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CleanMPG First Drive Review of the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

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CleanMPG First Drive Review of the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI
CleanMPG First Drive Review of the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI
A true "American" fuel saver for the open road.
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CleanMPG First Drive Review of the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

More efficient, larger and more standard features… And this is just the beginning
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG - July 12, 2011

2012 VW Passat TDI - $25,995 to start and a 31/43 mpgUS city/highway rating.

A vehicle that that will have competitors asking themselves, “When did Volkswagen decide they were going to best our best mid-size offering?”

Chattanooga, TN is considered the "Dynamo of Dixie" but it was a Glenn Miller song entitled "Chattanooga Choo Choo" that made the city famous. Along with the city’s new dynamism and populaces work ethic, there is another addition that will soon add to the city’s illustrious history. Namely the fact that VW’s Billion $USD Investment in Chattanooga is now producing the most fuel efficient midsized car ever built in the U.S.

Old vs. New

VW’s current Passat was never a contender in the US due to its European “inflicted” smaller passenger volume and a price that began south of $27,000. With the initial outlay, VW overshot more than 90% of the midsize buyer’s in the hotly contested, mid-sized marketplace.

That is about to change… Meet the all-new 2012 VW Passat TDI

For 2012, the all-new North American based Passat has been upsized from its European counterpart with a wheelbase extension of almost 4 inches. In doing so, VW added additional front and rear interior passenger volume, and “Best in Class” rear seat legroom.

With the additional wheelbase, VW also moved the center B-Pillar aft in order to maintain balanced proportions of the body to the cabins front A, center B and rear C-pillars.

And the real kicker is the fact the company just so happened to drop the price by an almost unbelievable $7,000 USD to start!

2012 VW Passat TDI Specifications

The 2012 VW Passat TDI will be available in two trim levels with three options packages. Complete specifications, pricing, standard and optional equipment including an exceptional mix of features not found in lesser makes can be found on the 2012 VW Passat TDI - Specifications page.

Passat Exterior

The all-new Passat’s silhouette was not sculpted to wow a perspective owner at first glance with garish flair but instead provides a sedate opulence that will age gracefully over time.

Mid-sized buyers are just now beginning to revel in the latest 4-door sport coupe like exteriors and most come at a price. That would be rear seat headroom and lack of ease to enter/exit. VW followed a slightly more traditional exterior design with additions not normally found in other mid-sized competitors offerings in this price class.

2012 VW Passat Construction detail

Roof to Body laser weld and fill – Very unique and a high quality seam.

The all-new Passat has been enhanced with a sharp horizontally creased beltline that begins where the new 3-slat VW signature grille ends. From the front to the rear of the headlight lenses, across the top of the front quarter, doors and rear quarter, the new signature crease continues into and through the center of the rear tail light lenses. Another less defined but distinct parallel edge sits directly above this signature beltline following along the length of the car from the hood opening, into the door sills and through the top of the rear tail light lenses.

3 Crease design detail looking forward.

Yet another interesting design element runs through the hood and it exudes strength. The aggressive line begins at the outer edge of the new grille work and makes its way both upwards and outwards into the A-Pillar. The addition continues up the A-Pillar, across the top of the doors and ever so softly disappears into the top of the rear quarter.

The best way to “see it” is to “feel it” by running your fingertips across each crease from front to rear.

While I would rather have seen a more VW “CC like” C-pillar and grille work, the 2012 Passat’s new exterior provides an aggressive but stately appearance without having to scream, “I have arrived”.

Passat Interior

The following commentary is based on the SE and SEL trimmed Passat’s as the base S was not available.

The all-new Passat interior provides what should be considered a patented German look and feel right down to the still incorporated ash tray. And like the exterior, the interior incorporates a similar sturdy crease embedded within the upper sill and dash panel inserts running from behind the drivers shoulder through the front panels and around and through the passenger side door.

Accent trim above the dash at windscreen is another “Nice Touch”.

