2002 Volkswagen Passat
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Did we ever think Volkswagen would offer a car that cost approximately $38,000?
Such a Volkswagen model is here. Called the W8, it's the major news for the 2002 Passat line and is part of Volkswagen's strategy to move more upscale.
This is the first Volkswagen with an 8-cylinder engine and the most powerful one ever sold here. And it's the only car in its class with an 8-cylinder engine; that's a major selling point in a country that traditionally loves eight cylinders in cars but usually must settle for four or six cylinders.
Long a major player in Europe, Volkswagen faltered in America for awhile but has made a big comeback in recent years. It is the envy of rivals because it has one of the youngest buyer groups in the country.
The Passat W8 comes as a $37,900 sedan and $38,700 station wagon. It is named for its unusual new 4.0-liter 270-horsepower 8-cylinder engine. The engine has a "double V" or "W" configuration unlike any other 8-cylinder auto engine. It makes the W8 the lowest-priced German 8-cylinder sedan.
Compact New Engine
Look for Volkswagen to use the same technique to make a 12-cylinder engine for an even more upscale auto it has on deck.
The Passat was nice but largely ignored until redone for 1998, when it began looking and performing like costlier Audi models.
The 2001.5 Passat was given numerous changes to make it more solid and to provide better ride and handling. It looked more elegant and sportier than the previous trim, with only the roof and doors shared.
Also, power of the 2001.5 Passat's turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine was upped from 150 to 170. That engine and a 2.8-liter 190-horsepower V6 have been carried over for 2002.
Regular Passats cost from $21,750 to $32,375 and come as a sedan or wagon with front-wheel drive or Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. They look virtually the same as the Passat W8 and are fast, roomy and comfortable.
The Passat W8 has those GLX features and is clearly the most impressive Volkswagen ever offered here.
The new trim provides the smooth, athletic power delivery of a V8 and is quite sophisticated, with such items as four adjustable camshafts. It has some characteristics of race engines. For instance, the steady ignition sequence alternating between the left and right cylinder bank is a typical feature of race car engines.
Standard All-Wheel Drive
Besides the above-mentioned comfort and luxury items, the Passat W8 has features including wood-and-leather chrome interior accents. It even has heated windshield washer nozzles and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
There also are unique 16-inch alloy wheels and four chromed exhaust outlet tips, along with "W8" badging.
The ultrasmooth new engine whisks the 130-mph Passat W8 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and allows easy merging and passing. The 32-valve engine loafs at 2600 rpm at 75 mph. Other Passats aren't as fast but provide good acceleration.
Erratic Initial Acceleration
The W8 works with a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission with a shift gate that allows clutchless manual shifting. Other Passats can be had with a decent 5-speed manual transmission, which isn't offered for the W8 model.
Not a Sports Sedan
The supple suspension smothers most bumps and provides a smooth ride. Powerful brakes provide quick stops, although the pedal needs a more progressive feel.
A sport package with a sport suspension, larger (17- versus 16-inch) wheels and higher-performance tires will be offered for the W8 at the beginning of the 2003 model year—followed soon after by a 6-speed manual transmission.
The rear seat isn't wide enough to comfortably handle three adults and has a stiff center area. The three headrests are a good safety item, but partly block vision through the rearview mirror.
The large trunk has a low opening. It's very long, but not especially deep. Too bad that the W8 and other Passats with all-wheel drive don't have flip-down rear seatbacks, which considerably enlarge the cargo area.
The new engine makes the impressive Passat even more desirable and gives it a definite leg up on rivals. But Volkswagen is going slow with the new model; it says it currently plans to offer only 5,000 W8s annually in this country, for a small percentage of total Passat sales.