2013 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium TDI Review By Thom Cannell
2013 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium TDI
40+ miles per gallon luxury
By Thom Cannell,Senior Editor
The Auto Channel
Volkswagen, plus their sibling Audi, deliver a wide array of diesel powered cars, SUVs, and CUVs to its US customers with just two engines. Under the hood of large vehicles is a 3.0-liter V-6. In cars and small CUVs is a 2.0-liter diesel that, in our Passat SEL, delivers an EPA rated 31 City and 43 Highway miles per gallon of fuel. Fuel economy, less gallons per mile, is what this story is about.
We like diesels. They are powerful in a way that’s useful at every onramp or stop light; buckets of torque. Torque is the push you expect when you step on the pedal and abundant torque is what diesel engines produce. They also are more fuel efficient than gasoline engines and it is this promise we put to the test on a road trip from central Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri. To spoil the ending, after almost 1200 miles we averaged 46.7 miles from every gallon.
Our German engineered Passat GLS was built at the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly plant, which began Passat production in May 2011, its TDI engines produced in Salzgitter, Germany or Polkowice, Poland. It ideally suited our long-planned tactical trip to St. Louis. The Plan: depart late on Thursday, two days later return before midnight; drive fast, drive steady, bio-breaks as necessary. depart late on Thursday, two days later return before midnight; drive fast,
We began with about 150 miles of around town driving already accumulated, headed towards Indianapolis and St. Louis, then rested our heads. In those eight hours we’d reached a some solid conclusions. One, neither of us particularly cared for the seat engineering. We found the front seats lacked support below the belt, and that they squeezed shoulders uncomfortably. Though of good leather with Dinamica® suede-ish inserts we had a hard time getting comfortable. Second, while the navigation maps were great, easily displaying Points Of Interest and swiftly scaling, the system itself was slow to accept alphanumeric destination input. It also was very fussy about destination input. Otherwise the Fender Premium system / touch-screen navigation system was easy to use. Of note, this particular Fender system must have been wonky as it had very little bass.
Passat GLS competes against family cars like Accord, Altima, Fusion, and Camry. All are front wheel drive, have similar instruments, safety systems including air bags, electronic stability controls, and assisted braking. They’re nearly equally tall with similar lengths, widths, and wheelbase and they hold their value about equally (at 5 years Passat dips a bit) so the biggest differences are VW’s longer no-charge scheduled maintenance (36 months/36,000 miles) and 12 year (!) anti-corrosion warranty. In comparison the biggest difference is the TDI diesel engine with about 30% more torque than other I-4 engines, fuel economy numbers that are real, and enhanced resale value.
The interior of our 2013 Passat GLS appeared nearly as elegant as an Audi. Everything fitted together perfectly, the interior was quiet, everything was within reach. With a Cornsilk (we’d call it off white) interior, it is handsome, open and inviting. However Moonrock (gray) or Titan Black would better hide stains. At first glance the trunk opening appeared limited. But a full sized suitcase was loaded in upright position and disappeared from sight. Passat’s 15.9 cubic feet of space would easily swallow four (or more) sets of golf clubs despite, easily coexisting with 102 cubic feet of interior volume. That’s generous space for five passengers and there’s 39 inches of rear leg room. We also appreciated voluminous in-door bins for storing larger drinks and large sandwiches. Standard features for the top-of-line GLS include the Fender audio system, dual automatic climate controls, 8-way power front seats with driver’s memory, keyless access and push-button start. With the premium audio system comes four years of SiriusXM traffic and three months of SiriusXM travel information (weather, fuel price, sports scores, movie listing, stocks), and navigation with a backup camera.
The window sticker we received said the EPA rated this turbo-diesel at 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. That has since been updated to 31/43. The Passat TDI easily meets those numbers and can exceed them unless you use all 236 pound feet of torque and all the DSG (direct shifting gearbox) gears, hard. Driving a turbo-diesel requires different technique if you want maximum fuel economy. It’s both easy and difficult; just let the torque do the work. Accelerate a bit slower than you might with a gas engine and, once at cruising speed, if you need to pass try to avoid a downshift. It really is that easy. In around town driving we beat the EPA, recording 37.7 mpg.
Have you noticed a total lack of the usual diesel complaints, noise and smelly fuel? True, the fuel has a strong smell, but since low sulfur fuel was mandated in 2006, it is less strong than gasoline and diesel noise is just gone.
The Passat handles with competence and is very sporting, though not a competitor for a GTI of Audi S6. For instance on an off camber, downhill turn we noticed slight “jinking” at the rear due to the additional 200 pounds of the diesel engine—which is with 13 pounds of premium V-6 gasoline engines. Expect the same from a Passat V-6. It is subtle and hard to discern.
We filled up shortly before arriving in St. Louis, and upon departure two days later noted a remaining range of over 700 miles according to the trip computer. Our trip notes say that “At about 75 miles per hour the tach reads a bit over 2200 rpm. We’ve been keeping the cruise control set at 7-9 mph over the posted limit (we call it “cop minus 2”) and our overall fuel economy has increased to 47 miles per gallon.”
Our verdict? This is a very serious competitor for Camry, Accord, Fusion and the others in its class. If you are serious about fuel economy and light on the throttle, setting your cruise control at 1800 rpm (about 68 mph) you’d likely get over 50+ mpg in the real world. We’re also very satisfied to recommend this car as a family vehicle with huge capacity for family trips, as well as visits to the links with a foursome.
Although Passat is not billed as a performance car its taught handling and easy acceleration make it sporting to drive. Other than our discomfort with the seats and navigation system we couldn’t have asked for better. However, if it were our dollars we’d choose the Passat TDI SE with sunroof at $26,225 over the Passat TDI SEL Premium ($33,710) and use the savings for a great aftermarket sound system and a dash mounted smart phone. We’d also lay down the $375 for a rear decklid spoiler ‘cause we’re stylish.