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2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
July 23, 2013
6 min. Reading Time

There's a lot to be said for sticking to the plan, even when everyone around you is striking out in a new direction.  Of course, that's assuming that your plan was solid to begin with.  The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI proves that there are some aspects of building a family sedan that never go out of style, and the German brand's most appealing four-door cruiser flies in the face of current design and technology trends to deliver one of the most satisfying driving experiences available in an affordable commuter car.  All of this is on top of the incredible real-world fuel efficiency offered by its turbodiesel engine, a unit which compares well against competitors like Ford's EcoBoosted Fusion, the redesigned Mazda MAZDA6, and even the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI is available in two specific trim levels, along with a pair of sub-trims that are actually options packages in disguise.  The entry-level Volkswagen Passat TDI SE (MSRP $26,225) comes with heated side mirrors, a touchscreen interface for the audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and door locks (with keyless entry), air conditioning, 18-inch rims, cruise control, automatic headlights, fog lights, an adjustable driver's seat with V-Tex leatherette upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.  Stepping up to the SEL trim (MSRP $32,915) introduces dual automatic climate control, seats the combine genuine leather with a fabric insert (as well as power adjustment and memory up front), a push-button start, a rearview camera, a navigation system, a Fender-branded audio system, a sunroof, and upgraded trim throughout the passenger compartment. 

My tester for the week was an SEL version of the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI with all of the concomitant bells and whistles.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Design

  • The 2013 Volkswagen Passat is unchanged from a design perspective for the current model year.

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI is a handsome automobile that presents an uncluttered, streamlined appearance bereft of gaping grilles, multiple air cooling ducts, or swoopy wings.  Only a strip of chrome along the base of the car's doors, along with a chrome fog light surround and narrow grille broke up the sea of white steel on my test vehicle.  The sedan's smooth, aerodynamic appearance is enhanced by curved headlights that take up significant space at the front of the car, while the vehicle's rear deck continues the chrome accent on the bottom bumper and adds the briefest of integrated spoilers to its trunk lid.  The overall effect is extremely clean, and pleasing to the eye.

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI's passenger compartment is equally understated, with simple presentation once again carrying the day.  The vehicle's dashboard might seem plain to some, but the combination of soft touch materials throughout the cabin (with the exception of seldom-encountered areas like the bottom of the door panels) and sleek, well-proportioned trim lines works well to highlight the sense of purpose of the Passat.  The car makes no pretense to be anything other than a classy family ride, echoing VW's long-standing styling policy of addition through subtraction.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Comfort and Cargo

  • The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI does not offer any changes to its comfort or cargo features compared to 2012.

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL that I drove benefited from the installation of leather-and-cloth combo seats front and rear, a setup that is a step above the stiffer V-Tex vinyl found in the SE trim and one that allows the body to breathe on hot days while still offering the upscale look and feel of cow hides.  I put over 700 miles on the Passat TDI in a single weekend of driving, and after carefully adjusting the car's lumbar support I can report that the front thrones did an excellent job of keeping me fresh during my journey. 

The part of the Passat that will be of greater interest to most families, however, is the car's back seat, which is in a word 'gigantic.'  It's hard to believe that the Volkswagen actually falls into the mid-size and not the full-size category when sitting in its rear row, which pulls ahead of a number of competitors in the ever-important leg room measure.  The couch-like atmosphere of the Passat's back quarters makes it an excellent road trip companion even when the car is fully loaded with passengers, and given that the vehicle comes through with just under 16 cubic feet of trunk space, luggage won't be a problem, either.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Features and Controls

  • The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI maintains the same feature set as the previous model year.

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI counts simplicity as one of its key philosophies, and this isn't just reflected by its styling or interior design - it also shows through in its list of available features.  All of the standard premium gear is there, befitting the Passat TDI SEL's $32,000 price point (sunroof, navigation, leather, upgraded stereo system), but conspicuous by their absence are the high tech items that have begun to colonize the mid-size segment.  This means no adaptive cruise control, no blind spot monitoring system, no advanced mobile phone integration, and no multimedia capabilities beyond a basic in-car hard drive (that doesn't allow USB access but requires one to use less-common memory card technology to fill it up.)

