2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI – High Efficiency Without the Hybrid Premium

2012 VW Passat TDI by AaronT

With an entry-level MSRP and fuel efficiency to rival most hybrids, the diesel-powered Passat surprises with its true-to-form German handling, making it pure driving joy.

The manufacturer says

With Volkswagen TDI, you'll get the performance, style, safety, and quality of a turbocharged German vehicle. It's just that you'll get those qualities in a high-mileage vehicle.


  • Manufacturer: Volkswagen
  • Year, Model:2012 Passat TDI
  • Class, Type: Mid-sized sedan
  • Propulsion system: Turbocharged Direct Injection diesel
  • Vehicle range: 820 miles +
  • Fuel(s): Diesel
  • Base Price: $25,995
  • MSRP as tested: $32,195
  • Availability:
  • Now, nationally


For a mid-sized sedan at this price point, the car over delivers. The engine is a 2.0-liter in-line four cylinder diesel with four valves per cylinder, turbocharged, with direct injection (TDI). It meets both European and North American emissions standards using Volkswagen's AdBlue after-treatment. The diesel makes the signature European “putty-purr” sound so often associated with the diesels so popular there. The Passat is front wheel drive with an amazingly smooth and well-tuned 6-speed transmission (available both automatic and manual).

The seating and interior room are very comfortable for a car this size. Most smaller sedans such as the Passat suffer from cramping as designers attempt to utilize every square inch. The Passat TDI has ample interior space and comfortable seating, allowing even someone over six feet such as myself to easily sit in the back row to ride. Three average people can comfortably sit in the back.

The trunk is huge and the seats fold flat to allow pass-through for even more storage options. Without the seats down, a standard-sized mountain bike with the front wheel removed fits easily in the boot. For the curious, the AdBlue refill port is also located in the trunk.

Entering the freeway or getting up to speed on the highway can be either smooth and efficient or can be a seat-pressing, G-forced launch, depending on driver discretion. The amount of power produced by this little diesel is shocking to those who might not expect it. Despite getting 43 miles per gallon (EPA) on the highway, the Passat TDI puts out the kind of get-up-and-go you'd expect from an 8-cylinder beast. Top speed is limited to 118 for the U.S. versions, if you're wondering.

Braking is smooth and effortless and handling us superb for a vehicle in this segment. True to its German roots, the Passat has stiff, responsive turning, but handles road shocks and bumps extremely well, marking the suspension as somewhere between sport tuned and mushy. It's an excellent balance that drivers will appreciate.

Drivers will also appreciate the consolidated and nicely fitted instrument cluster. Analog dials give precise information on RPM, speed, etc. and are supplemented by the central LCD screen which shows cruise settings, gear position, and other details depending on vehicle operation. It's well laid out and gives what the driver needs in a glance.

What we like

Very high-mileage, low-maintenance car that easily competes with hybrids and even some plug-ins for its versatility, cost-effectiveness, and comfort. At many thousands cheaper than a Chevrolet Volt and much larger than it and most other hybrids on the market that achieve 43+mpg on the highway, the Passat TDI is definitely a contender.

Extreme German driveability is inherent in this car. So much so that this, along with its price point and efficiency, won it the Motor Trend Car of the Year award for 2012.

What we don't

Maintenance costs are higher than gasoline simply because of the AdBlue® and after-treatment that must be added every 10,000 or so miles. This adds the equivalent of another oil change to the car's costs.

Premium options are a must for those serious about a great driving experience in the Passat. While the base model is great, adding the Fender Premium Audio® and higher-end interior treatments pushes the price tag up.


This is a great car at a great price point with awesome efficiency. For those who don't live in urban environments and need a more versatile, family-friendly sedan, this is definitely a near-perfect choice.

Test Period Length and Limitations
We drove the Passat TDI for about a week, putting just under 500 miles on the car. It was driven in everyday situations on highways, country roads, with and without children and carseats, etc.

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