2013 Passat TDI Gripes

For the most part, this car is great. Alas, not everything is perfect. Increased automation decreases our naturally perceived limitations and expands our expectations of what is possible. It also exposes the limited thinking of the designers of these new systems. And sometimes these new systems quite simply take us a step or two backward.

Underpowered Infotainment System

Primarily, the larger screen infotainment system is dreadfully slow. I mean it’s almost unusable often with more than one second passing between pressing a button on the resistive touch screen and getting any kind of reaction. I mean, right off the bat, it’s a touchscreen so forget about any tactile feedback or operating the controls by feel, keeping eyes on the road. One finds oneself devoting far too much attention to the system to see if one’s inputs are producing desired results. Dangerous. Nevermind the nearly one minute time required to fully boot the system on startup. We complained a few times. Eventually VW issued a TSB stating, “Yes, it’s slow. No, we aren’t going to fix it.”

A gripe about all automotive infotainment systems, why does turning off the music also turn off satnav, phone, status, etc.? I get that it’s one computer handling all these features but these features are unrelated to each other! They should not have a common “power” button. Engineers, have you actually used one of these systems?

On the other hand, all AM, FM and satellite radio stations are accessible within the same favorites list. Other radios (including newer VWs) require you to have a different set of preselects for each band which makes it very frustrating for the channel-flippers I live with to bounce between their favorite local and satellite radio stations. So there's one nicety on the otherwise slow and crummy UI.

Also because it’s a touchscreen, the user interface is mostly more intuitive and quick/easy to use compared to click-knob or buttons-on-the-side UIs.

Slow to Turn-On Reverse Camera

Due to the awful infotainment system above, the reverse camera is uselessly slow to activate at boot-time. Typically I start the car, put on my seatbelt, check mirrors, engage reverse gear and start backing up. Note, I usually don’t bother to check the reverse camera because it rarely shows on the screen until I’m ready to switch to a forward gear. Occasionally I get the timing right and it comes on immediately. Rarely I sit idling long enough that the infotainment system boots far enough that it can display the camera.

I attribute the slow starts to the application processor in the infotainment system. Whatever software its running takes forever to boot. It starts playing whatever the last media or radio station you had on rather quickly, but important stuff? Forget about it.

Very occasionally I’ll get the timing just right between startup and selecting reverse gear that I believe some auxiliary microcontroller steps in and routes the camera feed directly to the LCD screen. Often in-car systems like this split functionality between a real-time microcontroller and a heavyweight applications processor due to critical timing requirements in an automotive system like power-on response to the CAN bus. But usually I miss that magic window and the applications processor takes over the reverse camera functionality even though it hasn’t booted far enough to do the job.

No Manual Transmission
It is possible to get a three-pedal user interface in the base model Passat TDI. But it’s not offered at all on the SEL Premium despite the fact that it’s the exact same motor. Sure, it’s “just” a diesel family car. Some of us still appreciate the act of driving and prefer the driver involvement afforded by direct control. Lightweight cars and easy VW clutches making driving uphill in stop-and-go traffic a snap, so there’s no downside.
Sluggish Shifting
The tuning of the TDI’s direct-shift gearbox (DSG) errs on the side of lackadaisical. It’s definitely not the fault of the transmission itself. The dual-clutch system is capable of switching gears as fast as it can disengage one clutch and engage the next — milliseconds. But the designers chose smooth over sport for this one. Even selecting the transmission’s “sport” mode just increases the rev range for upshifts and sensitivity initiating downshifts, which is somewhat dubious for the high-torque, low-revving turbo-diesel. It did not increase the aggressiveness of the clutch actuation. Doubtless this was fixable via aftermarket tuning.
FWD, open differential
Where my 4Motion at? All that diesel torque is useless from a stop if you can’t put it to the pavement. By the time you’re beyond tire-spinning momentum, the engine runs out of breath. Were it possible to completely disable the traction control, I’m sure the torquey mill could roast the tires to the rims. But since you can’t disable it, the car just makes embarrassing chirps leaving the neighborhood. At least the electronic LSD and traction control do a much better job than the overly-invasive anti-slip control in our 2002 wagon.