Our content team recently visited Leith Volkswagen of Raleigh to test drive some of Germany’s finest automobiles. Despite the company’s stellar reputation and penchant for quality, the multiple test drives we’ve enjoyed left us wondering what could be left to say about the experience. What could possibly distinguish Volkswagen from all of its competitors? Well, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL quickly and effectively gave us our answer.
Before delving into the test drive itself, we would be remiss if a description of the dealership were absent. Crisp white walls accented by vibrant pictures afford the building an uncommon liveliness, which mirrors the enthusiasm of the brand specialists hard at work. A congenial receptionist quickly queries you about your visit, then invites you to partake in complimentary coffee, water, and popcorn. The showroom displays several gorgeous Volkswagen models that would entice any potential buyer.
Dale Diedrichs, our brand specialist, gladly took the opportunity to lead our test drive. A former Chicagoan turned Raleigh-ite, Dale began working for Leith Volkswagen in Raleigh when it re-opened its doors two years ago. His friendly demeanor immediately put us at ease, and it felt very natural to engage him in conversation. While we sat behind the wheel, he remained quiet – a policy of his own that allows consumers to connect with the car.
The large inventory, which consistently needs replenishment, gave us the opportunity to choose nearly any model and variant. A metallic sea of innovation sat silently, waiting to convert all comers into Volkswagen devotees. When asked which car we would like to drive, our natural inclination was to defer to the professional’s opinion.
2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL
We won’t tire you with an exhaustive report of this car’s specifications; however, there are a few fine points that really set this brand apart. Even Volkswagen’s manufacturing process is unique, placing a great emphasis on safety.
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL is literally a safety enclosure. A hardened steel safety cage surrounds the cabin and is supported by three beams: one in the front, a triple beam in the middle, and one in the rear. On the outside, the side frames are connected to the main body via a laser weld instead of a spot weld, the industry standard. Volkswagen’s style of welding eliminates the possibility of a frame fracture along the side of the car, which IIHS often reports as a cause of injury in collisions.
Every door on the Passat TDI SEL consists of a single piece of steel. You’ll notice an atypical heaviness when opening and closing the doors, which instills a sense of safety – a manifestation of the care and consideration taken in manufacturing these cars.
A final noteworthy characteristic of Volkswagen can be found in the rear seat. Most automakers install a piece of aluminum or other pliable metal. In the Passat, and every VW model, the rear seats are reinforced with steel. While more costly, this helps guarantee the well-being of passengers by preventing objects from smashing or piercing the rear seats in the event of a collision.
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL has a DSG transmission. Though this is likely a more base explanation – our team will let the experts like Dale go into greater detail – we learned that this transmission design hosts two clutches that alternate between each other in four one-hundredths of a second, which creates a much smoother ride. We’ll delve a bit more into the feel of the transmission when we describe the test drive.
Allow us a bit of creative latitude to incorporate the sound system within this category of “Performance.” After all, the clarity and robust delivery of our music is vital to an enjoyable drive; thus, our sound system must perform well. Volkswagen partnered with Fender, the iconic guitar and amplifier company, for exclusive rights to install Fender-created systems in all of VW’s models. Listening to the quality of sound that roars through the speakers renders live concerts obsolete.
If you haven’t taken notice of the 2014 Passat TDI SEL, then you’ve done your eyes a great disservice. This car is like the beautiful, sophisticated girl you take home to mom (who then raves about her to everyone), not the type who moves fast or gets you into trouble. It has a subdued style that makes it very appealing.
At the front of the car, the “sly-smile” grille – as we like to call it – perfectly matches the slick design of the frame. It sits atop a honeycomb front air dam, which is surrounded by a pair of running day lights. The angle of the grille and headlights commence the aerodynamic engineering that champions subtle curves and precise gradients.
On the inside, the car offers a bevy of comforts that any driver could appreciate. The meter cluster is updated with a small screen to display a variety of information that you can scroll through using controls on the steering wheel. In fact, most infotainment options can be manipulated with your hands placed at “ten and two” – very convenient. That is the Volkswagen philosophy: a fun, convenient experience in the car. With garage door sync capability, keyless entry, and a push start, there isn’t much the Passat doesn’t offer.
The center console is beautifully designed with a crisp LCD screen, well-placed controls, and wood-colored accents to complement the black interior. An analog clock rests just above it to add a taste of classic refinement. As a whole, the cabin is sophisticated without being pretentious. What may be the most enjoyable characteristic of the Passat’s interior is the precise ergonomics Volkswagen’s engineers employed. From the armrest to the steering wheel, everything seemed to feel right – even the width and gradients of the seat.
Our particular model had de-icers in the side mirrors, which could be initiated using the control knob located on the door, as well as a sunroof that boasts a bug screen and rear opening for added options. In the trunk, a water-proofed mat absorbs any spilled liquids and rests over top of the spare tire well.
The Test Drive
Driving the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The automaker meticulously engineers its cars to be safe and technologically advanced – and that makes many fearful they will feel disconnected from the road. That is not the case. Behind the wheel, the car was as responsive as an Italian grandmother encouraging guests to help themselves to a second plate of pasta. It felt enthusiastic and fun, fulfilling everything we expect from a quality car. These adjectives, however, don’t really capture the essence of driving a car – we’ll be a bit more specific.
The Passat TDI SEL’s 2.0L I4 16V DDI DOHC Turbo Diesel craves the road. When you bring it to a complete stop, it anxiously waits with a quiet purr like a lion on the hunt as it crouches in the high grass. Our team was surprised by how the car attacks the asphalt every time we took a foot off the brake, and its accelerator was equally reactive. Working within this engine is Volkswagen’s DSG transmission, which merits its own paragraph.
DSG transmission created the most seamless shifts among gears. If we couldn’t hear the drop in RPMs, there would be no physical method to discern when the car makes the shift. Accelerating was both a powerful and immaculate experience.
The car easily mastered serpentine roads, making it fun to round sharp bends – and made us eager upon seeing the road signs that warned of a winding path ahead. It gripped tenaciously through the corners regardless of how sharp they may have been, and our steering wheel responded so well with solid but not overwhelming feedback. In the Passat TDI SEL, we felt as though we floated over potholes and imperfections along the road.
On a portion of the route, we drove with a more passive approach; for the remainder of the test drive, we took on a more spirited manner. It was us and the road – and an instinctive 2014 Passat TDI SEL in between, but it didn’t feel that way. Nothing about the design or engineering removed the priceless intangible of driving: experience.
Our conclusion needs no details nor exhaustive summary. Just realize that there is a reason Volkswagen remains so hugely popular and has the greatest number of cars on the road with 100,000 miles or more. While the company employs a philosophy of simplicity, it does not take away from the quality or comfort that come standard in every car. In the case of Volkswagen, being simple does not equate into being cheaply made. If you like driving – that’s the feeling this company satisfies.