2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI: Our Long-Term MPG Results May Shed Light on Future Emissions Recall Expectations
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on September 23, 2015
A cloud hangs over Volkswagen and its TDI "clean diesel" engine offerings. The target is the 2.0-liter TDI engine, the US market's best-selling passenger car diesel engine. Volkswagen has been caught using illegal software that recognizes when the car is undergoing an emissions test and engages a special ECU calibration that meets all emissions standards.
All other times, including every mile anyone actually drives one of these, a second calibration takes over, one that apparently misses the Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) emission standard by a huge margin. The test group that initially uncovered this scheme reported NOx levels as much as 40 times above the legal limit.
That is not an insignificant amount.
All of the affected cars use the 2.0-liter TDI engine: the 2009-2014 Jetta, 2010-2014 Golf, 2012-2014 Beetle, the 2012-2014 Passat and the 2010-2014 Audi A3. Of these, the Passat is the lone example with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), a system that injects diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) into a special catalyst to control NOx.
The EPA hit-list also includes the 2015 TDI versions of all of these cars, and has refused to certify any 2016 versions for sale. But these use a totally new 2.0-liter TDI engine, one that belongs to a whole new engine family that goes by the name EA288. All of them have SCR systems that use DEF, not just the Passat.
VW's response includes a statement that says the bad software was limited to the older EA189 engine family, which only goes as far as the 2014 models. If true, the 2015 and later vehicles may fall off the EPA's list with no need for updated software or other recall measures to be in compliance. Time will tell.
A recall is inevitable, but current owners are worried about how the coming changes may affect the future performance of their vehicles.
What does that have to do with our long-term test fleet?
May 19, 2014
It's over. I've completed two identical 458-mile loops to Las Vegas and back in our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI. The only difference was the fuel: Diesel #2 on the first loop and a B5 biodiesel brew on the second loop.
I say "biodiesel brew" because I was forced to MacGyver my own B5 by blending B20 biodiesel with Diesel #2 right in the Passat's tank. There wasn't another station close enough to be of any use, and I had just learned (the hard way) that the biodiesel locator Web site I'd used to find this place wasn't much use for finding anything under B20, the prevailing blend carried by suppliers around here.
Here's what I learned.
May 14, 2014
It happened on Interstate 15 on the first of two Las Vegas diesel fuel economy runs. Our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI was barely 5 miles inside California and drawing abreast of the Ivanpah Solar Power facility.
This trio of power towers stands within easy sight of the Interstate. The three arrays of heliostat mirrors that encircle them consume a combined 5.5 square miles of desert. A weird and eerie plasmatic glow hovers in the air several yards removed from the impossibly bright surface of the receivers that top each tower. In the bright desert daylight it's still quite easy to make out the rays of light that converge on the receivers.
I'd hate to be a bird flying through there.
May 13, 2014
Here's something you don't see very often, and something that makes the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI an even better bargain: diesel is less — way less — than gas. I used the numbers on this pump in Barstow, Calif., to do a comparison of what it would cost to drive to Las Vegas and back on both diesel and gas. It was a bigger savings than I expected.
May 12, 2014
I drove our long-term 2014 Volkswagen Passat TSI two weeks ago, and then took our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI to Las Vegas for three days. Out in the lonely desert, I had a lot of time to think about which V-Dub I liked best. While the two cars look similar, they drive quite differently, mainly because of the engines and transmissions. Here's my quick take on the differences.
May 9, 2014
Scott's recent experience at a biodiesel pump got us both thinking. Would biodiesel make a noticeable difference in the performance or MPG of our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI?
A test was in order, but it seemed to me that the 5-percent biodiesel fuel (B5) allowed by VW might produce small differences that would be difficult to quantify. If I was to make sense of this I needed to control as many variables as possible. And I needed a fairly long route that would burn enough fuel to nullify any pump-shutoff inconsistencies.
Fortunately, I had a business trip to Las Vegas coming up, one that I had planned to drive to anyway. My time was spoken for all day Friday and Saturday evening, but the bulk of Saturday was mine.
