Review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI is a midsize sedan that’s filled with the extras a family will appreciate, including its turbocharged diesel engine, high fuel-economy numbers, lower starting price and plenty of backseat legroom for child-safety seats or gangly teens.

This car could fit a family — no matter the age of the kids. It fits rear-facing infant-safety and convertible seats easily, and it has plenty of legroom for tweens and teens. With its top safety ratings, it also would make a good car for a first-time driver.

The redesigned Passat TDI’s 140-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine is powerful but not peppy and unharnessed like most turbo diesels. It was much more civilized, and the power kicked in at higher rpms but not off the line.

When paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the Passat TDI gets an EPA-estimated 31/43 mpg city/highway. With a dual-clutch automatic manual transmission, it gets 30/40 mpg. The one quirk I experienced with the Passat TDI is I could hear the fuel sloshing in the tank — both when I was inside and outside of the car.

The 2012 Passat with a gas engine starts at $19,995, but a TDI SE has a starting MSRP of $25,995. My top-of-the-line diesel, the Passat TDI SEL, cost $32,195.


The Passat’s redesign looks clean and crisp, especially from the side and rear with its tapered taillights. From the front, I have to confess that I’m not a fan; the grille doesn’t look modern or forward-thinking.

Getting into and out of the five-seat sedan is a piece of cake. The door pulls are easy to use, and the doors themselves are lightweight. As with most sedans, the Passat has a low rear roofline so getting small kids in and out of child-safety seats will be more trying than with most crossovers or SUVs.

The Passat’s trunk is downright cavernous. It could handle a grocery haul or all the bags from a multiday getaway with ease. Even large strollers would work just fine in this sedan.

The Passat TDI has a 140-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder engine that can be paired with a standard six-speed manual or optional DSG dual-clutch automatic manual transmission.


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


The Passat’s interior has just the right amount of faux wood trim and chrome and metal-like accents. My test car had leather seats with simulated suede inserts and a touch-screen that was easy to use. Right now, I appreciate things that are easier to use, not more complicated. There are a lot of buttons, knobs and gauges in the Passat TDI, but they’re all clearly marked and well-laid out.

The cabin has several covered storage areas, which helps to keep it looking good. The front row’s cupholders and a small bin, which can hold a gadget or two, all have doors that can hide the clutter. The center console is large enough for a wallet, pack of tissues and maybe a couple other items.

My top-of-the-line diesel Passat had a standard Fender stereo system with nine speakers that sounded terrific, but it reminded me that I wasn’t driving around in an as-advertised Passat with the entry level price of $19,995.

In the backseat, the armrest folds down to reveal a small storage bin and two cupholders. There are also storage pockets in the doors; my kids used them often.

Legroom is great in the Passat, both in the front and in the back. My daughter, 6, uses a booster seat, but she’s just tall enough that the edge of the seat hits her at mid-calf, forcing her legs forward at an awkward angle. This odd but unavoidable positioning causes her to need more legroom than most. The Passat TDI easily accommodated her.


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


The 2012 VW Passat has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in front-, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It also received the top overall score of five stars out of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It earned five stars in frontal and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover crash test.

Standard safety features in the Passat TDI are front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, an electronic stability system with traction control, and six airbags, including curtains for both rows. It also has the Intelligent Crash Response system, which will unlock the doors, turn on the hazard lights and cut the fuel line off from the gas tank after a collision.

The Passat TDI has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. The Latch anchors were easy to use because they nearly stuck out from the seat bight, where the back and bottom seat cushions meet. The space hogs of the child-safety-seat world are the rear-facing infant and convertible seats. Both of them fit well in the Passat TDI. See Cars.com’s Car Seat Check on the Passat for more child-safety seat info.

Get more safety information about the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI here.