German engineering, Southern hospitality. That is the story of the 2012 VW Passat TDI. This car brings the first U.S. built VW in over a decade, and if early indications hold true, the Lynchburg, Tennessee built sedan is going to be a runaway hit.
I have been on the diesel bandwagon for many years, and hoped America would embrace the concept after the disasters called “diesels” in the 1980s. That ruined a lot of people, but slowly some of the automakers are turning heads and getting people to consider diesels again. The rap for years was diesels were slow, smelly, and loud. Today’s diesels, and in particular this Passat TDI, are as far opposite of that as you can get.
My first surprise was the size of the new Passat. The last Passat model sold here was in 2010, and this new model is considerably larger. I can’t call this car a full-fledged large car, but it’s certainly bigger than any mid-sized car I have been in. Outside, it is striking and has many of the same characteristics as the popular CC. The car is sleek and beautiful and has a Mercedes look to it at first glance.
Inside, the leather interior is very nice. It doesn’t jump out at you like some cars, and I would, in fact, call it understated. My second large surprise was the amount of room inside. The back seat legroom is mammoth. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and that is with the front seats almost all the way back. Speaking of front seats, it is rare when I don’t have a seat all the way back as far as it will go. In the Passat, I could not even touch the pedals with the seat slid back all the way. I swear a guy six-foot eight would have no trouble in this car, and you could seat another guy the same size in the back seat.
My test car was loaded, as all Passat models seem to come, but this one also had a terrific navigation system and a Fender stereo sound that rocked. The air conditioning system on this worked incredibly, something the Germans have not always been good at. Even on days over 105 degrees, the car cooled quickly and efficiently.
Under the hood sits the fabulous VW in-line 4 cylinder diesel engine that feels faster than it is, and is as quiet as any gas engine, quieter in fact than many. Acceleration is quick and responsive from a dead stop. The car comes with a 6-speed automatic that you can shift manually if you wish. It is easy to forget you are in a car that gets superior fuel economy, particularly on the highway. For substantially less money, you can get two regular gasoline engines.
Handling is OK. Not great but certainly adequate, and the ride is quite good. I intentionally hit a railroad track that is known to be rough at over 50 miles per hour and the car never wavered. The diesel is quiet, but the entire car seems to be heavily insulated for quietness, something prior VWs were not famous for.
The number three surprise was in the trunk. Generally a spacious interior like this is paid back in trunk space. Not so in the Passat. It’s HUGE. I don’t even know how much luggage you can put in it but it is a LOT. If you ever looked in the trunk of a VW Phaeton, it’s reminiscent of that.
Final surprise was the price. VW is apparently determined to make this car a runaway hit and they insured that by lowering the base price by $7000 from the smaller, unexciting 2010 Passat.
Fuel economy was everything the car was rated at and a little better. My final calculations were 32 in town, 44 strictly highway, and 36 overall in mixed driving. That puts it ahead of most hybrids, and in fact ahead of all the mid-sized hybrids.
VW thought of everything on this one. The biggest problem I foresee is getting one. I suspect they will sell the minute they hit the lots for a long time to come.
What I liked most: The size of the interior, quietness, and fuel economy.
What I would change if I could: I would make the interior a little more luxurious but only if it did not raise the price.
MSRP as tested: $32,900.
Fuel Economy: Rated 31 in town, 43 on the highway, and doing better.
2012 VW Passat TDI in a few words: It is big inside and outside and gets 43 miles per gallon. What else is there to say?