War­ren Brown

War­ren Brown re­views the 2015 Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat — a ride that’s grown passe.

The Washington Post Sunday - - AUTOMOTIVE - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

The Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat sedan, now in its eighth gen­er­a­tion of ser­vice, is passe.

You’ll note that I used the word “ser­vice” in­stead of “life” or “ex­is­tence” in re­fer­ring to the car’s age. That is be­cause there is noth­ing passe about the Pas­sat’s con­tin­ued re­li­a­bil­ity, safety, dura­bil­ity and over­all per­for­mance.

That is es­pe­cially true of the model driven for this week’s col­umn, the 2015 Pas­sat TDI SEL Pre­mium, a dieselpow­ered, front-wheel-drive, mid­size fam­ily sedan as­sem­bled in Chat­tanooga, Tenn.

If the fi­nal assem­bly point sur­prises you, it shouldn’t. Volk­swa­gen, like most global au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers, tries to build its ve­hi­cles where it sells them. It is good eco­nom­ics and even bet­ter pol­i­tics, and it partly ex­plains why the Pas­sat, in pro­duc­tion in one form or another since 1973, vis­ually ap­pears to be grow­ing a bit long in the tooth, par­tic­u­larly in cabin de­sign.

I was sur­prised by sev­eral pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing my lovely wife, Mary Anne, who re­marked that the Pas­sat’s cabin “feels old” or “seems dated” in com­par­i­son with those of other new cars, par­tic­u­larly those pro­duced by Hyundai and Kia of South Korea.

I be­lieve the crit­ics have a point. Hyundai and Kia are ge­niuses at pre­sen­ta­tion. Their cars look good and feel fresh and dif­fer­ent in­side and out. You are ex­cited to get into them, even if you wind up not lik­ing them, be­cause of their high ini­tial ap­peal.

Not so the Pas­sat. In terms of styling, the car is old-school, con­ser­va­tive. It is so main­stream and in­of­fen­sive in de­sign, it could be sold in the mid­dle of a war zone to com­bat­ants on both sides.

Volk­swa­gen seems to be do­ing ex­actly that. Pas­sat sedans are avail­able all over the Mid­dle East, and in China and Africa, as well as Europe and North Amer­ica. It is a fam­ily sedan dif­fi­cult to dis­like — com­fort­able, prac­ti­cal, safe, fuel-ef­fi­cient and rea­son­ably af­ford­able for many of the world’s gain­fully em­ployed buy­ers.

Af­ter the first 110 miles of a nearly 300-mile drive from our eldest daugh­ter’s home in Cornwall, N.Y., to our res­i­dence in North­ern Vir­ginia, the Pas­sat-styling com­plaints dis­ap­peared. Crit­i­cism was re­placed by com­pli­ments such as: “Wow, this car re­ally has a nice ride” and “You still have three-fourths tank of fuel? That’s pretty good!”

That ac­tu­ally is very good for a mid­size sedan car­ry­ing two adults, an 80-pound cho­co­late Labrador, an es­ti­mated 200 pounds of cargo and run­ning at an av­er­age high­way speed of 75 mph. The car was de­liv­er­ing its promised 42 miles per gallon on the high­way, or bet­ter. And it was not a wimpy per­for­mance for the sake of fuel ef­fi­ciency. The Pas­sat’s 2-liter, low-sul­fur diesel en­gine, linked to a sixspeed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, yields a max­i­mum 150 horse­power and 236 pound-feet of torque.

That torque, the en­gine’s twist­ing power that moves the front wheels, is the thing, es­pe­cially on steep climbs. It is re­lent­less. It moves the car with nei­ther whine nor groan all the way to the top of the hill.

The Pas­sat might not be fash­ion­able in terms of cur­rent styling trends. I don’t re­ally care. The car takes se­ri­ously adult con­cerns about safety, re­li­a­bil­ity and fuel ef­fi­ciency. I ap­pre­ci­ate that. I think it looks okay, too.

But I long for the day when automotive diesel tech­nol­ogy — ma­chines and fuel — will be priced more rea­son­ably in the neigh­bor­hood with ga­so­line prod­ucts.

Auto in­dus­try ex­perts con­tend that diesel is at least 30 per­cent more ef­fi­cient than ga­so­line. Hooray for that! But diesel fuel still costs about 30 cents more per gallon than reg­u­lar ga­so­line in many places. And diesel cars aren’t cheap. The Pas­sat TDI sedan starts at $27,095 — some $5,655 more than the price of the base ga­so­line Pas­sat.

That is some­thing to think about when cal­cu­lat­ing fu­el­cost sav­ings.

VOLK­SWA­GEN

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