Personally, I didn't 'miss' any of these items during my extended stay inside casa del Passat (with the exception of a USB interface to more effectively load MP3 music files).  That doesn't mean, however, that others won't.  Yes, the Passat TDI's available equipment is comprehensive, but its lack of over-the-top sophistication sees Volkswagen lagging behind rivals like Hyundai and Ford in terms of electronic accoutrements.  Most painful is the brand's existing navigation / audio system, which looks and feels like it belongs in a car built perhaps five years ago.  Here's hoping that the next-generation Passat can maintain the simple tone of its interior while simultaneously integrating up-to-date technologies that will turn heads amongst the family crowd.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Safety and Ratings

  • The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI does not receive any new safety equipment for the current model year.

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI features side impact airbags up front, side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the vehicle's passenger compartment, and dual forward airbags.  Electronic stability control and traction control are also included with the Passat TDI, and so are anti-lock brakes.  As noted in the preceding section, Volkswagen does not offer anything resembling the active safety features available with many other models in the mid-size segment.

2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Crash-Test Ratings: The Volkswagen Passat TDI manages a five stars out of a possible five stars as its crash test score from the NHTSA, while also posting 'Good' ratings in each of the critical IIHS crash tests.  This makes the Passat an IIHS Top Safety Pick.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

  • The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI retains the previous model year's drivetrain.

All versions of the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI feature the same 2.0-liter, turbodiesel four-cylinder engine.  Capable of producing 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, the Passat TDI offers buyers the choice between either a six-speed manual or a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission (known as DSG).  The traditional manual gearbox delivers impressive fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 31-mpg in stop and go driving and 43-mpg on the highway.  My test vehicle came with the slightly less efficient DSG autobox, and I saw 42 miles per gallon with a lot of highway use during my time with the car, besting the factory rating despite a not always religious adherence to the speed limit.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI might not come with the same level of active safety gear or entertainment features found in other mid-size sedans, but this merely gave me the chance to devote my undivided attention to the car's exceptional driving experience.  Piloting the Volkswagen Passat TDI down hundreds of miles of interstate highways caused me to develop a deep admiration for the car's chassis engineers, who were able to dial out any harshness or instability caused by the frequent construction work that I encountered in New England, giving me uninterrupted smoothness with the cruise control set to 70-mph.  This appreciation for the car's undercarriage comportment deepened after spending time on the twisty secondary roads that crisscross the northern half of New Hampshire, as the Passat's progressive steering and responsive suspension kept its long wheelbase firmly planted at all times.

A lot of buyers browsing new cars based on their spec sheets might dismiss the 140 horsepower produced by the Passat TDI's turbodiesel engine as the product of a bygone era of engine design, but they would be remiss if they didn’t at least give the sedan a test drive.  Although the car's low output might at times detract from its top-end acceleration, its respectable torque curve allowed me to pass at will on the highway, as well as putter confidently about town without forcing the four-cylinder to exert itself all that strenuously.  The incredible fuel mileage offered by the TDI model is also accessible in real-world driving, unlike the inflated numbers offered by hybrid designs that often require a light touch on the accelerator in order to approach the figure advertised on the window sticker.

My one hesitancy about recommending Volkswagen's turbodiesel / DSG combination has to do with its cold weather performance.  Other VW models featuring this drivetrain that I have sampled during the winter have displayed a hesitance to switch gears with the same rapidity that summer DSG driving is known for, and the creep feature programmed into the car's transmission is balkier in sub-zero conditions.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI is a throwback family sedan in the sense that it gets the job done with minimum of fuss and in considerable style.  Classy inside and out, the Passat TDI is also perhaps the most fuel efficient mid-size car available at its price point - a fact that is backed up in daily driving and not the hyper-miling activities of eco-enthusiasts.  Throw in its plus-size rear seat, its affordability, and its very comfortable ride, and the Volkswagen is a genuine contender for the dollars of four-door buyers looking to sample a near-premium European ride.

Could the Passat benefit from the addition of more advanced safety technology?  Certainly.  Would it be a good idea if Volkswagen began to invest more significantly in its in-car entertainment and communications interfaces?  From a consumer perspective, the answer is yes.  Neither of these oversights, however, do much to detract from the excellent overall character of the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI.


2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Review: Pros and Cons


  • Huge inside
  • Class-leading fuel mileage under real-world conditions
  • Quiet, upscale cabin
  • Comfortable ride
  • Engaging driving experience
  • Affordable


  • DSG / TDI combination somewhat balky in cold conditions
  • Navigation and entertainment features lag behind the competition
  • Lack of advanced or active safety features


Volkswagen Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.



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