2012 VW Passat diesel: Smooth, powerful and stingy

2012 Volkswagen Passat

2012 Volkswagen Passat

It’s hard to believe anyone is against more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, but there are many people who don’t see hybrids and electric cars as the be-all and end-all for automotive transportation at this time.

These vehicles are making small inroads into the mainstream conscience, but the complicated hybrid powerplants (including the extended-range gas/electric Chevrolet Volt) and the pure-electric vehicles suffer in just about any cost comparison with a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Further, the pure electric vehicles have the added disadvantage of a very short-range between the necessary hours-long battery recharges.

However,  there is a simple step forward in fuel efficiency that has none of the downsides of hybrid and electric cars except a relatively modest initial cost penalty and the extra price of the fuel, which generally compares with premium gasoline.

Yes, I’m talking about diesel power.

It, too, may not be the ultimate in clean, efficient transportation, but it offers today’s buyers an easy transition to greater fuel economy in a package that  contains most of the pluses of gasoline power and almost none of the minuses.

The point was driven home to me recently when I attended a press introduction for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat, which is being built in the German manufacturer’s spanking new $1 billion facility a dozen miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tenn.

Production is ramping up right now for diesel- and gasoline-fueled Passats and VW hopes eventually to produce as many as 250,000 a year for sale in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The German manufacturer is not convinced that many U.S. buyers will surrender their long-held prejudices against diesel power, so it is offering the Passat three ways.

Serban Boldea, product manager, estimated that 75 percent will choose the base gasoline engine, and the remaining 25 percent will split evenly between the turbodiesel and top-of-the-line V-6 models.

Here is what the German manufacturer has in store for U. S. buyers

The made-in-the-U.S.A Passat is larger than the updated European model, bigger than the previous American Passat that is no longer on sale, and has features the Germans believe will better suit American tastes.

Nevertheless, Boldea emphasized  that the sedan was “designed, engineered and tested in Germany” to assure that it has the proper driving dynamics to set it apart from the rest of the field.

The front-wheel-drive Passat will be available in three trim levels — S, SE and SEL — for a total of 15 equipment choices.

The base model, which will range from $19,995 to $29,895, is powered by Volkswagen’s familiar 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower five-cylinder gasoline engine teamed with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

At the top of the price and power list is the Passat featuring a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 gasoline engine. It come only with the six-speed, dual-clutch transmission and can average up to 28 mpg on the highway. Prices will range from $28,995 to $32,950.

In between, more or less, is the peppy 2-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel (TDI), which will range from $25,995 to $32,195. Transmission choices will be a standard six-speed manual or a six-speed, dual-clutch auto/manual transmission. Driven conservatively, this sedan can average 43 miles per gallon on the highway and go nearly 800 miles on a tank of fuel.