2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T
Although Volkswagen’s U.S. CEO can boast that 75 percent of all diesel-powered cars sold in America wear the VW crest, the really big volume in the mid-size-sedan segment comes from four-cylinder gasoline engines—more than four out of five Camry. Accord. and Altima models, and all Sonatas and Fusions. pack gas-fired four-holers. Despite investing big in a new U.S. assembly plant and refocusing the Passat as a larger, value-oriented proposition, the VW mid-sizer hasn’t counted a mainstream gas four among its powertrain choices for a while. That changes for 2014.
New Base Engine
This year, a 1.8-liter turbo four replaces the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-five as the new base engine (the TDI and V-6 Passats will still be offered). The transformation begins with the line-topping SEL Premium and will eventually expand to cover the S, SE, and Wolfsburg Edition trims later in the year. The force-fed 1.8-liter is the same Mexican-built gen-three EA888 four-cylinder that finds its way into Golfs and Jettas for 2014. The engine features a thin-wall crankcase and fewer counterweights for reduced mass, as well as smaller main bearings and reduced oil pressure to minimize friction. The exhaust manifold is integral to the cylinder head to allow the engine to warm up more quickly, and the turbo is smaller and spools up faster.
We drove a well-equipped, $31,715 SEL Premium automatic. Even though the Passat is several hundred pounds heavier than the Jetta, the 1.8-liter turbo’s 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque move the mid-size sedan smartly enough, with something near half-throttle summoning the turbine for duty. Telling is the torque curve of the 1.8T, which rises quickly to mesa from 1500 rpm to near the 6200-rpm horsepower peak. Contrast that to the peaks and valleys of the outgoing 2.5L five-cylinder, which proffers its 177 lb-ft of max torque at a relatively rev-happy 4250 and its 170 horsepower peak at 5700, making for a narrow sweet spot.
Ready to Rumble
The fuel-economy-optimized calibration of the six-speed torque-converter automatic keeps the Passat at low revs in the upper gears when cruising, during which there’s much less rumbly powertrain noise than in the Jetta 1.8T we recently drove. We’ll attribute that to more soundproofing and the fact that the engine doesn’t stay at 1200 rpm very long if road load increases. Climb even a slight grade or barely breathe on the throttle, and the automatic transmission downshifts, banishing the rumbling sound. Of course, you can use your own gearbox programming by tipping through the gears manually or by simply opting for a Passat with a five-speed manual—yes, the car will still be available with a stick even after the 1.8T completes its creep across the lineup.
One side benefit of the switch from inline-five to turbo inline-four is less weight on the nose. The current Passat is a former comparison-test champ ; although it subsequently fell to three newer cars, it remains excellent to drive. Hustle the big, roomy sedan down a twisty back road, and you’ll appreciate its balanced handling, good body control, and capable brakes. Segueing to 1.8T also means shifting from hydraulic to electrically boosted power steering, a fuel-economy move that usually means some loss in feedback, but VW has maintained most of the previous system’s low friction and linear feel.
Midyear, VW will introduce a Passat Sport model with a long list of cosmetic baubles. The full rundown: a black roof, black mirror caps, a special Urano Gray color, front fog lamps, a rear spoiler, aluminum pedal caps, sport seats, stainless-steel kick plates, paddle shifters, and 19-inch aluminum wheels. No word yet if a sport suspension or other performance upgrades are also a part of Sport content.
Casting a Wider Car-Net
VW is also introducing an OnStar-like connectivity system dubbed Car-Net. After a six-month free trial, the Verizon-based system will be available across all 2014 model lines at $199 a year for the full suite of services. Accessed via overhead buttons, Car-Net’s skill set includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, manual emergency calling, and live destination assist. Additionally, a number of other services such as remote door unlocking, service appointment scheduling, family guardian speed alert, and others can be selected via an iOS app (an Android-based app will debut later).
The most significant item of note for most shoppers, however, is likely to be the improvement in EPA fuel-economy ratings—the 1.8T is up 2 mpg city and 3 mpg highway over those of last year’s base 2.5-liter engine. At 34–35 mpg highway, the Passat 1.8T still doesn’t match highway-label leaders such as the Nissan Altima, Mazda 6. and Ford Fusion 1.6 EcoBoost, but it’s in the hunt. Taken with its improved manners and drivability, the volume Passat now finds itself in a position to snag more mid-size market share.