Hybrids and, more recently, plug-in cars seem to have gotten all the green ink lately, leaving fans of fuel-sipping clean diesels out in the cold.

Four makers sell diesel passenger vehicles in the U.S. for 2012: Audi and BMW joined longtime stalwarts Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen a few years back. And there are more coming next year, a strong-pulling 2013 Cruze diesel from Chevrolet and an unspecified model--most likely the new CX-5 crossover--from Mazda.

But for 2012, the significant new entry is the Volkswagen Passat TDI. Not only is the all-new Passat larger and less expensive than its predecessor, it's aimed at the very heart of the U.S. mid-size sedan market, targeting the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet Malibu.

It's the only one in that list that offers a clean-diesel option, and we suspect VW will sell every one it builds.

The EPA rates the 2012 Passat TDI with six-speed manual at 31 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 35 mpg. That's almost as high as a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and it's higher on the highway. With a six-speed automatic, the ratings fall a bit, to 30 city, 40 highway, and 34 mpg combined.

It's worth remembering, too, that owners of Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesels report that they habitually exceed the EPA ratings for their cars--meaning the Passat TDI's fuel economy could be even better than the ratings.

2012 Volkswagen Passat

2012 Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen is very, very serious about making the new 2012 Passat lineup a success, and it's opened a brand-new U.S. assembly plant specifically to build the U.S. version of the Passat (which is larger than the one sold in Europe, and more similar to a model sold in China).

While the 2012 Passat didn't get stellar ratings in all review categories on our sister site, TheCarConnection, it represents a good value for money and the diesel offering prompted us to name it one of six nominees for the GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy 2012 award.

The Passat is the last of our six nominees. The others are the 2012 Fiat 500, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, the 2012 Infiniti M35h, the 2012 Mitsubishi 'i', and the 2012 Toyota Prius V & Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

Tomorrow, we'll announce the winner--and until then, you can read all the stories we've written about the candidates and the award on our  special page, Best Car To Buy 2012.


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