I despise gambling and I'm behind on my audiobooks, so I decided to drive the TDI to Vegas on Thursday as scheduled on diesel #2 and park it in the Hard Rock Hotel parking garage while I attended to my Friday obligations, then drive BACK to southern California on Saturday morning.
Once there I'd fill it with B5 biodiesel, turn straight around and retrace my route back to Vegas in time to make my evening appointment. After another overnight stay I'll head home and finish the B5 loop on Sunday morning.
It was a good plan, if not a bit insane, but then a fuel supply problem cropped up at the 11th hour.
May 5, 2014
We logged our best fuel economy ever at 46.5 mpg on an all-highway run of 168.3 miles. This might have been because we filled up in Barstow, California, elevation 2,178, and then again in Los Angeles, at sea level. The new data changed the lifetime average to an even more impressive 36.9 mpg, which is 2.9 mpg better than the EPA combined rating.
May 2, 2014
I'm sitting in my brother-in-law's San Jose, CA living room looking for any excuse to bail. After five hours of extended family time, I need a break. So I ask if there's a gas station around that sells diesel. Yesterday I had driven our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI up to his house from Los Angeles and we were making the return run later today.
"There's one about a mile away", he says. "But we should fill it with biodiesel."
April 3, 2014
In the month of March we added over 2,400 miles to our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI. That's 700 miles more than our monthly goal for long-term cars. A trip to Sacramento accounted for most of it. Our Passat trekked northbound 424 miles on a partial tank and 638 more on a second tank. That's some great range, but it still isn't our best.
March 31, 2014
Nothing makes you feel more helpless than when there's a family emergency and you're 400 miles away. At that moment, you don't need a fast car (speeding will just result in tickets or worse). You need a car like the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI to get you there. If my dog and I had the bladder capacity we totally could have made the last-minute trek from L.A. to Sacramento in our long-term TDI without any stops. We usually average about three stops on that road trip; if only for gas, it can range from one to two stops, obviously depending on the car.
March 4, 2014
In the month of February, our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI added nearly 1,400 miles to its odometer and averaged 36.9 miles per gallon. This brings its lifetime fuel economy average up a tick to 36.6 mpg. A freeway road trip to northern California is partially responsible for the increase during this month.
These results continue to surpass its EPA combined rating of 34 mpg.
February 3, 2014
Our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI continued its fuel-thrifty ways in January. It still only requires about three fill-ups a month, and is averaging 36.5 miles per gallon. Its lifetime best and worst fills continue unchanged from last month, at 44.4 gallons and 25.2 respectively. It spent most of the month with Edmunds Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans, roaming California's Central Valley.
On my short stay with the car this week, I was doing a mix of freeway and around-town driving and I loved seeing the nice, fat 35-36 mpg averages on the Passat's MFI display.
January 07, 2014
Our 2013 Volkswagen Passat diesel worked hard in December, logging over 2,000 miles for the final month of 2013. Average lifetime MPG was down a smidge from November's figure, falling from 36.7 to 36.2 (note that the mileage shown in the photo above is not a lifetime average). The Passat's lifetime best and worst fills currently stand at 44.4 and 25.2 mpg, respectively.
January 2, 2014
I haven't spent much time in our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI. I'm going to try to correct that over its final 8,000 miles or so.
There's a lot to like here.
For instance, this turbodiesel can effortlessly rack up over 600 miles between fill-ups.
December 10, 2013
It's always a bit anticlimactic writing about our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI's fuel economy. There's usually not much to tell: "Went a few places. Filled up twice."
That's about how November went. We took it to Vegas, did that round-trip (approximately 560 miles) on a single tank. Drove it around town. Crossed the 10,000-mile milestone. Filled it up three times, about 32 gallons total. Our best range this month was 576.2 miles.
Whatever else you think about the Passat, there's something pretty damn special about a car that will take you 500, even 700, miles on a single tank of diesel. It makes all those daydreams about getting way, way out of town on a Friday afternoon suddenly that much more tangible. This car would fill arena parking lots if the Grateful Dead were still touring.
November 12, 2013
I just drove our long-term 2013 VW Passat TDI from Tinsel Town to Sin City and back. If you're under 75 years old, you probably have no idea what I just said, so let me start over.
