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We Drive New VW Passat, Touareg Diesels

Power, Fuel Efficiency Amazes


Volkswagen Passat TDI

Volkswagen Passat TDI

© Volkswagen

Pumpe Düse. It looks a little strange to North Americans and sounds funny to our ears. But this odd German phrase represents a major advance in diesel technology.

Developed by Volkswagen in conjunction with Bosch, Pumpe Düse means "pump injectors" (though "pump dooz" is more fun to say aloud). The electronically-controlled injectors are located at each cylinder where they create a very high pressure to better atomise and more precisely meter the fuel flow. The result is increased power, improved fuel economy and – most important for sensitive North American ears – quieter engine operation.

About Cars, represented by Colin Hefferon and myself, had an opportunity to try the new system at a special Volkswagen TDI media event held in historic Old Montreal and the nearby Laurentian mountains area. Unfortunately it rained during test day but this didn't dampen (pardon the pun) our enthusiasm. It even added to the effect, for some of the driving was performed on an offroad course.

Volkswagen had examples of three new vehicles for us to try: A Touareg V-10 TDI sport-utility with an all-new aluminum twin-turbo engine; a "new to America" 2-liter diesel Passat; and a Canada-only sport version of the Jetta TDI. All three exceeded our expectations but the Touareg was, in some respects, the most interesting because of that new V-10 plus its extraordinary off-road ability. I'm not normally a fan of these big sport-utes but I'll admit to enjoying my brief stint behind the wheel. The cabin surroundings are absolutely luxurious and the diesel's astounding performance – 310 hp @ 3750 rpm with a maximum torque of 553 lbs. ft. at 2000 rpm – produced surprisingly quick acceleration. It can pull a 7,716 pound load, more than enough to trailer that vintage wooden speedboat I dream of someday owning.

Colin and I have a pact when we're testing cars together. As he's a former truck driver accustomed to bumping and banging over all sorts of unpleasant surfaces, and likes to sit up high, Colin handles the offroad portions. I'm the old race driver, more experienced in high speed performance and used to sitting low with arms outstretched, so I drive most of the paved sections. Thus I was happy to let him take over the Touareg for a couple of miles of slithering over mud, nasty rocks, and felled tree trunks.

Even as a passenger, I got a kick out of the Touareg's adaptability, particularly the way it can be raised or lowered through six positions; we needed the highest level to avoid bashing the sump on some of those evil obstacles. Other helpful assists were all-wheel-drive, ESP brake assist, Hill Descent and Climb assist, and 4-wheel ABS.

With all that technology working for us, I was almost tempted to give it a go myself. But in fact we were traversing a mountain trail where I'd skied many decades ago so I would have preferred racing downhill to crawling along in slow motion. (Right, Colin. That was then and this is now.) Nevertheless, the big V-10 was up to anything thrown at it, purring more like a contented cat than any diesel either of us had ever experienced. Colin, the offroader, was impressed.

In Europe a diesel-powered Passat is nothing new. Now, finally, we North Americans are getting our chance. And it's about time, for the Passat is one of the best mid-size sedans (and wagons) you can buy. The 2.0 liter TDI engine in the front-drive Passat incorporates the new Pumpe Düse technology found in the Touareg. 134 horsepower may not sound like much but the key to performance lies in torque and here a figure of 247 lbs. ft. produces excellent off-the-line acceleration and tension-free passing.

The new engine, which is matched to a 5-speed automatic, is so quiet that onlookers could easily be fooled, while in the cabin we had to remind ourselves it's a diesel. Even under full power the engine offers no more than a pleasant tenor hum. Indeed, the most attractive aspect of the new TDI range is its ability to hush the diesel effect to the point where you forget about the engine. And that's easy to do when you're driving a car that can put as many as 700 miles between fill-ups.

Diesels are slowly being accepted in North America though sales are only legal in 45 states because of sulfur emissions. But that's the fault of the fuel, not the engines. By 2007 you'll be able to buy low-sulfur diesel fuel in the US (Europe is already there and Canadian diesel is better than what you'll find south of the border). Meanwhile companies like Volkswagen and Bosch aren't waiting. They're hard at work developing emission systems that will meet ecological standards in all states, even before the 2007 deadline.

Fuel economy, fewer trips to the gas station, reduced maintenance and improved residual value? If that's how Pumpe Düse translates, say it again. I'm all smiles.

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