It’s not the mpg bragging rights or the 30-cents-per-gallon savings. What really pumps a diesel fan is a fuel gauge that barely budges, thanks to a bladder-splitting 500-mile range. Volkswagen, the brand most committed to diesel dogma, now offers stuck fuel needles in every major car and truck line it sells in the United States except the Phaeton.The Passat joined the oil-burning party this year. For a mere $205 premium over the base 1.8-liter turbo gasoline engine, you get a true 30-mpg cruiser (27 city, 38 highway, according to EPA tests) that’s slow but sure-footed. With a 0-to-60-mph time of more than 10 seconds, the lilt is gone from the Passat’s step, but the precise steering, suave suspension tuning, and elegant interior decor that made it the star of its segment are intact.
VW is the world’s leading diesel maker, with three-, four-, five-, six-, eight-, and ten-cylinder oil burners in its repertoire. The Passat TDI is a big-bore version of the 1.9-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder that powers-or should we say torques-the Golf, the Jetta, and the New Beetle. This 2.0-liter edition generates only 134 horsepower at 4000 rpm but, thanks to a variable-vane turbo, provides a 247-pound-foot heap of torque at 1900 rpm. Camshaft-driven injectors regulated by computer-controlled solenoids squirt fuel directly into the combustion chambers.
Diesel downsides include a Magic Fingers tingle at idle, droning at 50 mph, a 4700-rpm redline, and exhaust emissions that don’t comply with stringent California statutes. A minor annoyance is a passenger-side floor kept permanently toasty by exhaust heat. Interior noise levels are commendably low, but there’s no hiding your diesel secret from pedestrians.
The TDI engine is available in Passat sedans and wagons with GL or GLS trim. Base prices range from $23,635 to $26,235, with a five-speed automatic standard.
To keep fuel gauges stuck, VW is mounting an effort top executives regard as a moon shot: a new diesel combustion process and additional aftertreatment to comply with rigorous 2007 emissions standards.