I just drove our long-term VW Passat TDI from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back. That's 576.2 miles. But here's the cool part. I did it on a single tank of fuel. Actually, I did it on three-quarters of a tank of fuel. When I returned home the Passat was still packing 155 miles worth of fuel range. Wow.
Trust me, I'm no hypermiler. But I did use the Passat's cruise control for most of the trip, and I hit zero traffic along the way. My average fuel economy was 40.7 mpg, which is just ahead of the Passat's EPA highway rating of 40 mpg.
November 6, 2013
In the 31 days of October we drove our long-term 2013 VW Passat TDI 1,079.4 miles and used 27.7 gallons of diesel in the process. That's an average of 39 mpg, which is much higher than the Passat's combined EPA rating of 34 mpg.
October 28, 2013
As we've been reporting since we got our 2013 Volkswagen Passat as a long-term test, the TDI diesel engine is pretty cool. It's fuel efficient, suitably powered for everyday driving and provides a very impressive amount of fuel range. It's got some character, too.
But if I were thinking about buying a Passat for the 2014 model year, I'd have a harder time immediately making the TDI my engine of choice.
October 4, 2013
After a record-breaking August, our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI settled into more mundane city driving during the month of September. Not surprisingly, its mileage figures reflected the stop-and-go conditions of our daily commutes.
September 5, 2013
We put 2,928 miles on our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI in August. Not only did we plump our lifetime average to 37.7 mpg (up from a mere 36.3 a month ago), we set new highs for both mpg and miles traveled on a single tank.
August 16, 2013
The perfect car for the journey. That pretty much sums up my experience with the Volkswagen Passat TDI as it transported two couples and a trunk filled with their stuff to Las Vegas and back. The only better cars would surely cost $90,000.
As a 6-foot-3 driver, it's not very often that a full-size adult can fit behind me over long distances without one of us feeling mushed. Yet with the giant Passat, I didn't have to (as usual) put my tiny wife behind me or even care how far I moved my seat back. As for the trunk, it managed three sizeable Roll-aboard suitcases, an overnight bag, my briefcase and a 36-liter roller cooler that impressively fit all the way rearward. No Tetris needed, it all went in without effort.
August 14, 2013
Our 2013 VW Passat TDI has crossed the 5,000-mile mark after about 2.5 months. So far it's had an unfortunate run-in with a nail and the touchscreen interface can be awfully slow to respond to the point that something may be wrong. I flat-out couldn't get the iPhone interface to work while paired to Bluetooth. Given that this same interface in our long-term Beetle and other VW's worked without such issues, this could require a dealer visit at some point.
August 2, 2013
We put 1,225 miles on our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI during the month of July. That's a low total for us, but several of us are planning road trips in August, including our technical director, Dan Edmunds, who will be traveling to Oregon. One way or another, we'll get our diesel Passat's mileage up.
Although no one topped last month's range record of 616 miles, we set a new high for mpg on a single tank at 42.4 mpg.
July 23, 2013
When you fill up many cars, especially those of the more high-performance variety, it's quite common for the DTE gauge to read about 325 miles when it resets. It wasn't too long ago when that was common for more mundane cars as well, such as the VR6-powered 2000 VW Jetta I drove for seven years. Getting 325 miles out of her would've been a good tank.
July 8, 2013
This is the second update from my recent road trip to California's central coast. I've got the final fuel economy numbers here, which has a bit more fuel economy detail to go along with our recent mpg update for June.
July 2, 2013
We added about 2,000 miles to our long-term 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI during June. The majority of that came from normal driving around Los Angeles, but we did use the car for a 400-mile road trip at the end of the month.
June 14, 2013
It's what VW's TDI-powered cars are famous for: range. But until I refueled today it hadn't registered with me how far this car will go on a single tank. Try 750 miles according to the on-board computer. For perspective, that's enough range to drive from our office in Santa Monica to Salt Lake City, Utah.
June 4, 2013
It was a short month of city driving in our newest long-term test car, and our best fill-up during these first 520 miles netted a modest 31.7 mpg. Not so great, but it's early, and our 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI will go on plenty of road trips.