2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI: Blind Taste Test
April 9, 2014
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?"
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