Motor Trend CotY – Diesel Version
Among the cars available for test driving by the press at the 2011 Los Angeles International Auto Show, your correspondent drove a luscious burgundy TDI version of this VW Passat.
The Volkswagen Group’s clean diesel technology, showing up as it has in Golfs, Jettas, Audi A3s, and crossovers and SUVs from VW, Audi, and even Porsche, is making believers of skeptical auto writers, including myself. I even had a brief moment of weakness when I considered replacing our near-vintage BMW 325iT with a Jetta TDI wagon recently.
Clearer heads prevailed however, and Esmeralda appears on her way to permanent residence, barring catastrophic failure. After all, I was the one who advised that “the longer you keep your car, the less it costs you.” Besides, IMO the E-46 3-Series Beemers like our little Sportwagen are the pinnacle of the breed, having shed the slightly tacky interiors of the E-36, and not yet acquired the more Rubenesque curves (and bulk) my current 328i E-90 Coupe displays.
But I digress. With that history I approached VW’s new Passat with perhaps a more favorable predilection than I might have, if based only on the progressive disintegration of the younger daughter’s New Beetle.
First impressions are hard to ignore, and the depth of the metallic burgundy finish, combined with the limo-like rear legroom gave the impression that I was climbing into a car a class above what I expected. Later, the leather trim and swaths of wood veneer (or convincing imitation. I didn’t ask) in the upscale SEL displayed in the Hall above added to the impression.
VW Passat SEL front seat accommodations look pretty luxurious for a “People’s Car.” I did not get a shot of the rear seat – maybe my zoom lens didn’t expand wide enough to capture its limo-like legroom.
The short familiarization route the Auto Show allows did not provide much of a test of handling, although steering seemed direct, and taking a city street corner a bit faster than you would in normal driving did not upset its composure. Motor Trend’s own comparison with the Hyundai Sonata and the redesigned Camry found that it somehow retained enough of its European driving characteristics in the America/China-only redesign to place it well ahead in responsiveness.
The quality that I suspect will win American hearts (and buyers) is the performance of the diesel engine. We may be dismayed by gas prices reaching record levels, but it’s hard for us to give up that kick in the back when leaving a stop light that a torquey engine provides. That’s where the Turbodiesel shines, with all 236 lb.-ft. of torque available at a mere 1,500 rpms, and a 6-speed dual-clutch automanual gearbox (The Camry makes do with a continuously variable torque-converter automatic) clicking off fast, smooth shifts, you never seem in need of more displacement.
Pricing is competitive with the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and performance and fuel economy are well beyond the unaccountably uncompetitive Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The trunk hasn’t had a huge chunk of its space eaten up by hybrid batteries, and with a bladder-testing highway range of 740 miles, it’s a compelling temptation in the upper middle class of family cars.