We predicted early on that the Volkswagen Passat TDI's combination of space, comfort, and fuel economy would make it a popular choice for summer road trips. Sure enough, we racked up more than 1000 miles over the last month as staffers criss-crossed the state of Michigan.
Associate Web editor Jake Holmes kicked off the road trip season by ferrying his parents from Ann Arbor to Chicago for a weekend. The Passat seemed a perfect choice for the trip, as its trunk easily swallowed up every last bit of luggage, and provided rear-seat passengers with ample legroom. It also recorded some incredible fuel economy figures in the process.
"By the time we got to Chicago, the trip computer indicated 44 mpg," writes Holmes. "Once I returned to Ann Arbor, I topped off the tank, and calculated an average of 41.5 mpg over 555 miles. That figure includes slogging around downtown Chicago, creeping through construction traffic on I-94, setting the cruise control at 75 mph, and using the air conditioning. Clearly, the Passat TDI is an incredibly frugal vehicle. Perhaps an efficiency-minded pilot could easily eke out 45 mpg on a highway run."
Managing editor Amy Skogstrom came close to proving Holmes correct over the Fourth of July holiday, as she traveled 240 miles north to the city of Ludington. "I filled up before setting off, even though the fuel gauge showed the tank was half-full," she notes. "I cruised at 80 mph when traffic allowed, and made the drive in less than three and a half hours. When I arrived, the gauge indicated the tank was still three-quarters full of diesel."
After puttering around Ludington for a few days, Skogstrom then traveled another 100 miles north to Interlochen, where she discovered she still had a half-tank of fuel remaining. Winding her way back home on a mix of back roads and traditional highways, she returned to find she traveled a little over 600 miles, and still had a quarter-tank of diesel to spare. "By my calculations, I averaged about 44 mpg, which isn't too shabby for a roomy four-door sedan. This is the kind of mileage you expect to see out of a small economy car, and the Passat puts some of those vehicles to shame."
Thus far, our impressive fuel economy results seem to validate senior Web editor Phil Floraday's belief that we ordered the perfect 2013 Passat. "The 2.5-liter I-5 is pretty thirsty for the performance it offers, and the VR6 offers pretty good performance with unacceptable thirst. The TDI hits the sweet spot because it delivers better highway mileage than most compact cars, but with as much interior and cargo volume as anyone can expect from a sedan."
Several staffers came to appreciate the Passat's suspension tuning over lengthy journeys. "The Germans certainly know their way around a chassis," notes senior editor Eric Tingwall. "The Passat's suspension is like Botox to the road's wrinkles and creases, smoothing them into an even surface. It's seriously impressive for a family sedan."
So too is the steering. Tingwall continues: "Most midsize car buyers may not appreciate it, but the Passat TDI may have the best steering in the segment. The electrically assisted rack is reasonably quick without being twitchy, and the power assist is really nicely weighted. Some might say this is a frivolous detail in this anti-enthusiast segment, but why settle for spongy, overboosted electric power steering when it's merely a matter of proper calibration?"
Excellent fuel economy, impressive suspension tuning, and perhaps the best steering feel for the class? Right now we're full of praise for the Passat TDI. Check back next month to see if our feelings cool as the summer heats up.