By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – The Volkswagen Group sells more diesel powered cars and utility vehicles in the U.S. market than any other automaker. And the last few years, the automaker has wrapped some pretty neat sheet metal around its cast iron engine blocks.
We had the 2014 VW Passat TDI SEL Premium, the German automaker’s flagship model. On more than one occasion someone asked what it was, not because it looked bad but because it looked just that good.
The sedan featured Volkswagen’s three bladed horizontal grille with lower air intakes and headlights that formed a single unit. The Passat had a muscular ridge in the sill area, as well as muscular wheel arches and great aggressive 18-inch alloy wheels. It seemed wide in a good way and everything about the sheet metal said substance.
The test car was powered by what Volkswagen has branded as a 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel four cylinder engine. It made 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 RPM. It was mated to a six-speed dual clutch transmission or DSG in Volkswagen-speak.
Torque is the amount of turning power on the wheel and that translates into acceleration. And the lower the maximum torque kicks in the more power you put to the wheels at lower speeds; that is about acceleration too.
On a run to Chicago, 260 or so miles away, the 2014 Passat TDI cruised at 80 mph effortlessly. With an EPA rating of 30 mpg in the city and 40 mph on the highway, its 18.5 gallon fuel take gave it a range of 740 miles.
In real world driving, from a full tank, we put 7.3 gallons of diesel fuel in the car coming back here. The odometer said we had put 730 miles on the Passat diesel and there was a little less than half a tank of fuel left. That’s what diesels provide, excellent mileage on the highway or on city streets.
However, the trip did illuminate a couple of shortcomings on the Passat. The car tended to wander a bit in the lane, just enough that steering had to be adjusted. VW would do well to stiffen the steering ratio as the car gains speed. If the automaker does this already, then it needs to increase the ratio.
The other glitch was that VW got caught behind the technology curve which moves at warp speed. The 2014 Passat did not have a USB jack and the connector cord that it had for an iPhone was for the last generation not the iPhone 5.
Without a USB cord, owners would be forced to purchase a 12 volt charger for a long highway trip. GPS satellites devour smartphone batteries as the most contemporary phone can now generate their own Wi-Fi fields.
Anyway, the VW Passat SEL is the top of the trim level. It had a premium audio system, remote start, partial leather seats, fog lights, a rear seat pass through, driver seat memory and eight-way power passenger seat.
There was a sunroof, a navigation system, Bluetooth, SD card slot, touchscreen and a smart-key for push button entry, exit as well as start and stop. The car didn’t seem as big as a full-size sedan from the outside but rear seat room, head as well as leg and hip, was as spacious as some big sedans.
But this car certainly didn’t drive big; however, the 15.9 cu. ft. trunk rivaled larger sedans too. The suspension had a lot to do with the Passat’s small feel. It had damper struts in the front with lower control arms and an anti-roll bar. The rear featured a four-link suspension with telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar.
The car did not bounce a lot as we went over suspension joints and it traversed dips and dives in the pavement and on the Interstate. It stayed flat in the curves and handling was pretty direct. It was comfortable too.
For $33,815 as tested, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI would be a very good buy, especially with the money saved in the out years on maintenance and fuel costs.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.