How best to send off our Four Seasons Passat TDI after twelve months? A road trip -- or better yet, two of them.
Motor gopher/office assistant Tom Foley set off in the Passat for a tour of the East Coast, heading toward Washington, D.C., before continuing south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
"I left Ann Arbor on Thursday afternoon and made a direct, 520-mile trip to Washington, D.C., with only one stop for fuel. I was immediately impressed by the Passat's comfortable but not overly bolstered seats and its intuitive steering-wheel controls. A couple clicks with my right thumb allowed me to scroll through Bluetooth media, trip computer data, and radio stations. The center stack looks a bit sparse at first, but the intuitive and user-friendly layout of the buttons makes it easy to use the entertainment system.
"The navigation system, on the other hand, had a few issues. The navigation lady squawked at me several times on I-80 in Ohio, as if I needed to make an immediate and severe deviation from the route. As I looked ahead, however, I saw only four straight lanes of concrete and nary an exit sign in sight. Glancing down at the navigation screen, I realized the chatter coming from the nav system was merely a premature warning to stay on I-80 and not to bear right on an upcoming off ramp. This was an event that repeated itself several times throughout the trip and is something I have not run into in other vehicles. Not only did the navigation system seem overly talkative during highway jaunts, the screen appeared to lack detailed information when directing me through a maze of small Georgetown side streets.
"Even so, the Passat TDI does a lot of things quite well. Its immense range, for instance, never fails to impress." Neither did its fuel economy. The Passat TDI never averaged less than 37.5 mpg on any of the trip's four legs and averaged about 39.9 mpg across the entire 1900-mile journey.
Shortly after Foley returned from his adventure, associate web editor Donny Nordlicht scooped up the Passat TDI's keys and made a dash for Tennessee to visit friends in Nashville and our Passat's birthplace in Chattanooga.
"This was not my first road trip in our Four Seasons Passat. I took it to New York for Thanksgiving, so I know a thing or two about long drives in this car. I found myself noticing a couple of the same things after another 1400-plus-mile stint behind the wheel. Most notable is long-term comfort: the cabin is airy, spacious, and light, but the seats are hard and become very uncomfortable after about five or six hours; it's as though a switch has been flipped and you can't shake the discomfort and fatigue without a good night's sleep.
"I also continue to be amazed with the Passat's range. This time, the trip computer indicated fuel economy between 44 and 48 mpg, depending on speed. I understand the government's attempt to get people to drive 55 mph -- on the drive down my average speed was 69 mph and fuel economy was 44-45 mpg, while on the drive home my average speed was 10 mph lower and fuel economy was 2-3 mpg higher. More impressive, however, was the range. I didn't feel like I pushed the Passat any more than I did back in November, but the extra 1-2 mpg meant that I was able to drive from Ann Arbor to Nashville and then from Nashville to Chattanooga before the fuel light came on. My friend who accompanied me to Chattanooga was blown away by the fact that I was able to drive just shy of 700 miles on a single tank -- without even trying to conserve fuel. In fact, including the stop at the very beginning of the trip, I filled up only three times: Ann Arbor, Chattanooga, and in Ohio on my way home.
"I'm not amazed with the DSG's shift quality. I'm not the only one to have complained about this, but the hesitancy to shift -- combined with turbo lag -- means that darting through slow construction traffic can be a scary experience. You turn the wheel and hit the throttle, and the car inches forward until the turbo spools. It's not a fun experience and, when there's a car coming up the lane you just entered, it can be hair-raising. The same goes for the Passat's size -- I had no problem parallel parking the car in New York City, but I must have gotten too comfortable with the Passat's length, since I managed to back into my friends' neighbor's mailbox as I was leaving to go home. It looks to be a pretty easy PDR fix, but I managed to put a sizeable north-south dent in the trunk lid of the Passat. (Sorry.) That said, rumor has it that a backup camera option will be coming to the sedan in the near future, which would have kept this "oops" from happening.
"Hitting that mailbox wasn't the only oops I had with the Passat during my trip. I discovered that if you hit the unlock button on the fob twice (to unlock all doors) and then open the trunk, it doesn't count as opening a door and the car will relock itself after about 60 seconds. Want to know how I made this important discovery? Of course you do. While shuffling stuff around in the trunk, I pulled the handle to flip down the rear seat. Then I closed the trunk and went to open the rear door…only to discover that it was locked. The trunk was also locked, and I had managed to leave the keys to the Passat and the keys to my friend's company car -- which had lock-out tools in its trunk -- in the VW's trunk." D'oh.
"Speaking of electronics, the Bluetooth system is underwhelming. Almost everyone I spoke to complained that they couldn't hear me well, and the voice commands failed more often than they were successful. On a positive note, it is nice that the VW's system lets you speak contact names without downloading your phonebook to the car. Part of the problems with people on the other end hearing me could have to do with road noise -- despite being off its winter tires, the Passat's cabin is still pretty loud on the highway. While at the factory, I watched them put the sound deadening into the car: it's pretty thin and there isn't much of it.
"Even with its faults, I will miss the Passat when it leaves our care. In the two-plus years I've been with Automobile Magazine, it is probably one of the Four Seasons cars that has surprised me the most. While my expectations weren't set low by any means -- I expected a composed, comfortable, efficient sedan -- this unassuming gray VW delighted me every time I slipped behind the wheel. We often find the flaws and grow tired with a car as the miles roll by, but this has not been the case with the Passat. Each stint behind the wheel feels as fresh, new, and as exciting as it did when it was brand new."