Green Update: 2012 Passat TDI—Why People Love Diesels

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE, front

Owners of new TDI Passats have reported 45-48 mpg highway (see comments here), much better than the car’s EPA figures of 31/43. That’s one reason people like diesels. This car holds 18.5 gallons of fuel, which could easily give you close to 800 miles per tank.

The stink and clatter of older diesels is long gone. This one is quiet and clean. VW claims the engine, running on low-sulphur fuel, reduces emissions up to 90 percent over previous diesels.

We told you last month our feelings about the general snubbing of the Passat by the auto press. Though it won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award, there were plenty of naysayers, carpers and whiners putting it down.

The TDI has generally won their praise, though it got a predictably snide review on The Truth About Cars. Michael Karesh complains about the high mid-thirties price (he drove the top-of-the-line TDI SEL Premium), some cheap details (though its interior is much better than the bottom-line, gas-powered SE) and concludes that “it’s not the stellar car it could be with a few minor upgrades and alterations.” Hmph.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI, interiorThe Truth about this car seems to be that:

  1. VW has improved the interior greatly over the SE’s, to the point of its being Audi-esque.
  2. The engine provides great torque (236 lb-ft) to take you up to cruising speed and beyond. Its 140 hp could stand a boost, but the performance overall “was better than some of the hybrid-electric vehicles tested,” according to Ward’s Automotive (quoted here), which ranked the TDI engine one its Ten Best for 2011.
  3. The ride and handling seem generally acceptable, if not better, to reviewers.
  4. It’s made in the U.S., in Chattanooga, which keeps costs down. The standard Passat TDI starts at $25,995, very well equipped.

The Diesel Driver

suspect[s] that the Passat TDI will end up with at least 20% of total Passat sales for the half-year it’s been out. Indeed, in its first two months, it captured 50% and in the first three months it captured one-third of Passat sales. There was clearly some pent up demand for this diesel.

Autoweek had four of its editors drive the entry-level gas-powered Passat SE, and they liked it, for the most part, but not the inline 5-cylinder 2.5-liter that powers it. Lackluster, sluggish and noisy was the general judgment. Most preferred other engines, particularly the TDI, as their choice for this car.

If Volkswagen can finally develop a market for the Passat TDI, it will be a test for the future of U.S. diesels. Do you think the company can do it?


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Used Volkswagen Passat


  1. I’m starting to think about a new car and high mileage is a desirable feature, so I’ll take a look at the TDI. The price has to be reasonable and I sure wouldn’t be interested in paying a huge premimum for the Diesel, especially if one can buy a much nicer car for less money and spend the difference on gas.

  2. Of course they can do it especially if they want to be the number one car maker in the world. We’re the largest market on the planet and if people get over their perception of the older diesels they could buy into this segment just on the mileage alone. I was one of the first in my area to sit and drive this rascal and I was impressed by pretty much everything except the driving position. The center console was positioned in the exact spot that my knee hit it and being one that drives with his legs spread, I was so uncomfortable with it that it discouraged me from buying.

    Another factor was the comparison of the cost of the Passat with other cars that cost less but get similar mileage. In my area I would prefer an AWD vehicle rather than the front drive and the smaller Impreza got very similar mileage despite being an AWD vehicle. Although it was smallish for me, others might find it very nice and something that would work into their budgets. Fuel showed less than a hundred dollars difference over 15k miles.

    Folks that drive a lot or who require a very comfortable vehicle would be wise to take a test drive in this Passat. My personal belief is that it is a very nice vehicle that is very affordable especially if you select the $26,000 model.

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