- Revolutionary, compact and powerful W8 engine.
- "It only looks like a million dollars" styling.
- High quality interior.
- Confidence-inspiring all-wheel-drive handling.
- Traditional German build quality.
- A little expensive.
- As heavy as the Titanic.
- Needs sports package suspension to be a true sports sedan.
- As good as a BMW but without the prestige.
- Looks almost the same as the cheapest Passat model.
Press Coverage :
Those Vee-four engines are from the fabled VR6 family, which feature pairs of cylinders alternating at a fifteen-degree angle within each of two blocks, which themselves are arranged at a 72 degree angle. The resulting engine is extremely short, allowing it to fit, albeit snugly, under the Passat's comely hood, designed for nothing larger than a V6. The W8 has a "flat" crankshaft, meaning the throws are 180 degrees apart - i.e., all in the same plane - rather than radially dispersed at 90 degrees as in most eights. VW says this helps low-end torque.
Flat cranks also generate a characteristic engine note, which VW didn't mind at all, and a tendency to vibration, which they did mind, since refinement was, along with bottom-end grunt and compactness, among the main design objectives. So a pair of counter-rotating balancing shafts was added.
Chain-driven double overhead camshafts per bank of cylinders, with infinitely-variable timing on the intake cams and two-stage variability on the exhausts, plus 32 valves, make this one busy piece of hardware. I have seen a mechanical cut-away of this engine, showing how the pistons go up and down, the crankshaft goes round and round, and the music comes out here.
All W8 Passats use what VW calls 4Motion four-wheel drive but which is really Audi's quattro system, with a Torsen (torque-sensing) centre differential nominally dividing driving force equally front-to-rear, but automatically and mechanically locking up if differences between front and rear wheel rotational speeds are detected.
Since the car was primarily aimed at North America, something would have to be done, and it was - the final drive ratio was shortened from an Autobahn-friendly 2.91:1 to a more drag-racing oriented 3.50:1, an exceptionally large 20 percent numerical increase. This single change has reduced the 0 - 100 km/h from 7.8 to 6.5 seconds, and the car is much more eager and responsive in all driving conditions. Top speed is reduced too, but that's electronically-limited anyway, not to mention irrelevant over here. Fuel economy also suffers a bit, but if you're paying this much for a car, who cares?
Engine aside, the eight-cylinder Passat is remarkably unchanged from the fewer-cylindered versions. So your neighbours will be hard-pressed to know you've spent this much on a VeeDub; apart from discreet badging, four chromed tailpipes, gas-discharge headlamps, and unique alloy wheels with slightly larger tires, the Passat W8 is pretty much identical to the GLX variants of the refreshed-last-year four and six cylinder cars. Spot the integrated "diversity" radio antenna, headlamp washers, and the wagon's chromed roof rack rails. Same deal inside too, other than additional chrome accents and a standard trip computer. VW may be a down-market badge, but you give up nothing in fit, finish and materials quality.
Sprightlier acceleration aside, driving the Passat W8 is pretty much the same as the lesser models too. The W8 engine doesn't weigh much more than the V6, and chassis settings are very similar, so ride and handling are similar too - namely, excellent. The engine is extremely quiet; when pushed hard, that distinctive exhaust note is just nicely audible.
In fact, the entire car is beautifully refined. If the front seats were a bit longer in the cushion for better thigh support, there'd be almost nothing to complain about. So it all comes down to price, and that badge. The cars are so fully-equipped that the fact that a trunk-mounted six-CD changer is not standard is a shock; it's a dealer-installed option.
2001-2002 Volkswagen Passat GLX
2,771 cc / 190 hp / 206 lb-ft / 3336-3547 lbs / 0-60 mph 9.0 sec.