The Volkswagen Passat Fuel Economy Challenge

One of my favorite sedans I have worked with has returned.

The current Volkswagen Passat has always engaged me with its combination of performance, economy, space, and comfort. After all, it has one of the largest cabins in the midsized family sedan segment. Not to mention a smooth ride with a bit of Germanic firmness, though designed for American families in mind.

For 2018, the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder TSI engine gets a bump in displacement and horsepower. Of course, any change to this favored sedan is welcomed, but it also needs to be tested. Of course, I was curious how this new 2.0-liter TSI engine would do with its bump in horsepower in an old familiar shell.

The horsepower bump is just four horsepower – 174 vs. 170 in the old 1.8-liter version. There is no change in the torque rating, which I found interesting. Still, a 200cc bump is displacement should translate into something greater, right?

The 2.0-liter engine has many tunes available across the Volkswagen lineup. The Tiguan gets more horsepower and much more torque for the SUV application. It was the best move Volkswagen made for a much more competitive vehicle in a hot segment. Heck, I even called it the best vehicle in the segment. Needless to say, a Passat with 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque would scare the living daylights out a 2018 Toyota Camry with the four-cylinder engine, 2018 Honda Accord with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, or the 2018 Hyundai Sonata.

2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium

The same displacement is seen on three higher performance Volkswagen models – the Golf GTI, Jetta GLI, and Golf R. Imagine either of these engines in the Passat? Talk about a game changer in the midsized sedan segment!

The reason why I bring this up at the start is to point out why Volkswagen went with the tune it did for the Passat. To win this segment, you have to be very fuel efficient. In 2016, the Passat 1.8T SE with Technology Package returned an average of 29.0 MPG. Volkswagen states that the new 2.0T version of the Passat is capable of doing up to 36 MPG on the highway. In comparison, only two of its competitors have averaged better fuel economy than the Passat: The Nissan Altima and the Mazda6.

This time around, I have a goal in mind for this 2018 Passat 2.0T SEL Premium tester: To scale over the 30 MPG threshold at the end of this evaluation period as its fuel economy average. Am I able to achieve this goal?

The good thing about this tester is that it is one of two "perfect" specifications for the Passat. The SEL Premium has the Fender Premium audio speaker system, connected to the Discover Media version of the MIB II infotainment system, including onboard navigation. There is Car-Net connectivity, which enabled my updated and battery-swapped Apple iPhone 6S to work via Apple CarPlay. Lastly, this Passat has key driver assistance features, such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Park Assist, and Park Pilot.

All of this came with a sticker price of $32,500. I'll address this point later since we have an economy challenge on hand.

2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium

To do a fuel economy challenge, you must be in the right environment to accomplish this. I have not seen this interior combination before in this generation of Passat, but I was treated to a two-tone Golden Oak and Black leather motif. It simply raises the SEL Premium to something well above that. I believe the past Volkswagen that sported such an interior combination was my first one – the CC. The combination creates an elegant ambiance inside, while I was coddled with supportive seats up front.

The reason why I prefer the Passat overall is its rear seat space. For someone my size, I can comfortably sit behind me and feel at ease when driven. A few competitors have stepped up their game in terms of rear seat space, but the Passat remains a limousine among mere sedans in this respect. Top it off with a huge 15.9 cubic feet trunk space behind the rear seats. You can fold down the rear backrests for longer cargo. In all, it is a win for the airport run – or, a full cabin of travelers heading somewhere for an extended weekend.

If one thing concerns me is that the instrument panel is showing its age. If you have been in the new Tiguan or Atlas, you have seen the availability of the Digital Cockpit – the full TFT screen that is customizable for every readout you want in front of you – and the eight-inch Composition Media glass touchscreen. Granted, I don’t mind the 6.5-inch Discover Media screen with flanks of buttons on each side, as long as I get Apple CarPlay connectivity, Volkswagen navigation, and the Fender Premium Audio system. However, the Tiguan and Atlas spoiled me to know what is up ahead with future Volkswagen product – namely the 2018 Golf, the 2019 Jetta and Arteon. Maybe the next North American Passat will step up in this game.

2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium

I have driven enough of this generation of North American Passat (did I mention this is my fifth one?) to be familiar and competent with how it works and drives. Which brings me to the new 2.0-liter version of the turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine. The case has been made as to why the larger displacement engine did not take a major power rating jump over the previous 1.8-liter engine. What surprised me was that I felt no difference between the two. That is actually a good thing because I get good acceleration, smooth power with nominal lag from the turbocharger. A lot of that is partly due to the six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. This is such a fine transmission that shifts smoothly and never complains when selecting gears.

Everything else has not changed, either. The ride is one of the smoothest in its class. It handles pretty well. Steering is tight, but it has a bit of lightness to the touch on-center. Brakes are fine with good stops in normal and panic situations. I also appreciate that this tester had Bridgestone Potenza all-season tires on it. Can I say that these are better than the usual Continental all-seasons found on most Volkswagen models?

One thing keeps on popping back in my mind about every Passat I have driven. Granted, it does not have driving modes, as found on select Golf GTI and R models. Then again, why would I want them? If I wanted to simply relax, put the Passat in cruise, adjust the adaptive system for distance, and let the miles rack up, then I am perfectly content with this car. This is perhaps the best feedback one should glean from a Volkswagen Passat.

But, the question persists. Did I make my goal of 30 MPG in this Volkswagen Passat?

2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium

Every day I took the wheel of this car, I ended up with a daily average of more than 30 MPG. This was great news! Once the calculations were done, I ended up with an average of 31.4 MPG. This is based on a mix of in-town, freeway and rural driving. If I strictly drove in-town, my average would drop to 27.5 MPG. For a mid-sized family sedan, that is not bad.

There is one thing to note about how really efficient the Volkswagen Passat truly is. Note the fuel capacity of this car: 18.5 gallons. That is a huge tank for a car in its class! That also translates into fuel range. I usually find that a vehicle in its class would have an average fuel range of 400 miles. The Passat yielded ranges of well over 500…even over 600 miles…per tank! If you care about fuel range, you should truly consider the Volkswagen Passat.

There is another thing to consider when looking at the Volkswagen Passat…value. The sticker price of this tester is $32,500 – right about where you expect the top end of the midsized family sedan segment to be. In particular, competitors with top trim levels equipped with a four-cylinder engine and the same equipment level as the SEL Premium trim. With the exception of three competitors – the Honda Accord EX-L 1.5T, Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.4, and the Nissan Altima 2.5 SL – everyone else is priced above the Passat 2.0T SEL Premium. Some even climb up almost $4,000 more!

As another consumer point, Volkswagen offers a new 6-year, 72,000-mile standard basic warranty on the Passat. This is another reason to consider the Passat against its rivals, especially those three lower-priced models mentioned above. Oh, and you do have a choice of seven different Passats, including the limited-run GT model with the V6 engine.

2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium

The value proposition argument points to something that has been confirmed about five times now – the Volkswagen Passat is a superb car in many different ways. Full stop. Enough said. Any questions?

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America

All photos by Randy Stern

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