Where the all-new Passat stands literally “hands and feet” above its similarly priced midsized rivals is with the incorporation of a handsomely sculpted upper trim piece just off the bottom of the windscreen. This addition exactly matches the wood décor of the SEL and the silver colored accents within the SE. The trim provides an upscale feel and appearance that exceeds that of some luxury makes that cost tens of thousands more.

The instrument panel gauges and driver controls are all encircled with pewter like chrome accents. The rotary light switch, parking brake handle button, shift lever, window, mirror adjustment and trunk opening switches are also treated with this soft chrome finish.

Regarding the controls operation, they were of typical German high quality feel. The door handles do not bend when you pull them; the knobs have a distinct tactile feel when moving from position to position.

The upgraded Stereo system… With the Passat SEL’s equipped with the top of the line Navigation units and Premium VIII Panasonic/Fender setup, some enjoyment was to be heard. The 2012 Passat’s Chief German product manager staged a 2012 Passat within the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville where we were having dinner on the afternoon of day 2. And all in attendance enjoyed the country tunes that were pouring from the Passat at high volumes as it was clear, concise and this was while sitting 75’ outside the vehicle! From within, when Fender says, “The best seat in the house is now found behind the wheel of a Volkswagen”, you can take it to the bank.

Truly “Best in Class” rear seat leg room.

Driver and Passenger Ergonomics - The drivers seating position with its eight-way adjustability including lumbar support, soft leather wrapped steering wheel and pedal ergonomics for the two plus hours I was behind the wheel felt so “right”. Not too much seat bolstering (I am really beginning to detest that in other manufacturer’s front seats as of late) and plenty of width for a larger driver to sit for hours on end without discomfort.

For the few minutes I spent in the backseat, the all-new Passat provides leg room galore. Even the seat bottoms followed my lower thigh contour thanks to a slightly lower floor and the extra leg room.

The trunk? It consists of a very large 15.9 cu. ft of space! In addition, not only does the 2012 Passat come standard with a full size spare under the trunk floor but it is a full sized, OEM alloy wheel and OEM all-season radial tire under the floor. You are not going see this addition from competitors’ offerings in the highly competitive mid-sized segment at the price the Passat is being offered at.

Full Size OEM wheel and tire under a huge trunk. The picture
of the trunks height and depth do not do its true size justice.

My only interior criticisms are that the plastics used in the steering wheel center, upper and lower dash are a bit “grainy”, the control stalks incorporate too many functions making display and control selection somewhat cumbersome and the NAVI unit(s) are about two years behind the latest state of the art offerings from other suppliers.

All in, a somewhat elegant yet traditional interior feel for VW’s latest offering and one that its owner and passengers are going to enjoy for some time to come.

Passat TDI Drivetrain

The all-new 2012 Passat offers three drivetrain options and we will focus on the fuel saving 2.0L TDI Turbo Diesel given it is the engine that meets our needs.

Besides its respectable 140 HP and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, the all-new Passat TDI’s claim to fame is its “Best in Class” 43 mpg highway rating. And when we speak of its highway rating, the 2012 Passat did not achieve it by using low rolling resistance tires (performance radials are standard equipment), lightweight and specially shaped alloy wheels (although attractive alloys are used) or a multitude of aerodynamic underbody panels, strakes or blended exterior body forms given the somewhat ungainly .31 Cd. The 2012 Passat did it the old fashion way. It earned it thanks to a very fuel efficient drivetrain powered by a 2.0L super diesel!

The 2012 Passat is the first VW passenger car in North America to incorporate an SCR CAT that converts NOx to harmless N2 and water via an onboard Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) storage tank and chemical injection vs. consuming an inordinate amount of diesel fuel to regenerate a lean NOx trap or specialty CAT and without overly aggressive amount of EGR.

The Passat TDI is equipped with a standard tall ratioed 6-speed manual transmission that is 9.89% taller than the optional 6-speed DSG automatic transmission. There were no Base TDI 6-speed sticks available at the 2012 Passat Short lead press launch so it may be some time before we get a chance to drive the taller geared “hand shaker” over a lengthy segment.

