But with oil prices flirting with record levels, most car buyers are reaching for ant-acids when reading the price at the pump.
While most buyers might consider a small car, other buyers still desire the room, comfort and safety that a mid-sized sedan affords. But most of these vehicles have fuelish V-6 engines. Four-cylinder engines provide better fuel economy, but are usually lacking in power.
So a turbo-diesel powered family sedan might be a good solution. But the question arises, like the odor of salt and grease at a fueling station: Where can one buy a diesel-powered family sedan?
Easy: A Volkswagen dealer.
VW offers diesel power on many vehicles in its line. Now, before you think that VW execs have some supernatural cognitive powers to foresee higher fuel costs, keep in mind that Europeans love diesel engines. That's because fuel costs are more than double those in America.
Certainly, with gasoline attaining a price closer to that of a luxury commodity, it might be time to consider the VW Passat TDI.
The turbocharged/intercooled 2-liter four-cylinder engine produces 134 horsepower and 247 foot-pounds of torque. VW uses direct injection, positioning a fuel injector at each cylinder, to increase the engine's efficiency and power.
The motor is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. A manual transmission is not offered with the TDI engine.
The Passat TDI comes in GL and GLS trim, and front-wheel-drive. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive option, available in the rest of the Passat line, is unavailable with the TDI engine.
So while drivetrain options might be limited, the distance you can go on one tank of fuel will not be. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Passat TDI at 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway. VW estimates a driving range of 623 miles, enough to go from Detroit to Washington, D.C., without stopping.
A week of mixed city/highway driving returned 27 mpg. Very good results indeed when you consider that the TDI drivetrain costs just $205 more than its petrol-powered counterpart.
And let's not forget, this is a Passat. That means stellar German design, simple, elegant controls, an interior whose quality belies the car's price and seats so comfortable, you won't mind not stopping to stretch your legs.
The TDI also has the Passat's excellent handling characteristics. The steering has good feel and is quick enough to have fun scooting through corners. The suspension ably absorbs the worst road imperfections that PennDOT can create. Bumps are noticed, but the shock never makes it through to the driver. Body lean is well-controlled and the Passat never suffers from excess road noise.
But it does suffer from the inclusion of the TDI engine.
While some of VW's diesel-powered vehicles don't penalize the driver, the Passat does. It makes all the traditional clattering noise one expects from a diesel, noise you can hear inside the cabin. Once the clattering settles down, a prominent hum is present.
The initial throttle response is extremely sluggish, as one must wait for the turbocharger to kick in. When it does, it feels like the cavalry arrived and things get hectic quickly. Finally, the TDI sends enough vibration through the vehicle into the driver's seat that you'll swear you're sitting on a vibrating mattress in a cheap motel.
In other words, it lacks the refinement that so defines the rest of the vehicle.
VW has done better than the Passat when it comes to diesel installations, so it's surprising to find such a lack of refinement in an otherwise satisfying family sedan.
It's almost like arriving at the gas station and finding fine wine and brie rather than soft drinks and burgers.
But despite it all, I'll still need that antacid.