Family sedan competition is white hot these days. It s no longer just a two car race, Camry and Accord have seen some true competition from Altima, Fusion, Malibu, Optima, Sonata and other mid-sized sedans. Now there s an all-new Passat. How does a person choose?

VW certainly makes a strong case for buyers to go for their sedan. The Passat we get in the U.S. is a special larger version than the one sold in the mother country. Not enough? They ve also dropped the price and maintenance is free for the first three years (or 36,000 miles). It s now assembled here too, in a brand new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

But perhaps the strongest reasons is one of the three engines available- A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine (aka TDI). It makes 140 hp, which doesn t sound very powerful, but I ll address that shortly.

First let me assure buyers that modern diesels don t spew out smoke and stench. They are clean enough to be sold in all 50 states. Diesel fuel is easy to find too.

This engine requires AdBlue, a urea formula that scrubs the exhaust clean. Apparently it s similar to what your child would call number one but no you can t, well... you know into the tank to save the $30 a gallon. Here s a video that explains how it works.

Only 140 Horsepower?

Doesn t seem like much for a big family sedan, huh? That s where our friend torque comes in and the TDI has a lot of it. The two other engines, a 2.5-liter five-cylinder and VW s 3.6-liter VR6 (any guesses to the cylinder count?) that pumps out 280 horsepower and drinks premium fuel. Lets compare numbers.

TDI = 140 HP @ 4,000 RPM, torque 236 l-ft @ 1750 RPM

2.5-liter = 170 hp @ 5700 RPM, torque 177 lb-ft @ 4250 RPM

VR6 = 280 hp @ 6200 RPM, torque 258 lb-ft @ 2500

Notice that the TDI develops its horsepower earlier in the powerband and that the substantial torque is fully available practically right off the line? That s what gives diesels their beefy satisfying feeling. So the TDI has a big advantage in that regard over the five-cylinder (and much better fuel economy than the six). It s surprising that Americans haven t fully embraced diesel engines since there s lots of oomph on hills and when passing on two-lane roads. Hustling to 60 miles an hour in about 8.6 seconds, power certainly feels more substantial than 140 horses.

Guilt Free Power

Not only is the TDI enjoyable to drive, it lets owners pass by gas stations more often. The EPA rates Passat TDI at 31 city 43 highway. Without trying too hard I saw 33/50. As you see in the video, driving complexly normal without babying the gas pedal when pulling away from stop signs gets a guy 30 MPG. Impressive. The guy who delivered the press car to me claimed he drove it from San Francisco to Seattle on one tank.

You ll hear the distinctive diesel grumble, especially at idle but think of it as the soundtrack to saving money. Passat s ride quality is set toward comfortable with good capable cornering. Neither a performance sedan or a waterbed, this German has developed a thick American accent. Before you sneer, don t forget that the US brands have become quite good when it comes to ride quality and that this is a family sedan, not a Panamera.

The quick shifting DSG 6-speed dual-clutch automatic aggressively looks for the highest gear possible, maybe too high occasionally. At 30 MPH the tach reads 1,500 and occasionally it sounds as if the engine is bogging down a little. Consider it the sound of savings. Shifts are very quick and sure, I really like this gearbox and yes it gets a manual mode. TDI can be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission too. Note that 2.5-liter engines get a five-speed manual and the automatic is not a dual-clutch box. VR6 is not available with a manual.

Spread Out

Passat s roomy cabin has a restrained modern appearance, in this case there s loads of aluminum-like trim. There s also wood-like trim. Materials look good, and pieces like the door handles and soft instrument panel top feel good too. Heated seats are broad, minimally bolstered and covered in easy to care for synthetic leather (really, it s great stuff). Turn a knob for the climate control system (dual zone BTW) and the big screen graphic appears to show what you re doing.

Tunes sound good through the Fender, yes Fender branded audio system. The optional nav system is easy to understand though the screen requires a very deliberate touch and some of the knob control lags behind the display. Normally a screen this large and crisp gets a back up camera. That s missing here.

If you buy your cars based on cubbyholes this one should be on your list. There s storage all over, plus all of the cupholders can handle my big coffee mug Godzilla without a problem. How American is that? Phones and iPods are supported though check the special interface cable before leaving the dealership, my example didn t seat well at all.

The back seat has loads of legroom, VW claims there s four and a half inches more of it than in a Hyundai Sonata. Again, the cushion is on the flat side which makes the center position more usable. And again, lots of storage, which is great for families. No power port or climate vents though. Dogs won t like the fact that the windows only roll down about two-thirds of the way down.

Bringing Up The Rear

Trunks are measured in cubic feet but do you put cubic feet in a trunk? Probably not. In the end, it s the big stuff that counts which is why I do the TP trunk test test. Passat s trunk is large yet average in class at seven bundles of Kirkland s best. Watch the hinge arms though, they can squish things when you close the lid. Worth noting, drop the split seatbacks and the pass-though is very large and useful.

The folks at VW are kind enough give buyers a spare tire, these days a simple repair kit is becoming common. The AdBlue tank is filled here, which is necessary for the emissions system. Looks easy enough to do on your own. Understand that once you run out you get a limited number of starts before the system effectively says sorry, we warned you and will refuse to start.

Style to Spare or Style is Spare?

Passat is not a flashy looking car, it appears the designers had a contest to see who could use the fewest lines. The ones that got used are arranged in a tasteful way. Some might see this sedan as plain, I find it modern and clean with a dose of anonymity. In some ways it looks like a supersized Jetta, the C pillar reminds me a bit of Chevy Impala.

A bit of trivia for your next party- The name Passat comes from either the name of a four-masted steel ship that sailed back in 1911 OR a kind of trade wind. I m guessing the ship was named after the wind so that s where my money is.

A base five-cylinder Passat has an MSRP of just $20,765 (with destination) gets standard dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, and steering wheel audio controls along with a five-speed manual. Price of entry for the Passat TDI is $26,765 with the six-speed manual transmission. Add 2 grand for the automatic. The TDI costs about $2,300 more than the 2.5 and $750 less than the VR6.

Yes, diesel fuel costs more and there s AdBlue fluid to pay for but what drivers are getting is a choice. The way I see it, hybrids shine in stop and go city driving, diesels excel on the open road. Just as important to some, the diesel dynamic is satisfying to drive.. Study your driving habits and choose which one works for you. TDI is a powerful argument that Volkswagen has aimed diesels and the Passat straight at Americans.

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