By on January 11, 2021

The Rare Rides series featured a Passat wagon once before, in the long ago time of 2018. It was a 1992 G60 with all-wheel drive, a manual transmission, and supercharged engine. Staying true to quirky form, today’s newer and more luxury-oriented Passat pairs its all-wheel drive grip with an eight-cylinder engine.

The B5 generation Passat debuted for the 1997 model year in Europe but did not appear in North America until 1998. Larger and more rounded than its B4 predecessor, it was also more upscale. Available with four doors as a sedan and wagon, the Passat shared its platform with the original Audi A4 Americans were offered since 1996. The Audi platform sharing was a return to form for Volkswagen, which used the Audi 80 as the basis for its B2 Passat, a car North America received as the Quantum.

There were many different engines used in Passats globally, which ranged from 1.6 to 4.0 liters in displacement. The majority sold were inline-four configuration, but there were also five- and eight-cylinder options, as well as V6 power. Initially, all examples were front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive arrived by 1997 in Europe as 4MOTION. Transmissions were offered in five- and six-speed guises if manual, and four- or five-speeds if automatic. The majority of North American Passats were equipped with an automatic transmission.

The smaller and more basic Passat trims were not available in the North American market, as Volkswagen positioned the Passat as a premium family sedan a cut above the likes of Camry and Accord. Volkswagen took another step toward premium in 2001 when it facelifted the Passat into the B5.5 generation. Reworked styling brought more modern looks, especially with regard to front and rear lighting. More chrome trim was added, while other trim became body-colored instead of black.

The update also brought with it the ultimate luxury Passat. It used a new 4.0-liter eight-cylinder engine, in W configuration. To create such unusual power, VW took two complicated narrow-angle VR6 engines and removed two cylinders, making them VR4s. Then they mounted them next to one another at a 72-degree angle and put them on a single crankshaft. Boom, W8! The new engine produced 271 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and was the only W8 configuration engine ever to reach production. An offering exclusive to Passat, the engine was entirely different to eight-cylinder power in any other VAG product. Though it was less powerful than a traditional V8, the W8 was notable for its smoothness, complexity, and generally high running costs. It was Volkswagen’s first W-type engine, and the company used the engineering experience with the Passat and applied it later to the W12 made for the Audi A8 and VW Phaeton, and the eventual W16 in the Bugatti Veyron. All cars equipped with the W8 engine had 4MOTION as standard, and the engine was fitted into sedan and wagon versions of the Passat, and with manual and automatic transmissions.

The new ultimate Passat was really expensive though and sold poorly. Just 11,000 W8 Passats were manufactured in total between 2001 and late 2004. After the 2005 model year, Passat began its fall from premium grace. De-contenting occurred, and its platform switched from longitudinal to transverse engine layout. You know the rest. The most exclusive W8 variant in North America by a mile is the wagon with manual transmission, but this automatic will have to do for today. It’s for sale presently outside the quaint blue-collar city of Vancouver, for $8,795 CAD.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4MOTION Wagon, for Low-cost Motoring...”


  • avatar
    boowiebear

    This is a rolling repair bill.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      Yup, and as soon as it stops rolling, you go bankrupt.

      • 0 avatar
        RangerM

        “they turned a lot of True Believers into Toyota Owners.”

        https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/capsule-review-1998-volkswagen-passat-the-g-o-a-t/

        Certainly true for me. Although the 2004 Highlander that replaced my wife’s “new Passat” wasn’t a lot better (with cheap switches and a tendency to never keep an alignment for more than a month, but otherwise mechanically sound).

    • 0 avatar
      zerofoo

      And number one on the top of the repair list are the notorious VAG timing chains – ON THE BACK OF THE ENGINE:

      https://thecarhobby.blogspot.com/2011/10/rant-about-vw-group-timing-chains.html

      When the timing chain tensioners fail – and they will fail – you simply PULL THE ENGINE to replace all the timing chain tensioners and bits.

      Of course if you wait until they fail, you will be replacing the entire motor. Low-cost motoring indeed.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        Well, yeah, have you seen how these Audi motors are jammed into the back side of the radiator? On my old 5000, the engine was so far forward that the radiator was offset to one side. The timing cover was mere inches behind the front bumper.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Exactly, “low cost” and this thing do not belong in the same sentence. Huge repair bills for what? 250hp maybe?

