While the rest of the mid-size world moves toward a fuel-stingy future with four-cylinder-only engine lineups, Volkswagen is adding a six-cylinder back into the Passat family after a three-year absence. The 3.6-liter, narrow-angle V-6 makes 280 hp and 258 lb-ft and is mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The marketers say it's what the segment wants, but anybody who's driven Hyundai's 274-hp, 35-highway-mpg Sonata Turbo can make a compelling argument otherwise. Although the 200-hp version of the VW 2.0T is weak by today's standards, the Volkswagen Group has other applications where the 2.0T produces more than 260 hp and 250 lb-ft. The VR6 wasn't on hand for our test drive, but the decision not to use the turbo four-cylinder leaves us sore on a philosophical point. The company that committed to the turbo four long before Ford or Hyundai or BMW got religion is now forsaking its best engine for a market that is rapidly disappearing.
The peace offering is Volkswagen's superb 2.0-liter turbo-diesel. At 31/43 mpg, the 2.0 TDI is not as efficient as either the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, but it's an engine that, compared with the other fuel-economy specials, carries the virtues of big torque and big spirit. The choice of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic is a reminder that this diesel is the driving man's alternative to a hybrid. It delivers a broad band of turbocharged thrust scaled to a diesel's truncated tachometer and complemented by the crisp, full-throttle upshifts of the DSG transmission.
The Passat's weight (a reasonable 3400 pounds in TDI spec) necessitates the 2.0-liter diesel's first use of a urea tank to clean up exhaust emissions. It will need to be refilled at 10,000-mile intervals. Curiously, the largest and most expensive of the TDI cars is less refined than what you get with the Golf TDI. In the Passat, the engine is both louder and transmits more vibration into the cabin, and at every stop there's the audible slap of liquid -- either fuel or urea -- sloshing against the front of the tank.