We closed our last update wondering how our Four Seasons Volkswagen Passat TDI would fare in colder months. We're still a few weeks away from the official start to Winter, but November's oscillating temperatures did provide a few occasions to see how the Passat performs once the mercury falls.
Some of us have noticed the Passat is a bit sluggish to start in cold ambient temperatures - but that's less a fault of the car, and more a product of us learning to live with a diesel engine again. "I had the chance to drive the Passat twice in near-zero conditions," write associate Web editor Jake Holmes. "Both times I had no issue starting the car - I simply held the key in the accessory position until the glow-plug telltale indicator went out (which took about 15 seconds on one 32-degree day), turned the key to start and the engine turned over as quickly as it did in warm weather."
We were bracing for a long delay between a cold start and a warm interior, but the Passat surprised us. "I was a bit nervous about how long it would take to warm the enormous interior of the Passat TDI after our little Jetta TDI took so long to warm," notes senior Web editor Phil Floraday. "Today, it was close to the freezing point, and I was amazed at how quickly the car warmed up. As an added bonus, the heated seat also got up to bun-burning temperature within a few blocks." Holmes seconded Floraday's verdict, noting the heater "blows warm air before the coolant gauge ever moves." This quick heat is courtesy of an auxiliary heater -- much like the one on the Audi A3 TDI, an electric element placed before the cabin vents helps warm the interior before the engine ever can -- an elegant solution to the problem of a diesel engine taking a long time to warm up.
"I understand that all snow tires will dull the steering feel of any car, but this is ridiculous."
In keeping with our tradition of fitting the Four Seasons fleet with winter rubber, we picked up a set of Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 235/45R-18 98V tires from the Tire Rack, Automobile Magazine's official wheel and tire supplier, for $978.88 (mounting added an extra $100 to that total). The PA4 is a new evolution from the existing Alpin PA3, albeit with a little more aggressive tread pattern, which should help increase traction in snow. Associate Web editor Donny Nordlicht immediately noticed they are far noisier than our stock rubber. Moreover, they also reduce the Passat's laudable steering feel.
"I understand that all snow tires will dull the steering feel of any car, but this is ridiculous," writes Nordlicht. "One of the attributes of the Passat we all love is its natural and communicative steering. With these tires, the only thing transmitted from the front wheels is a constant vibration at highway speeds. I had a colleague drive the car, and he remarked about how all steering feel had been erased by our snow tires."
Thankfully, a change in tires and season hasn't affected the Passat's fuel consumption all that much. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Nordlicht drove home to New York and back, using a single tank of diesel fuel for each leg.
"Both times, as I was about 10 miles from my destination, the low-fuel light came on. I had already traveled about 620 miles on a single tank of diesel each time. I averaged about 24-25 mpg in the city and 40-43 mpg on the highway. The Passat TDI is rated at 30/40 mpg, city/highway. And no, I wasn't babying it."
We'll have a chance to make that same journey once again with the Passat, as it's scheduled to spend the holiday season in the hands of our New York-based editors. Stay tuned to see how our Passat TDI weathers winter on the East Coast.