2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI: Friendly to families, but not to manual transmission drivers

Despite being driven by a reviewer that typically

Despite being driven by a reviewer that typically gets below-average mileage due to hastiness and stop-and-go traffic in Los Angeles, the 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI consistently produced numbers that matched the EPA-estimated 31/43 mpg city/highway rating. (Credit: Cars.com)

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI is one of the most family-friendly midsize sedans I've ever driven with its large backseat, ample trunk and ah-mazing fuel economy. Its got lots to offer and a somewhat moderate price, but I had mixed feelings about this clean-diesel-powered sedan.

I'm a V-Dub owner -- I have a Jetta -- and despite those who say Volkswagen sold out by going "mainstream," I'm fond of the Passat's clean, simple styling. It was driving the Passat TDI that caused the most disappointment for me; I never found the sweet spot for smooth transitions when driving this six-speed-manual test car. The clutch was unforgiving. It engaged too abruptly, and I constantly feared stalling the car. I also felt lots of vibration through the clutch pedal. Driving this manual transmission never felt comfortable for me. I'd choose the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission instead.

However, I was on a consistent high over the fuel-economy averages I was getting, which were far better than many hybrids I've tested. It seemed that no matter how much I tried or how far I drove I just couldn't seem to empty the fuel tank during my weeklong test drive.


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My test car, a 2013 Passat TDI SE base model, cost $27,020, including a $795 destination charge, but a similarly equipped Passat SE with a gas engine costs significantly less at $23,945.

EXTERIOR

The 2013 Passat TDI doesn't look a bit different from the non-diesel model, save for the badge in the back. It's a long, streamlined sedan with clean lines and a simple aesthetic; it looks large when compared to other midsize sedans in its class as well.

One of the best things about the exterior design is how easy it is to get in and out of this car. The door handles aren't too high, and the door openings are generous. This is good news for parents who assist children into their child-safety seats, and it's especially convenient for those who are constantly loading/unloading infant carriers in and out of their base.

There's no need to pack light if you've got the Passat. With a stroller in the trunk, I still had plenty of room for grocery bags. The trunk has great cutouts in the walls where I stored my reusable shopping bags, first-aid kit and an umbrella. Bring on the double strollers, golf bags, beach chairs or even a group of clowns to jump out of the trunk, the Passat can take it, I swear.

The gas-powered Passat has a couple of options under the hood, but the TDI model is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Don't be discouraged by its 140 horsepower; it's peppy enough and its 236 pounds-feet of torque makes it more fun to drive than many hybrids. As someone who usually gets below-average mileage due to hastiness and stop-and-go traffic in Los Angeles, I was floored when I checked the trip computer more than once and found numbers higher than 40 mpg. The Passat TDI gets an EPA-estimated 31/43 mpg city/highway, and I maintained those for the week. The real gem was never visiting the gas station to fuel up during my test drive. One less errand with a demanding toddler is one of the biggest conveniences of all.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

The Passat TDI's interior is huge. This is one sedan that actually delivers on its roomy specs and ample legroom. My husband was able to recline in the front passenger seat, and my daughter sitting behind him in the backseat still couldn't reach the seatback to kick it. Families will love how roomy and spacious it is inside, and if you don't have child-safety seats, a family of five will be quite comfortable in this five-seater.

The ergonomics are hit or miss; I felt supported in Volkswagen's firm seats, but my father said they were the most uncomfortable seats he'd ever sat in. At 6 feet 2 inches, he didn't complain about a lack of headroom or legroom, so personal space inside the cabin will be a non-issue for most passengers.

The Passat TDI's cabin echoes the exterior's simplicity and minimalism; it came off as a little no-nonsense to me with its gray faux-leather upholstery. However, with the simple gauge clusters and center stack, things appear tidy and nothing comes off as overwhelming. Don't worry if you're not as much of a minimalist as Volkswagen, there's ample personal storage inside with four cupholders, two seatback pockets, bottleholders in the doors, a center console and a cutout in the center stack to house a smartphone.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY

The 2013 Volkswagen Passat has been named a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This top rating applies only to Passats built after October 2012. It received the top score of Good in side, rear, roof-strength and moderate-overlap front crash tests and the second highest score of Acceptable in the small-overlap front crash test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Passat a safety rating of five stars out of five. It earned five stars in front and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover test.

The Passat's two sets of lower Latch anchors were exposed, which made them easy to find and use. I was amazed by how little space my bulky forward-facing convertible seemed to take up in the backseat. The Passat would lend plenty of room to rear-facing seats as well. Find more information on how the Passat handles child-safety seats in our Car Seat Check.

The Passat TDI SE has standard front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. You'll need to upgrade to the Passat TDI SEL Premium trim to get a backup camera.

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