Downside: Current limited availability of low-sulfur diesel in the United States could dampen consumer enthusiasm for the 2004 VW Passat TDI diesel wagon and the new V-10 diesel Touareg SUV, the latter of which will be reviewed in a forthcoming column.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Tight to hard ride, a tad uncomfortable for many Americans, but a joy to driving enthusiasts. Decent acceleration. Excellent overall handling.
Head-turning quotient: More Bauhaus architecture and styling. VW needs to learn that socialism isn't sexy. Time to get a little wild, VW!
Body style/layout: The mid-size Passat TDI diesel wagon is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive vehicle with four side doors and a rear hatch.
Engine/transmission: The Passat TDI is equipped with a 2-liter, inline four-cylinder, turbocharged, unit-injection diesel engine that develops 134 horsepower at 4,000 revolutions per minute and 247 foot-pounds of torque at 1,900 rpm. The engine is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually.
Capacities: The wagon has seating for five people. Cargo volume with the rear seat up is 39 cubic feet. It's 56.5 cubic feet with the rear seat down. The fuel tank holds 16.4 gallons of recommended low-sulfur diesel.
Mileage: I averaged 37 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving, the best mileage I've ever gotten from a mid-size family wagon with an internal combustion engine.
Safety: Standard side and head air bags.
Price: The Passat TDI diesel wagon is rolling into VW's U.S. dealerships this summer. Initial base price is $24,060. Estimated dealer invoice on base model is $23,000. Estimated price as tested is $24,635, including a $575 destination charge. That's about $205 more than a regular-gasoline Passat wagon.
Purse-strings note: The Passat TDI diesel represents another good alternative buy to gas-electric vehicles.