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Driven: Does 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI really get 40 mpg?

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Some 32% of all Volkswagen Passat's sold in the US are TDI clean diesel equipped. And with an EPA estimated 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway it's easy to see why. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence online by owners that suggests it actually does far better in the real-world. Does it?

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That's precisely what this test aimed to find out, can it meet or beat 40 mpg. That's a tall number especially when considering this is a full-size sedan, not some sub-compact hybrid contraption. It compares in size to the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Impala.

The design is cleanly German with its sharp crisp lines, familiar face, and traditional Volkswagen design language. The TDI starts out with the mid-level SE trim grade which has standard 18” alloy wheels, body color trim and mirrors but only halogen headlamps.

Our tester came in a shimmering shade of Night Blue Metallic paint and paired with a Moonrock Gray leatherette interior. The cabin is designed specifically for American drivers which are statistically larger on average. This means wide flat seats because, um…well you know.

The dash has a horizontal design layout which affords a sense of space. It feels spacious indeed and offers up an array of high quality materials but still has some hard plastics in some areas. The SE with Sunroof came with a glass sliding and tilt sunroof, heated seats with power for driver, and a tilt & telescoping steering wheel.

From behind the wheel the cockpit is simple and down to business. Switchgear is high quality to the touch and the instrument cluster offers up a customizable LCD screen to display a myriad if information. A standard twist-key start comes with the SE, console mounted push-button on SEL trims.

We liked the center stack controls with the standard touch screen audio system. It is easy to use with just the right mix of hard button controls and responsive, well laid out virtual buttons. The HVAC controls remain a three knob layout which is generously easy to use.

Rear seat passengers will love the leg room afforded by the 110” wheelbase. Large door openings make getting in and out a no head-bang experience such as in the Toyota Avalon with its raked roof line. There are rear vents as well as a fold down arm rest with cup holders.

The Passat has generous trunk space and 60/40 fold down rear seats. There’s also a good deal of storage including a handy second glove box on the driver side. The SE's interior’s only fault is that it seems a bit bland in design, lacking some pizazz, but if you step up to the SEL you get vivid burl wood trim that solves this.

The heart and soul of the TDI is Volkswagen’s venerable 2.0 liter turbo-diesel engine which they offer in virtually all their models except for the Touareg SUV. With common rail technology its quieter and smoother than diesels of the past, and with a full emissions system emits no smoke at all.

The engine provides a healthy dose of grunt despite its moderate 140 horsepower. Acceleration is strong at the low rpm range sue in part to its 236 lb-ft of torque. Car and Driver says it accelerates from 0-60 in 8.6 seconds, which feels about right.

The six-speed DSG automatic transmission is not as smooth as a traditional automatic, but its not meant to be. It’s a manual transmission in soul, shifted by your computer for better power delivery and fuel economy.

The Passat handles much like you’d expect from a front-wheel drive German car. It has a fully independent suspension with McPherson Struts up front a more premium multi-link design at the rear. The ride around town and on the highway is firm and solid. The electric power steering offers little road feel but is weighted well and still feels of quality and precision.

Our testing included a good deal of highway driving as well as city. The Passat TDI proved it has the poise for both jaunts in windy roads as well as provide a relax comfortable place for a long road trip. On the freeway at speed the diesel engine is a faded memory. The ride is quiet and serene just as you would expect in a gasoline powered vehicle.

Our fuel economy observed is what really knocked us out. We achieved a combined city and highway average of 45 mpg over 900 miles. This was verified by a tank fill up as well as the trip computer which was dead on.

This is amazing fuel economy when you consider this is what you’d expect from compact hybrid cars, but without the drivability issue they offer up and its a full size sedan to boot. Yes diesel fuel is a bit more than gasoline, but still this is phenomenal performance.

All said we came away very impressed with the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI and understand well why some 32% of buyers choose the diesel engine option.

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