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    First hit for “VW Passat W8 flowchart” links to this article from 2015:

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/crapwagon-outtake-2003-vw-passat-w8-4motion/

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Yep, the good old Audi longitude-FWD layout. It’s got the engine slung out ahead of the front axle, while the transmission bell-housing is in line with the front wheels. Half-shafts come out of each side of the transmission to meet each front wheel (technically making this a transaxle), for standard FWD. If you have quattro/all-wheel drive (as most models do), then a separate driveshaft extends out of the rear, as in a traditional longitude setup, to go to the rear differential and rear wheels.

    The latest incarnation of this layout is called the MLB platform. The B5.5 generation was the last time the Passat would use the Audi-style drivetrain layout. Future Passats would defect to transverse-FWD layouts, and were typically enlarged and dimensionally massaged variants of whatever platform the contemporary Golf was using.

    I’m not sure what the origin of the narrow-V layout was, but it really works for larger engines and cars that use this platform. Take, for instance, the A8, Phaeton, old Continental GT/Flying Spur and current Bentayga. There’s no way a standard V12 would fit at the front of the engine bay like that, whereas their W12 is technically three banks of four, and so is theoretically no longer than a V6 (but a good deal wider).

    As for the Passat W8, it is indeed a one-off engine. That said, it isn’t quite as horrible as it sounds. Or, I should say, one *can* actually own it and wrench on it. A lot of the maintenance and repairs would require engine removal…but the VW/Audi service position isn’t all that scary, either (if lube is involved). The only VW product I’ve seen that is definitively unrepairable is the V10 TDI Touareg of that era. It’s just ridiculous. And, unlike many contemporary luxury SUVs, you can’t just lift the body off the frame…as it’s unibody.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I’ve seen a manual one of these locally, and another for sale. I used to walk past an automatic one parked on the street all the time. There are more than a few VW masochists in my neck of the woods. I know a couple that at one time had 2 Phaetons.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The “low-cost motoring” phrase was definitely tongue-in-cheek clickbait. :)

    My 02 B5.5 Passat V6 was in the shop 12 times in 3 years. It was the first brand-new car I ever owned. In 2020 dollars, I paid the equivalent of $38k. I think the W8 was the equivalent of $56k today.

    At 30k miles, it began burning a quart of oil every 1000 miles, and the dealer hedged on whether diagnosis and repair would be covered under warranty. The 190-HP V6 had dangerous throttle lag which made merging a gamble, and the low fuel warning light would come on at 1/4 tank. The car failed to start when it was 4 months old (crankshaft position sensor), all 4 rotors and pads had to be replaced in its first month due to warpage, and the rear door electrics quit twice. The AC quit once, too.

    As the warranty neared expiration, I realized that the car would be too expensive to keep. I traded it for a Scion xB which gave me no trouble for seven years.

    The only thing I missed about the Passat was its looks; perhaps it was actually an Italian car!

    • 0 avatar

      You might’ve had better luck with a used Audi!

    • 0 avatar
      mankyman

      I feel your pain brother! I had an ’04 V6 + 4Motion. I got it with 40,000 miles on it in 2010 and the alternator almost immediately crapped the bed. (I wondered why it cost me almost $1000 for a a replacement until I did the job myself again at 90,000 miles. Getting access to the alternator was a ba$tard. Service position anyone?)

      Shortly after the alternator went, the coolant sensor went. At least it wasn’t impossible to get to and the replacement part was cheap.

      Then a few months later, the fuel pump went out when my wife was in heavy traffic with my small children in the car. Another $1000 and a tow to the dealership.

      At about 60,000 miles, I had the timing belt replaced, because the V6 engines had a habit of destroying themselves (and the engine), and the original water pump impeller was made of a cheap plastic. Oh, and don’t forget the plastic cam chain guides that also had a habit of breaking.

      For a car with almost 200 HP, it was surprisingly slow. It was also surprisingly cramped inside. Luckily I already knew about its tendency to crap massive amounts of rainwater onto the floor, where it would destroy the TCM.

      Oh, and it totally burned oil. About the same amount as yours, but I was told that level of oil consumption was normal. I never had any problem with window regulators thankfully.

