The Volkswagen name was once synonymous with the ultimate in economy, the least expensive cars to buy and operate. A lot has changed since the original Beetle, however. VW’s are still efficient, but they are not the cheapest cars on the lot.
Now, with the introduction of the Passat W8, Volkswagen is competing with established luxury marques with a base price flirting with 40 grand. One thing that’s the same, however, is VW’s innovative spirit. There was nothing like the Beetle, and no one has ever made an engine like the W8’s.
The entire Passat line was completely redesigned for 2002, with bolder contours and new lights front and rear. Its chassis is 10 percent stiffer for an improved ride and better handling.
The Passat W8 went on sale in April as a 2002 model. The W8 model is named after its unique eight-cylinder engine, a compact engine with its cylinders in a double V, hence the W8 designation. This results in a midsize sedan with a 4.0-liter eight-cylinder engine, where all its competitors have at best a V6. Indeed, Volkswagen boasts that it’s the only eight-cylinder European sedan priced under $50,000 on the market today.
Volkswagen’s Passat is available in a wide range of models and prices, from $21,750 to $38,700. Two body styles are available, a four-door sedan and a station wagon with a 39 cubic foot cargo capacity.
Three engines are available: four-cylinder turbo, V6, and W8. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is also available. Two trim-levels are offered, GLS and GLX. Naturally, you can’t order a la carte, and the menu allows only certain substitutions.
GLS sedan ($21,750) and GLS wagon ($22,550) come standard with the 1.8T turbocharged four-cylinder engine used by Volkswagen and Audi. It’s a well-equipped bargain. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, rear window and side mirror defrosters and a multi-function trip computer.
GLS is also offered with 190-horsepower V6. It comes with a choice of five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift control. The automatic is required to get Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, currently offered only with the V6. So equipped, the GLS lists for $27,075. GLX equipment listed below is available as options on GLS.
GLX trim is the top V6 model. It comes standard with leather upholstery, wood trim, electronic climate control, Monsoon audio, heated power driver and passenger seats, a power glass sunroof, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive, the base price for the GLX is $31,575. The equivalent wagon retails for $32,375. The only options available for the GLX are the automatic transmission, no-charge metallic paint, and a dealer-installed six-disc CD changer and in-dash CD-player.
W8 comes with its namesake engine as well as virtually all amenities. In addition to the goodies on the GLX, the W8 adds heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a self-dimming rearview mirror as standard equipment. The W8 sedan lists for $37,900, and the wagon for $38,700. A optional Sport Package includes sportier suspension tuning (presumably firmer shocks and springs and a lower ride height) and 17-inch alloy wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is planned for the 2003 model year.
Volkswagen extended its warranty coverage for 2002. Passat is covered by a 4-year/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that includes wear-and-tear items and adjustments for the first 12 months or 12,000 miles. The powertrain warranty was reduced to 5 years/60,000 miles, but is now fully transferable. Passat owners are also covered by a 4-year/50,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance program.
Passat’s styling is distinctive, its arched roof and six-light side glass standing out among look-alike sedans. Alterations to the front and rear for 2002 make its avant-garde design bolder still. A new grille with chrome accents is sharply raked and smoothly integrated into the bumper.
Most Passats come with halogen headlamps under clear polycarbonate lenses and standard halogen projector beam foglamps integrated into the front bumper. W8 models come standard with high-intensity gas-discharge (HID) headlamps and headlamp washers.
The crisp styling at the rear is highlighted by rear lamps with round lenses for the brake and tail lights.
Anyone familiar with Volkswagens will readily identify the Passat’s interior as a member of the family. The dash and seats are cleanly designed and handsome, harmonizing well with the exterior design. The arched hood over the instruments echoes the roofline, and the soft curve of the dash matches the exterior sheet metal.
The speedometer and tachometer flanking two smaller gauges have faces with the look of precision instruments, and at night illuminate with a cool blue light that will be the envy of your peers. Standard even on the base GLS model is a dot-matrix readout multifunction trip computer that calculates trip time, trip length, average trip speed and fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, miles to empty and external temperature. There’s even a light for low washer fluid.
Getting in is easy, with a silicone-damped assist handle over each door. Central locking is standard, and a valet key keeps the guys at the car park out of your trunk. The interior center dome light, with time delay, is complemented by two reading lights front and rear. Doors lock at 8 mph (but can be reprogrammed by the dealer) and unlock for occupant rescue in case of airbag deployment. In addition to the standard front airbags, the Passat comes standard with seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags designed to help protect front and rear seat passengers in case of a side collision.
Seats are firm but comfortable for a long drive. The front seats have a hand-crank recline that has the advantage of being infinitely variable but takes longer and is more awkward to adjust. VW uses special soft-touch paint for painted interior surfaces. A new console between the front seats has adjustable cupholders and a large storage compartment.
