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Road Trip: Volkswagen Passat TDI Diesel goes to Washington

Published August 9, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Foggy Bottom is the name of a Washington, D.C. suburb. A few years ago, it could have also described a diesel powered car due to the clouds of black exhaust smoke left behind as it drove away.

But no more. Today’s low sulphur content allows modern diesels to burn as cleanly as their gasoline counterparts — while pumping out prodigious torque and better fuel economy while doing so.

Volkswagen offers a variety of nifty diesels and I thought it would be interesting to see how the Passat TDI handled a road trip that a typical family might plan. We headed for Washington, D.C., an easy day’s drive from the GTA.

The Passat provides comfortable seating for four adults and the ample soundproofing makes it a great long-distance cruise missile. Passats with 2.5-liter, five-cylinder gas engines, start at $23,975 but my TDI diesel had every option box ticked and drove away at just under $34,000.

Like most German cars, Passats are designed to cruise the Autobahn at 140 km/h, so on North American freeways, it loafs along, gliding over bumps, potholes and expansion joints while returning excellent fuel economy.

The engine is a 2.0-L turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel with only 140 horsepower but a whopping 236 lb.-ft. of torque that kicks in at a low 1,700 r.p.m. It’s very smooth, quiet and refined — and you don’t need to add the usual “for a diesel” disclaimer.

The first half tank I ran through netted 5.8 L/100 km. With a full tank, the range gauge read 1,224 km. Gotta love that.

The DSG six-speed transmission is a dual-clutch unit that does away with a horsepower-sucking torque converter. It shifts smoothly and quickly, although there’s a bit of a delay when shifting from reverse to drive (like when backing out of a parking spot). I tried the paddle shifters in manual mode but the unit shifts so well in auto that I left it there.

The Nav system was good, although it required more than the average time to boot up. Likewise, the back-up camera stayed on for five or six seconds after I shifted into drive.

First on our must-see list of attractions was Arlington National Cemetery, a location that’s both solemn and inspiring, as you view the graves of historic giants such as Robert and John F. Kennedy.

As a World War II history buff, it was also interesting to see the headstones of Congressional Medal of Honor winners Audie Murphy and Greg “Pappy” Boyington.

D.C.’s crown jewel is the Smithsonian Institution, which is actually 10 museums and galleries.

While Cherie was off at one of the art galleries, I checked out the Air and Space Museum. There were aircraft, satellites and rocket exhibits, but, of course, I was most interested in a historic motorcycle.

On display is the V8-powered, home-built, two-wheeler that Glenn Curtiss rode to a speed record of 136.8 m.p.h. in 1907, becoming the fastest man in the world for the next three years.

The Smithsonian also has incredible pieces of history, such as one of Amelia Earhart’s planes, an Apollo capsule that has been to the moon and back, Charles Lindburgh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the actual aircraft the Wright Brothers flew on their first manned flight in 1903.

The Americans really know how to do memorials and monuments, and D.C. is full of them.

Just northeast of Arlington Cemetery, you’ll find the Iwo Jima Memorial, a 10-metre-high replica of the famous U.S. Marine flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in 1944.

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial doesn’t commemorate one of the longest and most controversial conflicts in U.S. history, but instead honours the people who served and died there.

Spanning more than 150 metres, there are 140 glossy stone panels reaching a maximum height of 3 metres, etched with the names of the 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam. I’m not an emotional guy but I defy anyone to walk the length of that black wall, look at the sheer number of names and have a dry eye when you reach the end.

There’s also the usual touristy stuff, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Obelisk, the Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial and countless galleries and exhibits. But what is amazing is that virtually everything is free — unlike our museums and galleries in Ottawa, which averaged $14 per head when we visited there earlier this year.

Four days in D.C. didn’t even scratch the surface of what’s interesting to see, so a return visit is in order.

On the trip there and back, the Passat averaged between 4.9 and 5.8 L/100 km over a variety of conditions, from freeway cruising to heavy city traffic.

There was no smelly exhaust and no noisy clatter. The only indication we were driving a diesel was stinky hands after filling up. Helpful hint: wear gloves when you’re at the pump, which won’t be very often.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Steve Bond was provided by the manufacturer. Email:

2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Diesel

Price: $23,975 base, $32,875 as tested

Engine: 2.0 L, turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel

Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 4.9 to 5.8

Power/torque: 140 hp/236 lb.-ft.

Competition: Mazda 6 SkyActiv diesel

What’s best: Fuel economy, comfort

What’s worst: Stinky hands after fill up, slow Nav boot up

What’s interesting: Only midsize diesel until the Mazda6 arrived

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