two of the my test cat Passat TDI’s not-cheap ContiPro tires.'15 Passat last

I’d be willing to bet that had the car been riding on 16s (better yet, 15s) the tires – with more forgiving sidewalls – would have survived this encounter.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Sometimes, when you only have one choice, it’s not the best choice.

Here’s one that’s both.

This car kills.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Two years now, into a 2013 Jetta TDI wagon, and so far, so good. Worst expense? A $720 bill for an ABS and speed sensor wiring harness that was chewed through by a got damn mouse that had taken up residence in the passenger side fender.

    Today, I did have to spend $129 for a wheel alignment, I’m sure in no small part due to banging those 17 inch rims around on frost heaved New England roads.

    Other than that, normal oil/filter changes.

    The car drives and handles like a go cart, just a blast to drive, and as others have stated, even with a heavy foot, I never see less than low 40s for mileage.

    Joy, my model year does not require the piss bottle for the exhaust, either.

  2. Have had a 2010 Jetta TDI since Aug ’09. For two years also a Passat TDI, wife’s car, the colour was pretty:)). Just drove a VW Jetta 2015 as a loaner and the handling is not quite as “tight”.

    Both cars get better than advertised mileage both in the city and highway. My only complaint is the trunk lid of the Passat and post 2010 Jettas: the trunk lid hinges cut way into the storage capacity of the trunk. The 2010 Jetta can be loaded side to side top to bottom. The Passat will crunch everything on the sides.

    Of course US cars have the same design flaw, but VW went backwards.

  3. I’ll kick in here as I have some real world history with a ’12 Passat TDI.

    I got 45 MPG driving it on the highway and I’m getting consistently 37+ on back roads commuting to work. I can get 600 Miles on a tank and can essentially go two weeks with out filling up, if I’m only driving to work and back and not driving much on the weekends. And I’m paying 3 dollars a gallon for the fuel. Not bad. The only real complaint is that there is a bit of turbo lag when punching the accelerator pedal, and the handling is not as tight and I would prefer. (I used to drive a BMW)

    That being said, the fit and finish is nice. Burl wood accents, nice layout, and comfy seats–with fast heating seat warmers! Very fast. The car in enjoyable to drive. Wish I had a full sized spare though.

  4. I bought a 2006 Passat wagon for my wife, she is still driving it, has just over 100.000 miles on it, has the six cylinder and all wheel drive system which has been great going over mountain passes in the winter. But the lack of sidewall on the tires Eric points out has been really expensive. Downtown Seattle potholes have taken out about six tires.

    • Hi Chris,

      These gnomesayin’-inspired “rims” are my nomination for Most Idiotic Trend of the past 20 years… a close second to the Van Dyke beard.

      Functionally, they are a liability in almost every way imaginable. Yes, yes, they impart sharper steering response. And this matters how to the typical American slow-poke driver? In a track environment, ok. High-performance street… ok. But this is a Passat.

      I doubt one out of a thousand drivers would notice (much less complain about) the difference in steering feel/response between a Passat shod with 16×8 (better yet, 15×7) wheels/tires and one with 18s.

      But the car would have dramatically less unsprung mass/rolling resistance; fuel economy would increase noticeably. The ride would be much better (less harsh). Replacement tires would cost less – and you’d need to replace them less often because standard-type all-season tires are less vulnerable to damage than these inch-high sidewall/”low profile” gnmomesayin’ tires that are being fitted to cars these days.

      • I hear ya Eric.

        Would one still be able to easily buy those size rims that you mentioned (that would bolt up to the Passat hubs) from the aftermarket? Know of anyone or maybe anyone here that has done that?

        • Hi c_dub,

          The base Passat comes with 16s… so they’d definitely bolt up/be “right” for the car. VW puts 17s and 18s on the TDI for reasons known only to them!

  5. How does roominess inside compare to Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300?

    Does VW offer memory seats?

  6. re this: “It turns out the more powerful ’15 TDI is more fuel-efficient: 30 city, 44 highway with the standard six-speed manual vs. 31 city, 43 MPG last year with the same combo.”

    If you drive about half your miles in city driving, this is a wash for fuel economy.

    • But those are just the EPA estimates. Read again where Eric said he consistently averaged 43mpg, no matter how hard he drove.

    • Hi Jim,

      The thing about the Passat – all VW diesels – is they consistently out-perform the EPA advertised figures. I’m not being paid by VW to state this. I’m telling you, based on my own personal experiences with multiple recent vintage TDI VWs. Ask people who own them.

      • My 2001 TDI Golf would get at least the hwy 49 mpg based on how I drove it. ~35000 miles/year roughly 80-85% hwy miles. This was not attained via driving below PSL either. It was driven at speeds I would normally drive any small car.

      • I’ve noticed my mileage actually getting better over time too. Started out with about 35+ for the first 40K or so, now regularly getting 40+.

        Living at altitude in Colorado takes a hit, when I’m closer to sea level well over 45MPG.

  7. Still don’t understand why VW has done away w/the Sportwagen. But I like the sound of these mileage #s. My 09 Jetta TDI gets an avg. of <40. Maybe because the final drive ratio is not optimal. @65 I'm turning 2100 rpm.

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