Two adult males will have adequate room in the back seat, but three will be a squeeze and shouldn’t be contemplated for more than a short ride. Three-point seat belts are provided for the outboard passengers only. Cupholders for the rear seats are located in a fold-down armrest that also has more storage.
The sedan’s trunk is truly cavernous, with a flat floor extending the full distance to the seatbacks, which is quite a way. The result is an impressive 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and with none of it lost to the trunk lid supports as the Passat has articulated trunk lid supports.
Coming on the W8 during calendar year 2003 is OnStar telematics, including automatic notification of airbag deployment, remote unlocking, stolen vehicle tracking, route guidance and more. Owners will also be able to make hands-free cellular calls via OnStar Personal Calling. Eventually, OnStar will be available on all Volkswagens.
Passat comes in a variety of models that all have their individual merits. We’ll focus on the Passat GLS with the manual transmission to see how much VW you can get for under $22,000, and the Passat W8, to see what a difference another $16,000 makes.
GLX comes with the new 1.8T engine. The V6 offers quicker acceleration than a 1.8T with an automatic, but a 1.8T with the manual transmission is quicker than the V6 with the automatic. If you prefer an automatic transmission, we think you’re much better off with the V6. No surprise, the 270-horsepower W8 eclipses them all with a claimed 6.5-second dash from 0 to 60 mph.
Volkswagen shares the 1.8T with corporate cousin Audi. This relatively small (1781cc) four-cylinder engine uses a double-overhead-cam five-valve-per-cylinder design combined with an intercooled turbocharger to produce a prodigious 170 horsepower. Even more impressive is the broad torque spread, 166 pound-feet from 1950 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm. The only downside is a thirst for unleaded premium (91 octane) fuel.
The larger (2771 cc), naturally aspirated 2.8-liter V6 also has five valves per cylinder but offers only 20 more horsepower than the 1.8T four-cylinder. Torque, important for those using the Passat’s passenger or cargo capacity, is, however, a healthy 206 pound-feet.
Raw numbers aside, we like the eager feel of the 1.8T. It has a solid punch down low, thanks to careful tuning of its turbocharger, but really sings at the upper rev range. This engine truly enjoys its work, and working it is especially enjoyable as well. The five-speed manual gearbox contributes an operation delight of its own, with a feel of quality material shaped by careful hands. The shifter slides effortlessly from gear to gear.
We drove the Passat GLS 1.8T on winding roads in the Georgia red clay hills north of Atlanta and were impressed by the Passat’s ability to accelerate away from slow corners with little drama from the chassis. The Passat had none of the squirreliness suffered by many front-driver cars, due in large part to its sophisticated front suspension.
Cornering is balanced front to rear, with little understeer. The four-link front suspension uses coil springs and an anti-roll bar, while the rear suspension uses VW’s trusted and true torsion beam axle with trailing arms, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. The suspension absorbs bumps and potholes like a dry sponge on spilled milk. The Passat is solid, with no shakes transmitted through the steering column or the chassis. Want confidence? It comes bundled in the base Passat.
The W8, on the other hand, has an “almost all-new” engine. It has been on sale in Europe for a year at the time of U.S. introduction, but that’s not the reason we call it “almost all-new.” We use that term because the W8 engine is the conjoining of two Volkswagen VR6 engines, less two cylinders each, on a single crankshaft. The explanation gets a bit technoid for the next few sentences so bear with us or feel free to skip ahead while we satisfy the gearheads in the audience: The VR6 is a narrow angle V6, with an enclosed angle of 15 degrees and a single cylinder head. VW engineers originally joined two VR6 engines to create a running W12-powered concept car. In the W8, two “VR4” engines are joined at 72 degrees on a common crankshaft with offset pins that produce an even firing pattern. Although this produces even power pulses, it’s not dynamically balanced, but VW cures that with twin counter-rotating balance shafts. The result is a compact eight-cylinder that makes more horsepower than an engine squished into that small of a space has a right to make. The W8 engine produces 270 horsepower at 6000 rpm with a strong 273 pound-feet of torque at 2750 rpm.
The W8’s power is masked by its smooth delivery. The Passat W8 responds to the accelerator pedal with no-fuss/no-worry acceleration. The 4Motion all-wheel drive mutes any power delivery histrionics as the Passat is whisked to surprising velocities in a remarkably short period of time. On winding roads south of Half Moon Bay, California, we had the opportunity to let the W8 scamper. It’s telling about that W8 engine that despite the five-speed automatic’s Tiptronic manual shifting capability, we left the gear lever in full automatic mode. The engine’s torque was so smooth and the shift programming sufficiently clever that we didn’t feel the urge to improve upon it.
