January was a busy month for our Four Seasons Volkswagen Passat TDI. Not only did it return from an extended vacation in New York, but it also crested the 20,000-mile mark and went in for a VW-prescribed check-up at the dealer. February, however, was rather quiet.
The Passat’s only major road trip came courtesy of senior editor Todd Lassa, who used it to trek to the Chicago Auto Show. “The Passat has no pretense of being a ‘sport sedan,’ but that makes it a good ride for the three and a half hours or so to Chicago on straight I-94 and along the Skyway. The diesel makes this family car special, though. I left Ann Arbor with a half-full tank and didn’t refuel until after the auto show when I crossed the Illinois border into Wisconsin. Being able to go that far without having to stand outside during a Great Lakes winter to fill up makes the price of the clean diesel engine worth it.”
Lassa piloted the Passat TDI to Milwaukee to visit relatives and didn’t refuel the VW again until after he’d returned to Michigan. “I totaled 646.1 miles on a tank and 38.9 mpg, although that falls a bit short of the 43 or 44 mpg I achieved last year with a Passat TDI equipped with the six-speed manual. That was also for the Chicago show, so weather wasn’t necessarily a factor in the difference.
“The Passat is a pretty relaxed turnpike cruiser, although it’s a bit too stiff over freeway expansion joints despite a generally cushy ride. The sunroof cover rattles a bit if you open it to a certain point. It’s an unpretentious, long-haul American turnpike cruiser. Pump up the driver’s seat lumbar support, sit back, and let public radio melt away the miles.”
Copy editor Rusty Blackwell averaged 35.2 mpg with the Passat during a weekend trip to Frankenmuth with his family. “The Passat has more rear legroom and a larger trunk than just about anything in this price range, and those characteristics served my family well, making it easy to strap the kids into their seats and eliminating any concern about running out of luggage space for our many-changes-of-clothes excursion. The gooseneck trunk hinges, though, caused me to squash a Styrofoam container of restaurant food that my kids couldn’t finish. These hinges seem like a real cheap-out, but lots of other mid-size cars have these same geese in the trunk.”
Mother Nature allowed us to expose our Passat to some of winter’s worst, including several inches of snow and temperatures dropping into the single digits. “The car had been sitting for more than 24 hours in my driveway,” writes managing editor Jen Misaros, “when I started it up to go visit some friends. The temperature was about 15 degrees but it had dipped below that overnight. The Passat was a bit reluctant to catch – it took probably almost 10 seconds before it finally fired up.” (Top tip: wait until the glow plug light goes out before engaging the starter). “On the road, to say that engine performance and acceleration were negatively affected by the cold is an understatement. The relative peppiness that the turbo-diesel normally has off the line was absent: getting up to speed was a much slower, and much noisier, affair.”
Associate Web editor Jake Holmes didn’t encounter Misaros’s starting issues but did note that power falls by the wayside as the mercury drops. “I had no problems starting or driving in cold weather,” writes Holmes, “but power output and responsiveness are reduced until the engine warms up. The transmission also seems less eager to ‘creep’ when cold.”
Winter’s precipitation also brought our first unscheduled service appointment. We’d been noticing some rubbing from the front of the car, and, sure enough, the passenger’s-side front fender liner was making light contact with the tire. According to our dealer, the problem was with the foam beneath the liner, which had become waterlogged from melting snow/ ice build-up and swelled. Our dealer techs claim they haven’t seen this before and are replacing the damaged foam under warranty.