2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium Review
Just like wine, we love it, even if it makes us a little sleepy.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: February 25th, 2015
This is a Volkswagen Passat. It is a car. It has an engine.
If our prose needed to match the general feeling we received from any given car, the line above is how we'd have to write about the Volkswagen Passat TDI. It's a great car, for many reasons that we will explain below, but heavens to Betsy, it's boring. It's just so ... German. It's precise to a fault; when it calls a phone-sex hotline, it asks the person on the other line to read Excel spreadsheets.
There aren't very many changes between the 2014 and 2015 models, save for the engine. Even though the specs show just a 10-horsepower bump, as well as increased fuel economy, the engine is actually entirely new. Even something exciting like that doesn't feel terribly exciting in the Passat TDI. But again, excitement isn't necessarily the point; if it were, then the focus wouldn't be on engineering the car to near perfection.
The SEL is the top-of-the-line trim for the Passat, and as such, our tester was outfitted with plenty of upgrades to its standard levels of luxury and technology. Keyless entry was a welcome addition in the dead of winter (no need to fumble around for keys), and the power-adjustable seats made finding the ideal seating position a breeze. The wood-grain interior trim is nice, but considering how monotone the rest of the interior is, it's still nothing eye-popping.
The seats are comfortable and nicely styled - the car's gas tank can take us to the eastern seaboard without needing to fill up, so plush seats are necessary to keep the driver's spine from disintegrating. It's a great place to spend time behind the wheel, if only because it's not going to consistently pull your attention from the road while you marvel at how uniquely styled it is. Boring has some benefits.
Ask a group of people, ranging in age from 8 to 80, to draw a picture of a car. Now, take those drawings, run them through a computer, and have an algorithm compute the average shape of all those scribbles. What that algorithm spits out is apparently what Volkswagen's designers use to create the Passat. It's a car. It has four wheels, four doors, lights, a front grille, all the necessary trimmings. There just isn't any styling present. It's not a Lexus IS or the new Toyota Camry. It's a car, not a fashion statement.
On the Road
This is where we get to throw our stack of papers into the air and say, "Who gives a crap if it's boring?! It's brilliant." Truly, every reason to buy a Passat comes out once you start driving it.
Let's start with the drivetrain. The new-for-2015 EA288 turbodiesel I-4 is a thing of wonder. Power is not its strong suit, but torque sure is, and there's plenty of it available whenever you need to call upon it. Combined with the competent-but-a-little-old DSG dual-clutch automatic, the Passat TDI is completely content to hum along at the lowest RPM possible, saving you gas along the way. In the cabin, the drivetrain is quite subdued; only when you're standing right next to the motor will you hear any sort of typical diesel noises.
The Passat's DSG operates in either regular or sport modes, but we'd like to see both blended into a single, more sensible arrangement. In sport mode, the throttle response is bang-on, but the transmission lets the engine rev outside its comfort zone for far too long. In standard mode, the shifting is far more practical, but the throttle response (especially when starting from a stop) leaves plenty to be desired.
If fuel economy is your hang - and it should be if you're buying a diesel - the Passat TDI will be your new best friend. The EPA economy ratings are great on their own (31 city, 42 highway), but we found ourselves beating those estimates with relative consistency.
The weirdest problem we had with the Passat TDI was its remote start system. It works just fine, but when you unlock the vehicle, the car shuts off. Unlike other remote-start cars, which continue running as you get in and press the start/stop button, the Passat requires you to get in the now-quiet car and start everything back up. No two ways about it, that's weird, and wholly unnecessary.
Otherwise, like we've said plenty of times already, the Passat TDI is an outstanding car. It's a wholly competent midsize sedan that delivers nigh-ludicrous fuel economy without requiring the buyer to spring for an expensive hybrid. It lacks the character present in the competition, which can be either good or bad, depending on your personal preferences. But behind the boring exterior lies a car that will fulfill its prime duty with the utmost precision.
Specs & Price
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged diesel I-4
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Power Output: 150 horsepower / 236 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 30 city / 42 highway
Base Price: $33,585
As Tested: $34,405
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2015 Volkswagen Passat, click here: 2015 Volkswagen Passat.