The 6-speed DSG incorporates an automatic dual-clutch that instantly engages and disengages gears without the need for a clutch pedal. The results are crisp, quick shifts, without the loss of power that is experienced with a traditional manual gearbox. Except for a few minor shudders when accelerating from a standstill under load, the 6-speed DSG was as seamless as any we have driven recently. Smoother and more efficient than the standard ATs provided by its competitors in the segment in fact.

Passat TDI Preview Drive Fuel Economy Results

In non-setup Passat TDI’s with the 6-speed DSG’s, we paired off to take on separate segments of country and suburban roadways in the mountains of Tennessee and another consisting of mostly Interstate between Chattanooga and Nashville. With temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s, A/C was mandatory taking away another few precious percent although having another journalist in the car at all times, I could not afford to cook “him”. In addition, simple basic and intermediate techniques were employed and the results from the OEM non-calibrated aFCD are shown below.

The First segment consisted with an approximate 1,000’ elevation drop and through small towns, one with as many as 12 stop signs over a 2-mile torturous path:

67.5 mpgUS first segment drive.

The Second was a 0 net elevation gain or loss segment out on the Interstate with similar temperatures which resulted in the following:

60.3 mpgUS second segment drive.

Whether these results are accurate per the OEM odometer calibrated for distance and aFCD for offset or can be bested in a well setup 2012 Passat TDI with a stick remains to be seen. From the preliminary drive, I can only suggest that the moment the 2012 VW Passat TDI is offered to the public, it may in fact be the most fuel efficient highway cruiser of ANY automobile offered in North America sans the 2012 HCH-III which we have not driven yet. In addition, there are going to be quite a few 1,000 + miles on a single tank of fuel distances recorded when behind the wheel of the hyper efficient and large tank equipped 2012 Passat. A range few vehicles can or ever will reach no matter the type of fuel or drivetrain.

Do remember that the 2012 Passat is just 2 cu. ft. shy of a full-sized sedan according to the EPA and nothing that large other than possibly the Sonata Hybrid can keep it in its sights when it comes to open field cruising out on the super slab.

Regarding DEF consumption, it is suspected to be about 2% of diesel fuel consumption which at the going rate of $2.69 per gallon at some retail fuel stations is almost but not entirely insignificant. DEF is included for the first 3-years or 36,000 miles and only adds an additional $1.50 or so per 1,000-miles traveled from that point forward.

Passat Ride and Handling

A mid-sized automobile with a wheel base of over 110 in., independent suspension at all four corners and performance oriented radials is going to supply what you would expect from a well put together German engineered touring sedan. Compliant enough with a sporty edge and when push came to shove, a well balanced corner carver.

The electronic assisted power steering provides good feel from slow speed parking lots to far beyond the PSL out on the Interstate. On center feel was good with little effort needed to maintain a ruler straight line down the road.

Coming down one of the small mountain ridges with a 6% downhill grade into a tight decreasing radius right hander, I allowed the Passat to break loose just enough to get a feel for an accident avoidance maneuver. All 4-wheels broke and recovered with hardly an input from me. With the nose pointed down by a few degrees, weight distribution was probably a bit biased to the front so until we can do our own empty parking lot driving, I can only suggest that the Passat will not disappoint. In addition, body roll was slight and not a hindrance when negotiating the downhill switchbacks somewhat aggressively.

All in, the all-new Passat feels like a sports sedan and while you will rarely if ever take it to its limits, as a daily driver it will bring a smile to your face each time a smooth chicane presents itself

Passat Safety

The 2012 VW Passat has not yet been tested by either the IIHS or NHTSA. With the latest new VW vehicles being awarded “Top Safety Picks” by the IIHS and earning 5 stars on the new tougher 2011 NHTSA crash tests, expect the new 2012 Passat to earn the same.

Safety features include Volkswagen’s much advertised Intelligent Crash Response Systems (ICRS). In the event of an accident, the fuel supply and electronic equipment are automatically shut down, the doors unlock, the battery terminal disconnects from the alternator and the hazard lights are switched on.

