2012 VW Passat diesel: Smooth, powerful and stingy

Although it generates only 140 horsepower, its 236 pound-feet of torque assure that it has the acceleration required by the bulk of American drivers.

While Boldea’s estimates of Passat sales may be correct, the anticipated product mix did not square with the observations of the assembled journalists, who were mostly in agreement that the turbodiesel model was the most appealing choice among the three.

Our initial opinions were formed on a picturesque drive from Chattanooga to Nashville that included lengthy stretches of interstates; winding, somewhat hilly two lane-macadam; and some afternoon rush-hour traffic.

On my stint behind the wheel, I was impressed by the quietness of the diesel engine, its instantly available pickup, the vehicle’s overall handling competence, the nicely balanced steering, the smooth-shifting automatic transmission and the overall ride quality.

My driving partner and I did not monitor fuel mileage, but one member of the caravan actually recorded 44 miles per gallon.

Anyone considering a new Passat should make it a point to spend some time behind the wheel of a TDI sedan. I’m almost certain many of their prejudices, formed from those slow and smelly diesel cars of more than 30 years ago, will disappear.

In addition, those who believe that diesel fuel is inconvenient to access because of its limited availability at service stations would likely be pleasantly surprised.

I have owned several diesel cars, and tested many others, and have always been able to find the fuel within a few miles of my house and along a route I frequently traveled.

Bottom line: I do not believe there is a downside to a diesel car at this time.

During the introduction, I also spent time in the driver’s seat of a top-of-the-line six-cylinder model. The driving experience was basically flawless, but the smooth and quiet V-6 seemed mostly to equalize the Passat with its V-6 powered competition, whereas the diesel car set it apart and seemed more in tune with the times.

Unfortunately, I missed out on time behind the wheel of one of the five-cylinder models. I can only report the reactions of one driver, who felt its power was merely adequate.

All of the cars on hand for the journalists were premium models with beautiful, well-made interiors and top-of-the-line features. The Passats clearly felt more luxurious than some of the other mid-size cars on the market.

Boldea ticked off a laundry list of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a comprehensive list of safety equipment and a three-year, no-charge maintenance program.

Audiophiles will appreciate the optional Fender sound system. It brings in-the-room sound to all music with 400 watts channeled through its nine speakers.

And, while it was not mentioned specifically, prospective buyers will no doubt like the 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space in the Passat trunk.

So, Volkswagen is offering three Passat models with which it hopes to lure buyers away from the old standards from Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and the newer choices from Chevrolet, Ford and Hyundai.

The gasoline-powered Volkswagens have appeal based on price or performance. But from my perspective, the diesel–powered Passat is really the best choice for a fun-to-drive, efficient, fairly priced, mid-size family car.