VW's Passat: a diesel delight

Penny-pincher alert: It has cost WAW about $700 in fuel to drive almost 30,000 miles (48,280 km); assuming $1.10 per gallon for diesel fuel, Volkswagen's Passat TDI travels a mile for just half a nickel's worth of fuel.

The sipping 1.9L TDI direct-injection diesel has been a model of civility, too; even through a Michigan winter that's seen temperatures dip into the 'teens, the TDI's efficient starting routine demands just a few seconds of waiting before firing up. Nor has the TDI required a drop of oil.

The good folks at Recaro GmbH have become more interested in increasing their North American OEM and aftermarket presence, and WAW asked their new arm, Recaro North America, to upgrade the driver's seat that many editors believe is one of the Passat's few weak features. Recaro NA generously fitted their stiff and superb "Trend" driver's seat with electric tilt and height adjustment. It might be the best $919 (aftermarket base price) long-haul drivers who value their backs can spend.

Combined with VW's straightforward 24-month, 24,000-mile (38,400 kg) no-cost routine maintenance, the Passat TDI has to be one of the lowest cost-of-operation vehicles on the road.

Of course, VW's got an all-new Passat for '98, and we love it, although the new Passat's currently only available with the 1.8L turbocharged I-4 (itself a Ward's Best Engines winner this year).

The new-generation Passat with the TDI is coming later this year and we've got to believe it will be an extraordinary package.

F-150 deserves best-seller rank

It's official again. The Ford Motor Co. F-150 is the country's best-selling vehicle and has been for what seems like since the Model T went out of production.

Okay, that's an exaggeration, but our experience with the F-150 makes it easy to imagine why so many customers can be enticed to lay down serious money for it. The 5.4L Triton V-8 is outstanding for any type of duty; "hauled a light boat and trailer and the 5.4L didn't even notice," says one editor. Others note that the 5.4L Triton V-8 and the no-fuss E40D 4-speed automatic would do more than a few passenger cars proud.

Aside from the sublime Triton-based drive-

train, a few trifles have come through with the miles. We had to have the right-side power window adjusted and some molding replaced on the passenger-side door; the molding, we suspect, was knocked out from extensive use of the third door.

Gander at the maintenance costs, though, and you'll see nothing but good news. Strangely, our dealer has ceased the practice of charging for oil changes and we don't know why - and we're not going to ask until after our full year with the F-150 is officially finished. So even though we don't think we're paying the true cost of routine maintenance, the fact remains that this truck is cheap to keep running - and runs beautifully.

(Never mind about the fuel economy)!

Buick's Riviera redeems itself

Last time WAW checked in, General Motors Corp. had nothing - except, in our opinion, the gutsy 3800 Series II V-6 engine - about which to be proud with the way WAW's long-term Buick Riviera had been assembled. Yes, many of our original nitpicks remain, but the Riviera's starting to come around.

For one thing, although its overall build quality may be somewhat suspect, it has accrued the most mileage of any vehicle in Ward's long-term fleet - and that says something about what drivers really think of the car. And since being repaired after a car-stranding failure, the Riv has performed flawlessly for more miles in the last four months than most folks drive in a year.

Every driver evokes oaths of praise after experiencing the supercharged might of the 3800 Series II. It's a V-6 that thinks it's a

V-8 - but uses fuel more like a 4-cyl. (that 24 mpg is significant in a car of its weight). The 3800's 240 hp seems to always be available - thanks largely to the attentiveness of the Eaton-made supercharger - and the fact is the Riv can dust a lot of performance cars.

We're delighted that our brake-shudder problem is solved; we understand a new pad material is responsible. Now if only Buick's engineers could do something about the damping. Oh yeah: Buick's service has been exceptional.