When my wife and I left Los Angeles, vectoring northbound towards Washington State I fully expected the journey to be a fun, final hurrah for Kelley Blue Book's beloved 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI long-term test car. In fact until mere moments before writing these very words I was under the impression that the Passat had actually departed our offices. Apparently that is not the case.
Originally we had expected to keep and test the Passat for one year. At the end of that year Volkswagen agreed to extend the loan for another year. And now, once again, the Passat loan has been extended; this time with a twist. It'll kick off one more year in our test fleet with a trip through VW's Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program. Not only will we gain deeper insights into the world of CPO but we get to spend even more time with our Passat. Huzzah!
Why "huzzah"? Well, during the previous two years our Passat TDI, with its incredibly efficient diesel engine, has proven itself enormously capable as a long-distance runner. From our home base in Irvine, California we've driven it to Nashville, to Portland (the one in Oregon) and innumerable trips to Las Vegas. Each time the Passat sedan acquitted itself as a near perfect roadtrip machine with a smooth ride, big trunk, roomy back seats and uncanny ability to put down endless miles while returning upwards of 40 mpg. That leads back to our "final" Passat road trip to the dense forests east of Seattle where the Dirtfish Rally School resides.
Day 1 started with a mildly congested crawl through LA's freeways followed by rapid mileage accumulation through the less charming parts of California's San Joaquin valley. We ended our day in Modesto, a city often cited as the car theft capital of America.
Waking up on Day 2 we were pleased to find the Passat where we'd left it. Following a trip to Starbucks we blasted onward past agricultural land, over a depleted Shasta Lake, past majestic Mount Shasta and into the increasingly gorgeous scenery of Oregon. The day concluded in Portland at a favorite spot called Whisky Soda Lounge eating a plate of their unfathomably flavorful fish sauce wings.
Nearly 40 mpg routine
On Day 3 we brunched at Portland's Tasty N Sons. True to its name my steak and eggs was damn tasty. Afterward we let one of Oregon's skilled gas station attendants perform their legally required function to refuel our vehicle. Running the numbers we were averaging a hair less than 40 miles per gallon. Well played, Passat. What followed was a short trip to a cabin on a river located about 30 minutes outside of Seattle. The winding road leading to said cabin offered a chance to enjoy the car's dual nature, transforming from mellow cruiser to willing corner carver. There are plenty of cars that would've been more fun to drive through the wilds of Washington but few could have delivered its occupants all the way from LA so efficiently and comfortably.
The following three days was a blur of rally instruction; left foot braking, pendulum turns, four-wheel drifts and a lot of dust. Aside from rally-related knowledge I don't remember much from these three days other than a vague recollection of dinners in Seattle with my video crew. Our second camera operator, Tim, is 6 foot 2 and never once complained about sitting in the back seat of the Passat. Being English he's actually not inclined to complain but he's also a smartass. If he had any worthy complaints about the Passat I'm sure he would have voiced them via his familiar incisive, sarcastic wit. I didn't hear a peep...at least where the Passat was concerned.
At the end of my rally school adventure we departed to the south, spending one day shooting video with the Passat in the Columbia River gorge just to the east of Portland. Throughout our Passat sedan continued to impress. Diesel-powered torque helped me accelerate into position during car-to-car video shots while the trunk happily swallowed bulky video gear and other assorted luggage. Among some minor negatives the infotainment system remains a weak spot due to a sub-optimal touch-screen interface and less than stellar audio quality. Also, the brakes are touchy, making it hard to decelerate or come to a stop smoothly. But at this point the Kelley Blue Book editorial staff is very familiar with these issues and, like a member of the family, we've learned to accept and deal with them.
The trip home was much like the trip up; great fuel economy, lots of podcasts and an unsettling number of bugs collected on the windshield. When it first arrived our 2012 VW Passat TDI sedan was a wild card. Would reliability be an issue? Would it continue to charm over the long haul? As we enter year three here's what we know. Reliability has been a non-issue. We've accrued 45,119 miles so far and had no mechanical issues to speak of. We also know that the Passat is a delightful family car. That delightfulness is obvious on road trips but it's also present in the day to day.
At the moment our old Passat has bit of CPO rejuvenation to look forward to. After that I imagine it'll be time to plan yet another road trip. You know, I've never been to the other Portland. Perhaps a trip to Maine is in order.
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