VW Passat BlueMotion 1.4L one-ups small-engine, mid-size competitors

Sections: Fuel Economy

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VW Passat BlueMotion 1.4 TSI Photo

The smallest-in-class 1.4-liter TSI turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine resides under the hood of the VW Passat BlueMotion that debuted at NAIAS this month. (Photo courtesy Volkswagen)

The VW Passat BlueMotion that debuted at North American International Auto Show in Detroit has a tiny-for-its-class 1.4-liter TSI turbocharged, direct-injected gasoline engine — smaller than any competitor in the midsize class in America.

In a press release, Volkswagen said the 1.4 TSI engine helps the VW Passat BlueMotion achieve estimated highway fuel efficiency of 42 MPG. Also helping it reach that figure are VW’s ACT Active Cylinder Management system that can deactivate the valves on half the engine’s four cylinders when the driver is applying light throttle and a transmission tune that causes the DSG transmission to decouple from the engine when coasting. The latter feature allows for the least amount of mechanical drag possible in the VW Passat when coasting, the automaker said.

“Additional fuel savings come from the stop/start system, which shuts off the engine when the car comes to a temporary stop,” the press release said. “As soon as the driver lifts their foot off the brake, the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine starts again. All these measures result in a manufacturer estimated highway fuel economy rating of 42 mpg. The Passat BlueMotion Concept also delivers 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.”

It’s the most European of Volkswagen powertrain couplings to hit our shores in years, with the exception of the DSG. Plop a manual in that bad boy, and it might as well have come from the Fatherland.

The tiny 1.4-liter engine is the smallest in the class in America. Ford comes close, with its 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine offered in the midsize Fusion. Toyota Camry’s smallest engine is a 2.5-liter affair, as is the Nissan Altima’s. Honda’s Accord gets a base 2.4-liter engin, and Chevrolet’s Malibu gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter mill as its smallest — but not cheapest — option. Even many cars a size class (or two) smaller than the VW Passat BlueMotion have bigger engines than the German family sedan: The subcompact Nissan Juke NISMO crossover I tested last year had a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, while the Nissan Versa Note had a 1.5-liter. The Ford Fiesta Brett has been testing will someday, maybe, possibly be available with a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo engine — something we’re waiting for with baited breath — but for now, the only engine available here in the States is a naturally aspirated 1.6.

Will consumers looking for a fuel-efficient ride flock to the VW Passat BlueMotion the same way they do to the VW Passat TDI and its similarly high-efficiency diesel engine? Time will tell — assuming, that is, VW brings it to production. For now, it’s just a concept car. If the automaker does produce it for sale in the States, I suspect its popularity (or lack thereof) may have as much to do with pricing — and later, one- and three-year reliability stats — as with fuel economy.

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