Chattanooga Choo-Choo takes on new meaning with 2012 VW Passat

The all-new Volkswagen Passat is literally taking America by storm.

Manufactured at Volkswagenís new Chattanooga, Tenn. assembly facility, the new Passat is redefining the mid-size sedan segment with best in class rear legroom, 43 mpg EPA fuel economy and a price tag starting below $20,000.

Whatís not to like?

Oh, and it comes with VWís no-charge maintenance program for the first three years or 36,000 miles.

The new Passat is so impressive I donít know where to start.

Should I start with how much room there is inside the cabin and the fact that the back seat has more legroom than some of the full-size luxury sedans Iíve driven?

Or how many suitcases you could fit into the 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space?

Perhaps I should start with the 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel engine (that no one believes me when I tell them it is a diesel engine) that delivers an impressive 43 mpg highway fuel economy rating (31 mpg city) and has a range of nearly 800 miles on a single tank of fuel.

Starting at the beginning, the new five-passenger, front-wheel drive Passat ó engineered in Germany and born in the USA ó is available in three engine choices.

In addition to the super clean, ultra quiet TDI, Passat buyers also have their choice of a 2.5-liter I-5 gas engine using regular unleaded gasoline.

Producing 170 horsepower (177 lbs.-ft. torque), it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway.

There is also the choice of the 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 280 horsepower (258 lbs.-ft. torque). Requiring premium unleaded fuel, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

The 2.5L and TDI are mated to either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 is paired with the six-speed automatic.

In addition to engine selection the Passat is available in S, SE and SEL trim levels. Consumers also have their choice of multiple package options, such as appearance, sunroof, navigation and premium packages.

My test vehicle this week was the Passat TDI.

There arenít enough adjectives in the dictionary to adequately praise this engine.

Unless you look at the badge on the side of the car, you would never know it was powered by a diesel engine.

Itís quiet, itís clean and has a ton of torque. Best of all, you really canít beat 43 mpg. Iíve been driving all over the place since they brought me the car at the beginning of the week and the needle has barely budged off the ďFULLĒ indicator.

The all-new Passat is an outstanding mid-size model. The interior is nice and Iím really enjoying the new Fender premium audio system that cranks out 400 watts of power through nine speakers.

For those in the market for a mid-size sedan, I strongly, strongly recommend a test drive in the new Chattanooga-made Passat.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

MODEL:

2012 Volkswagen Passat

5-seat mid-size sedan†

Front-wheel drive

Trim packages:

2.5L, 3.6L, TDI

PRICE RANGE:

$20,000-$33,000

ENGINE:

2.5-L I5 (170 hp/177 torque)

3.6-L V6 (280 hp/258 torque)

2.0-L turbo diesel

(140 hp/236 torque)

TRANSMISSION:

5-speed manual

6-speed automatic

EPA: 22/20/31 mpg city, 32/28/43 mpg highway (2.5/3.6/TDI)

FUEL: Regular/premium/diesel (2.5/3.6/TDI)

STABILITY CONTROL:

Standard electronic stability control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 191.6 inches

WHEELBASE: 110.4 inches

WIDTH: 72.2 inches

HEIGHT: 58.5 inches

WEIGHT: 3166-3446 lbs.

TRACK: 62.1/61

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 18.5 gallons

TIRES: 16-, 17-, or 18-inch

SAFETY: Dual front dual-depth front airbags, seat-mounted head curtain side impact airbags, remote keyless entry, et. al.