Volkswagen is rightfully proud of the distinctive engine note of the W8 engine. It sounds good both inside and outside the car, especially when accelerating. There’s no noise or harshness, just a distinctive warble from the even-firing eight cylinder engine. That said, the Passat W8 does not possess a particularly sporty personality, but rather one of a long-legged touring car. It swept lazily up California 1 south of San Francisco with ease. The W8 is speed-limited to 130 mph (ungoverned, and with a different final drive, it will go 145 in Europe) in deference to grippier tires used in America where top speed is academic anyway.
Passat W8 weighs about 800 pounds more than the front-drive 1.8T Passat, and its city mpg drops below 20, and that’s on premium fuel. Highway mileage is very respectable, however.
Road noise is noticeable in all Passat models, especially over tar-and-chip type pavement. It’s less noticeable in the W8, however, which benefits from an improved, more rigid chassis. And there’s wind noise at 80 mph. It’s a good thing that cruise control is standard as it can help drivers avoid tickets in this superb sedan. The Passat’s competence at high speeds no doubt springs from its upbringing in Germany, the home of the Autobahn. The Passat cruises lazily at any legal speed in the U.S.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard along with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Traction control, which Volkswagen calls ASR, or Anti-Slip Regulation, is standard to reduce wheelspin and improve stability under acceleration. Also standard is EDL, an Electronic Differential Lock, which helps apportion torque between the front wheels, again for improved stability, less wheelspin, and quicker acceleration performance.
Steel wheels (6x15-inch) are standard on the GLS. Optional alloy wheels are an inch wider than the standard rims. GLX comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, as does the W8. Steering is by power-assisted rack and pinion; the turning circle is a not especially tight at 37.4 feet curb to curb.
The Passat is America’s best-selling German car. Volkswagen has gone from selling about 15,000 Passats annually five years ago to nearly 100,000 sold last year. The Passat GLS 1.8T was the least expensive German-built car sold in the U.S. until the Jetta wagon arrived last summer; lower priced VWs sold in the U.S. are made in Mexico. The W8 now becomes the most expensive Volkswagen ever.
Volkswagen plans to sell only 5000 W8s per year, which makes the W8 something of a halo car, meant to reflect glory on its lesser peers. On the other hand, its features make the W8 a good deal for the money, even if that’s more than the base GLS.
The Passat GLS 1.8T is our pick for those on a moderate budget. It beats the V6 by several miles per gallon.
The Passat W8 will place you in an exclusive group of drivers. There is no other W8 engine in the world, nor is there likely to be one, and owners of a W8 can expect to explain the difference between it and a V8 many, many times. In addition to being a member of the elite, you’ll be driving an excellent automobile. We’re interested in the sport package and six-speed manual transmission, which we expect will give the Passat W8 a more sporting personality.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||Sedans: GLS 1.8T ($21,750); GLS V6 ($24,250); GLS V6 4Motion ($27,075); GLX V6 ($28,750); GLX V6 4Motion ($31,575); W8 ($37,900) Wagons: GLS ($22,550); GLS V6 ($25,050); GLS V6 4Motion ($27,875); GLX V6 ($29,550); GLX V6 4Motion ($32,375); W8 ($38,700) |
|Engines: ||170-hp 1.8-liter dohc 20v turbo inline-4; 190-hp 2.8-liter dohc 30v V6; 270-hp 4.0-liter dohc 48v W8 |
|Transmissions: ||5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||ABS, traction control, electronic differential lock, dual front airbags, front side seat-mounted airbags, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters, rear-seat head restraints |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||LATCH child safety seat anchorage points |
|Basic warranty: ||4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Emden, Germany |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||Passat W8 sedan ($37,900) |
|Standard equipment: ||fog lamps, heated folding mirrors, self-dimming inside rear view mirror, rain-sensing speed-sensitive intermittent wipers, heated windshield wiper nozzles, air conditioning w/automatic climate control, immobilizer anti-theft system, cruise control, rear defroster, floor mats, multi-function trip computer, remote/central locking, front & rear reading lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, power outlet in trunk, 8-speaker AM/FM cassette/CD Monsoon audio, 8-way power front seats with driver memory, 60/40 split folding rear seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, HVAC with pollen/dust filter, power windows, ABS, traction control, rack and pinion power steering, HID headlamps, ESP stability program |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||none |
|Destination charge: ||($550) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$ 37,900 |
|Layout: ||all-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||4.0-liter dohc 48-valve W8 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||270 @ 6000 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||273 @ 2750 |
|Transmission: ||5-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||18/25 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||106.4 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||185.2/68.7/57.5 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||59.5/59.4 in. |
|Turning circle: ||37.7 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||37.8/NA/41.5 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||37.3/NA/35.3 in. |
|Cargo volume: ||10.0 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||N/A |
|Suspension, f: ||independent |
|Suspension, r: ||independent |
|Ground clearance: ||4.9 in. |
|Curb weight: ||3907 lbs. |
|Tires: ||P215/55R16 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||disc/disc with ABS |
|Fuel capacity: ||21.1 gal. |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of April 22, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-DRIVE-VW - www.vw.com
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