Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen moving to all turbo engines in last ditch effort to revive sales

Volkswagen in America is danger-close to being irrelevant. In an effort to help turn things around VW is moving to all turbo engines. The bad news is the new engines are not even as fuel efficient or as powerful as the competitor's non-turbo engines are.

Volkswagen announced this week that it is moving away from normally aspirated engines and towards all turbocharger-equipped engines. VW said in a statement that in the next year or two upwards of 90% of its engines sold in cars in America will be turbocharged. The new turbocharged 1.8 liter engines will replace the uncompetitive 2.5 liter five-cylinder that VW has made its base engine in everything from the Golf to the Passat. VW is claiming some big gains in torque and efficiency with the new engines, but they will still trail the industry leaders like Honda and Toyota in almost every measurable way.

The new 1.8 liter gasoline engines are direct injected (as almost every new engine in the US market is now) and turbocharged. In the Passat, VW claims the mileage with the 6-speed automatic transmission will bump up to 34 highway and 28 MPG overall. So compared to the current Accord base model, the base Passat will soon be 2 MPG less efficient on the highway and get 2 MPG less combined. And the Accord is not even the class leader in highway mileage. The Altima and the Mazda 6 now get 38 MPG with their base four cylinder (non-turbo) engines and are just as fast as the new Passat will be. How this new small turbo will improve sales is a mystery. The Accord’s V6 model gets the same highway mileage as this new Passat and it has 108 more horsepower.

The real reason Volkswagen and other manufacturers are all moving to the turbocharged smaller engines is that they do better on the EPA test cycles than other engine options at equivalent cost to the manufacturer. For most passenger cars the smaller turbos don’t match the power and efficiency of the non-turbo market leaders.


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I just finished a week-long test drive of the Passat S with the 5-cylinder gas engine and was underwhelmed. What VW needs to do is forget changing their engines (those are fine) and instead start making their cars interesting again. The VW Beetle Convertible I drove earlier this year as a press loan was AWESOME fun. The Passat TDI (diesel) was also great. But the Passat is B O R I N G in all respects outside of the powertrain. The interior is unremarkable, the exterior is yawn-inducing, and the price tag versus options is not competitive. VW's problem is that they seem to think they can sell cars here based purely on their nameplate and Euro-cred. That might work for Audi, but not for the lower-end VW offerings. Think of it this way: I can buy the Passat S with Appearance, as I drove it, for about $25k and get 31mpg or I can buy the Mazda6 in comparable packaging for $26k and get 40 mpg and a far sportier ride and drive in a way better looking car.
Exactly. VW seemed to look at the Camry and misunderstand that the buyers wanted the boring aspects. They missed the point.