Shortly after the Four Seasons 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI returned from a brief visit to New York in late November, we sent it back to the empire state -- this time for an extended stay.
It's ironic to think that it was the Chinese who schooled the Europeans on the importance of rear-seat legroom.
We’ve had the luxury of growing familiar with the Passat over its eight months in Michigan, but Automobile Magazine’s two New York–based editors have not. So we made arrangements to send our diesel-powered Volkswagen their way. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio offered to hand off the Passat TDI to Jamie Kitman on a planned trip to New York City.
"VW took the job of Americanizing the Passat very seriously," writes Kitman. "It is large, it is bland, and in its essential unadorned-ness, it fairly reeks American car. Rear seat legroom is extraordinary. It's ironic to think that it was the Chinese who schooled the Europeans on the importance of rear-seat legroom, which once was a virtue of so many American cars."
Senior editor Joe Lorio, who also spent time with the Passat in New York, agrees. “This made-in-America, designed-for-Americans VW Passat seems very much like an American sedan. The straight-edged exterior styling may be unexciting, but it emphasizes the car’s length and width. So, too, does the interior design, with a dash that is as flat and featureless as the Great Plains. Open a rear door, however, and you’ll see the kind of wide-open spaces America is famous for. Cabin materials are acceptable -- a little more -- but in the true American tradition, you’re paying for quantity, not quality. The Passat is a big, roomy car for the money. What could be more American than that?”
Well, subtle cost cutting, for one. “As previously noted, rear-seat legroom is plentiful, but my passengers noted that they had no vents or power outlet,” Lorio reports. “Similarly, the trunk is large, but be careful not to crush your chattels with its gooseneck hinges. Usually, if a carmaker goes this cheaper route, they at least enclose the hinges so they don’t crush your belongings. Not here. The gooseneck hinges, the missing rear-seat vents and power outlet, the lack of a wiper defroster element in the windshield, and the missing traction-control on/off button are all indicative of how VW has subtly cheapened the new Passat.”
Both Kitman and Lorio are impressed, however, with the efficiency of the Passat’s diesel engine. “With the optional TDI engine, the Passat is surely economical,” acknowledges Kitman. “Driving in and out of New York City traffic day after day, it returned a very respectable 38.5 mpg for me, range that really makes a difference for those who don’t relish pumping gas (or diesel).”
“We headed an hour or so upstate to do the family-holiday thing,” writes Lorio. “On the way up, a trip of mostly gentle parkway driving, the Passat got an indicated 42 mpg. Wow. Coming home, via a more suburban route, it was 40 mpg. Wow, again. The fuel economy is truly impressive. We topped off the tank upstate, since diesel was a relative bargain up there: only 10 cents a gallon more than premium, whereas it can be 50 cents more down here. Depending on what the spread is where you live, that can make a big difference whether or not the TDI’s stellar fuel economy is worth the higher fuel costs.”
Where opinions differ is in regard to the Passat’s steering. “The sweeping curves of two-lane roads through the foothills upstate, as well as the narrow winding lanes of the Taconic State Parkway, gave me a better appreciation of the Passat’s very well tuned steering,” Lorio says. “You would never guess that this is an electrically assisted system, as it’s far better weighted and more natural feeling than the typical mid-size sedan’s. And although the Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires haven’t been great in the snow, they at least appear to have little diminished the steering precision, the way winter tires often do.”
Kitman, however, was less impressed. “The new Passat is a basic appliance that rolls down the road doing everything quietly and smoothly insulating the driver from the pavement and from any sense that one might have actual fun driving. To be sure, it is that ever so little amount less numb than a Buick. It’s just enough to help one remember that they’re in an automobile that Germans laid hands on.”
“The new, American-built Passat is likely a more satisfying car for an enthusiast to own and drive than a Toyota Camry or a Hyundai Sonata,” Kitman concludes. “But let’s not put too fine a point on it. That’s sort of like saying a three-day-old tuna sandwich is better than a four-day-old tuna sandwich. It’s hard to imagine enthusiasts clamoring for a Passat driving experience. Once that wasn’t so true.”