2014 Volkswagen Passat Driving Impressions

The Volkswagen Passat offers quite a choice of engines. It's a crucial choice, because the powertrain has a dramatic effect on the character of the car.

Most popular has been the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, which is a shame because the 2.5-liter is an anemic performer. It's particularly sluggish in stop-and-go traffic. When it's time to go and you press on the throttle, there's a pause followed by a thunk as it downshifts into the appropriate gear, followed by lethargic acceleration performance. Fuel economy from the 2.5-liter with manual shift is an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway (22/31 mpg with automatic). That falls short of the Hyundai Sonata's 24/35 mpg, though it's better than the Ford Fusion's 29 mpg Highway rating. We don't recommend the Passat 2.5L.

The Passat TDI Clean Diesel engine is better. We found the TDI produced linear power delivery with little of the surge sensation common with a turbocharger. The Passat TDI doesn't feel as responsive as the Volkswagen Golf TDI, however, possibly due to the lighter weight of the Golf. Shifts from the 6-speed automatic, which felt programmed for fuel conservation over quickness, were noticeable but generally smooth.

EPA-estimated fuel economy of 31/43 mpg City/Highway from the TDI Clean Diesel with manual shift handily tops the gasoline-powered competition, by a wide margin. With automatic, the Passat TDI gets an EPA estimate of 30/40 mpg City/Highway. On the highway, at least, Volkswagen Passat TDI bests the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which earns a 43/39 mpg City/Highway estimate on EPA's charts. The 2014 Ford Fusion hybrid betters the Passat TDI, with 47/47 mpg. Before deciding, the price and availability of diesel fuel are worth noting when comparing the Passat TDI to any gasoline engine, or to a hybrid.

The Passat 3.6L we found was the most enjoyable Passat to drive, primarily due to its responsiveness. Its quick response is terrific when using a heavy foot on the gas pedal, but more important it's nice when motoring around town. Gently step on the throttle and the V6 instantly adjusts the speed to precisely what you want. If you want to speed up a little, it does that. If you want to speed up a lot, it does that, also. These are benefits of the six-cylinder's torque. The Direct Shift Gearbox delivered solid shifts, but less promptly than expected in comparison with the Golf version, even in manual-select mode. Expect stops at the gas station to happen at about the same frequency as with other V6-powered cars in this class; Passat 3.6L's V6 is EPA-rated 20/28 mpg City/Highway, about average for the class. The 3.6-liter V6 is a smooth and wonderful engine, and we highly recommend it.

The new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is replacing the 2.5-liter five-cylinder and that's a good thing. The turbocharged four-cylinder earns thriftier EPA estimates: 24/35 mpg City/ Highway with manual shift, and 24/34 mpg with automatic.

Ride quality in the Passat is smooth, not firm. The suspension doesn't float on mildly heaving Interstates, but the body leans a bit when driving hard through tight corners. This type of suspension is sometimes better on rough roads. Understeer (where the car wants to go straight when the driver wants it to turn) is the predominant characteristic when the Passat is pushed in a curve (as it is with all cars but especially those with front-wheel drive). Between the TDI and the 3.6L, the 3.6L feels less put-upon when driven aggressively. We were told the 3.6L's steering is a bit tauter, closer to what's in the German-market Passat. None of the Passat models beg to experience an energetic blast through an extended set of twisties, however. Clearly, the Passat prefers casual motoring.

Based on our experience, the Honda Accord feels more planted on winding roads, although the Accord filters out less of the mechanical and road/tire noise than the Passat does. The Ford Fusion All-Wheel-Drive is the most balanced in responding to steering inputs and quick changes of direction. The Fusion AWD exacts a price, however, with the worst city/highway numbers of the crew, at 18/26 mpg.

Wind noise: There was a bit of a whistle at speed from somewhere near the outside mirrors on the Passat we drove, but nothing serious. Tire and road noise were minimal and varied little on different qualities and types of pavement. Put up against the competitors, the Volkswagen Passat fits right in, not really standing out in any measure, but not falling short in any, either.

We found the feel of the brakes disappointing. Gone is the prompt, sure-footed, throw-out-the-anchor response to the brake pedal that we're used to getting from a Volkswagen. We never worried about stopping power when driving the Passat, but there was still this softness, not the high quality firmness we've come to know and love, and appreciate, from Volkswagen.

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