The Passat also comes with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), electronic stabilization program (ESP), ABS with brake assist (BA), Hill Climb Assist (with manual transmission) (HCA), front, side and side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, whiplash-minimized headrests and backrest and a rigid high strength steel body structure to protect the driver and passengers.

Passat Preliminary Conclusions

As previously discussed, VW’s Billion $USD Investment was specifically slated to build the new 2012 VW Passat. By doing so, not only will the all-new 2012 Passat TDI be the most fuel efficient sedan built in America, it will contain over 85% domestic content and should help power VW’s plans to significantly increase market share over the intermediate and longer term.

While the all-new Passat is but one model in the VW lineup, the generous array of standard luxury features and appointments will make it a force to be reckoned with in the mid-size realm. And all for a price that will have many manufacturers wondering, “How did they do that?”
By rfruth on 07-12-2011, 09:01 PM
Thumbs down Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

between trying to find ULSD fuel & dodging VW's well known problems I would pass
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By e90diesel on 07-12-2011, 10:30 PM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

rfruth, All hwy diesel sold in the USA is now
ULSD, it is readily available.

Nice write up Wayne, thanks!
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By ALS on 07-13-2011, 09:54 AM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

Very nice article Wayne, I'd like to see what she would do on a long highway run. For some reason 43 mpg seems really low for what I suspect is a car that is easily capable of 50-55 mpg at 60 mph.
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By PaleMelanesian on 07-13-2011, 10:12 AM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

There's lots of nice stuff here, but what caught my eye was this:

It has the now-standard rear quarter that continues up and over the doors and the A-pillar. I had my car dinged just forward of the rear wheel and they had to replace that whole panel. That means removing and reinstalling the windshield, too!

Not only that, but this detail scares me. If you have a rear quarter panel ding like I did, now you have to replace the roof as well as the side panel. $$$
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By rfruth on 07-13-2011, 12:38 PM
Question Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

So is "automotive diesel" now pretty much ULSD (did the switch to low surfer go as planned) or is it a regional thing ?
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By seftonm on 07-13-2011, 02:38 PM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

ULSD is pretty much everywhere, it's probably a challenge to find diesel that's not ULSD.
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By brick on 07-13-2011, 08:21 PM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

The only thing that would stop me is VW's reputation for [un]reliability. That, and the higher cost of diesel. Otherwise I like the idea of a comfy eurocruiser with that kind of fuel consumption.
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By dr61 on 07-14-2011, 11:56 AM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

Originally Posted by rfruth View Post
So is "automotive diesel" now pretty much ULSD (did the switch to low surfer go as planned) or is it a regional thing ?
ULSD was introduced regionally in the US, but as of Dec. 2010 it is the only allowable (non-bio) diesel fuel for highway use in the entire US, including Alaska. In some areas (Oregon among others), various blends of ULSD and biodiesel are mandated.
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By xcel on 07-14-2011, 12:20 PM
Re: CleanMPG Previews the All-New 2012 VW Passat TDI

Hi Andrew:

You do not replace the roof; they cut out a section of panel. This method of construction is not that different from other manufacturers except for the ultra clean laser welded seam that is created across the entire roof edge and a smoothing filler that is baked in with the base primer vs. most that still spot weld and cover the mess with a rubber strip for cosmetics and a water seal. In particular, you have to run your fingertips down the length of the seam and the creases to feel what W accomplished. None of this is a simple crease but a very unique multiple contour edge leading into the crease from above and below.

I also liked the new windshield inlay. Most manufacturers are heading to this for cost and simplicity and it just looks cleaner.

Rfruth, ULSD is the only diesel I know how to purchase nowadays. High sulfur is "probably" available at many locations but not at the gas stations I have visited recently.

Tim, the reliability is a top priority for VW because they know there is a history. All I can say is the car did not squeak, rattle or twist and I was hitting it hard (well in NICE-On’s and Fuel cut hard anyway ) coming out of that mountain range!

There are only two mid-size vehicles I would consider right now. That being the 2012 VW Passat TDI w/ a stick or DSG based AT and the Sonata with a stick or Hybrid.

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