Blind Taste Test - 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Long-Term Road Test
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2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Long-Term Road Test

2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI: Blind Taste Test

April 9, 2014

2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI

The knock against diesels used to be that they were noisy, slow and smelly. Driving our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI the other day, it struck me as so refined, and so responsive, that a strange thought occurred to me. I began to wonder what would happen if a person was somehow plunked down behind the wheel of this car, with no prior knowledge of what they were driving. Could they tell it was a diesel?

I know what many of you are thinking you would know instantly. But you're enthusiasts and you pay attention to detail. But what about a completely ordinary person only wanting to reliably get from Point A to Point B? Well, I had a chance to run a blind taste test and you might be surprised at the result.

I had to pick up a friend who knows I get test cars from Edmunds. My friend slid into the passenger seat, looked around and said, "Nice car! What is it?"

"VW Passat."

A short time later we stopped at a long traffic light and I listened to the TDI engine idle. To my ear, it has a distinctly different sound. Diesel engines always sounded like rocks in a tin can. This has been muted over the years, but I can still hear it. I wondered what my friend thought.

"Do you notice anything different about this engine?" I asked my friend.

"What do you mean?"

"Does it sound or feel any different?"

"No," my friend said, looking puzzled.

When the light turned green I stepped on the accelerator. There was the characteristic turbo-lag and then the diesel growled and responded with a nice surge of power.

"Now do you feel or hear anything different?" I asked.

"I don't know what you mean?" my friend answered seeming confused and now annoyed. "It's a nice car but I don't think there's anything different about it."

"It's a diesel," I said.

"Okay, fine. It's a diesel. So what?"

This blind test was fascinating to me, but was really irritating my friend. Still, it proved my point if only with a very small data sample. Diesels have come a long way. It's time to bury the noisy, slow and smelly reputation.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 17,405 miles


Comments

  • matt_a matt_a Posts:

    I've had people ride around in my 2001 Golf TDI that didn't know it was a diesel. To be honest, it's been time to bury that reputation for being slow noisy, and smokey for years. Now my 1981 Rabbit diesel... that thing deserves the reputation!

  • The same people who think diesels are for semi-trucks and Europeans, are stuck in the same netherworld where only the 2 choices for automobile transportation come down to Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. Considering their popularity, that's, mostly everyone.

  • kirkhilles_ kirkhilles_ Posts:

    Yep, just don't make the mistake my brother-in-law did which was to not tell a friend borrowing his that it was a diesel and the friend filled up with unleaded. Ooooooops. Also, the "blind test" is great until that person gets to see how much they have to pay per gallon for gas.

  • Right now at the Tempe, AZ QuikTrip where I buy fuel, regular is 3.44 and diesel is 3.59. 89 octane is probably within a few cents and 91 is certainly more. Last year at this time, same thing bumped up ten cents for both. There was a bigger gap with gas going far less in the winter. But no huge price jump here anyway. Diesel deserved its reputation in the U.S. as all we ever saw in large numbers were semis, then some pickup trucks and for those of a certain age, GM's adventures in diesel. You still see smoking trucks but for cars, that time is long gone. You still see dismissives from "anybodywhohatesVW" and people who only like cars which do 0-60 in six seconds or less, plus those people who have anecdotes of the mistaken pumping of gas into one. The nozzle size is different now, folks. It doesn't sound like a burbling V8 but nothing else does. People are accustomed to 4 cylinder engines which are not exactly great-sounding engines, as well as CVTs which bring out a further distant drone unlike the engines we heard years ago. The diesel is VW's best-built engine. The only way I would have bought a Passat is the diesel, as I did not like the 2.5 and the big 6, while nice, seemed a bit of a fuel hog. GM now has and Mazda is getting diesels. It will never be huge market share but as more brands have diesels, they will become less and less an outlier.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    I think your test proves something else also. Every time there is talk about diesel cars in America, particularly from an American company, someone brings up the disastrous GM cars from the 70's as the reason we don't buy them. But what this experiment tells me is that the average American buyer just doesn't have any preconceived notions about what a diesel should sound or feel (or smell) like. GM, and Ford and Chrysler need to market diesel cars with NO mention of improved refinement, because almost nobody remembers how unrefined diesels were before. Market them based on torque and fuel economy and stop thinking that Americans won't buy diesels because of mistakes GM made 40 years ago. The only obstacle that they need to get over is the added cost of the engine and the fact that, typically, diesel is more expensive than regular in the US.

  • I still blame most people's preconceived ideas about diesels on the really noticeable diesels on the road. And not commercial trucks but the 'pick-ups' where the drivers seem to take pride in how much smoke pours out of them. We probably have more than our share of them around here but the ones that roll up next to you at an intersection and suddenly you can't hear your passenger talk. And the ones you can smell even when they are several blocks ahead of you. Trucks that are big enough they got by without having to meet any standards because they 'could' be used for commercial purposes.

  • seppoboy seppoboy Posts:

    I recently cross-shopped a number of four-cylinder midsized sedans: Fusion, Accord, and Mazda 6 gassers, and Passat TDI. It was surprising to me how much engine noise I noticed with the gassers, both accelerating and at cruise, compared to the TDI, which seemed to have a different nature. Quieter, lower revving, and overall more refined, and the idle didn't have the pocketa-pocketa sound of older diesels, even with the windows down. The Accord in particular has a sweet engine, but it needs revs and makes much more noticeable noise during operation, the Passat seemed much more quiet and refined than the other cars. Turbo lag was comparable to the Ford, but the torque kicked in much quicker on the Passat. I can see how people new to diesels would be surprised in a blind test.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    OK good, America will now accept diesels. Now let's see if we can get past the hatchback phobia.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    I think your blind test was too blind and maybe a little bit dumb. "...It's a diesel. So what?" Sounds like he didn't even understand, once you told him it was a diesel, why it would have maybe sounded or felt any different to him or why you were asking those questions about it. Diesels passenger vehicles in this country have a certain reputation among low-information consumers, not no-information consumers like this guy.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Yeah, your friend might not have been able to tell the difference between an old, ticky engine vs. a diesel either. But if they bought the car, they'd see the base price difference immediately... Diesel engines themselves don't act much differently but they're barely able to pass current US emissions standards. At some point in the near future (2018 actually) they won't be able to pass at all without being straddled with $5K worth of emissions equipment, as most larger diesel engines now are. And having visited Paris where diesels are mainstream, the effects of diesel smoke on a city is awful.

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