      I should have held firm and told my wife we would be getting an Odyssey.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I had a B5 A4 with the 5V V6, and it was probably the most trouble-free part of the car. I didn’t have to do anything with it other than a water pump/timing belt (regular replacement) in the 4 years I owned it. I *did* however unload it right before it needed that again.

      Front suspension, ignition switch, cruise control, rear wheel bearings, etc. It five and dimed (I mean $500 and $1000) me. I was looking at clutch and aforementioned timing belt when I realized the cost ($3K) would be about the same as the first year of payments on a brand new Cruze Eco. Bonus – I saved so much on gas *alone* (this was 2011) it almost covered the monthly note. I was driving about 650 miles per week back then and 23MPG on premium vs. 40MPG on regular saved me $280 per month.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    One night in 03, my brother called me from a VW lot asking me if he should pick up a W8 4Motion wagon for the wife as the dealer wanted to sell one to him for $12k off sticker, to which I promptly told him to WALK AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN.
    He ultimately ended up with a 1.8 FWD wagon which ~6yrs later turned out to be the most reliable period VW of anyone I knew. And after a somewhat of a lemon of an Odyssey, he’s back in an Atlas.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I had a B5 1.8T Passat. I’ve posted about it before on these digital pages so no need to rehash what the internet can already tell about these vehicles: they are terrible.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    The first few weeks of motoring in a new W8 manual wagon must have been glorious.

    Then, not so much.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    One of the partners in our firm, now retired, had a W8 Passat that he was very proud of, though I do not recall if it was a wagon. I rode in it once, though it was just an inner city drive. I imagine that the car has long since been retired too, but who’s to say?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Converting, the sample car shown above has 82k miles, for $6900 USD.

    It looks very clean, but there is something ominous about the clock showing a time of 23:59.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I bought two old German cars for my winter beaters, both E30 BMWs. By the end of the winter, I could have leased a brand new 3 Series and the overall cost would have been lower.

    Then, I bought an ’02 Subaru Outback for that purpose. Smartest thing I ever did. No costs except for basic maintenance. Yeah it’s slow and not as fun to drive on dry pavement as a hot German car like this, but my wallet thanks me for it.

    I think this would be worse than my E30s honestly. Way worse, what with all the old VW electronica. But it’ll sell. People just get sucked in by the cool looks and prestige. Gets them every time.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      The Passat wagon is very handsome, and has excellent proportions. To me, at least, it’s cool. (I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about my cars, anyway.)
      I don’t get the prestige of VW. It’s by definition a car for the masses, at least, it used to be. Now it’s an expensive car for the gullible. VW prestige buyers are like Cadillac prestige buyers – on the cusp of learning a very expensive lesson.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Funny, I use to have a DSM and realized after all the constant break downs, maint and repairs back around 2006 that I too could have leased a new 3-series for less.

  • avatar
    S4vageB8

    As the owner of several W8’s, my opinion might be slightly different than those posted here already.
    C’mon….most cars with any sort of performance pedigree require higher maintenance costs than the average car. Granted a “Passat” may not be as exotic as a Ferrari needing a $20,000 “annual service” or an Audi R8 needing a $10,000 brake service, but it still full of unique and technically advanced (for its age) parts.
    But if you get a “good one”, they are a blast to drive. My daily ride is usually a 525 hp. 2012 Audi S4 (fast and fun) and I am always amazed at how satisfying driving my W8 can be. It’s comfortable, is fast (enough), stops incredibly well and most of all? It is unique and rare. I can sneak up on a lot of sports cars and blow them away….and I am in a Passat! It’s a real treat indeed.
    As far as my W8 obsession, I have a 2002 Variant (auto) with 177k, a 2003 Variant (auto- 200k – one of four in Indigo Blue), 2003 Sedan (auto – parts car), 2004 Variant 6-speed (one of 6 in Silverstone Gray with 114k) and (whew) a 2004 Sedan (6-speed with 183k). BTW- none have an check engine lights. I do all my own maintenance which definitely helps. I am no stranger to financial and psychological pain – I own two Merkur Scorpios and one XR4Ti.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    10% of car/truck owners on the road today actually know a thing or two about proper maintenance. Those individuals tend to be quite reliable in that regard.

    The majority of car problems tend to happen to the other 90% who treat cars/trucks like appliances. Those individuals tend to have little-to-no idea about even the basics of vehicle maintenance. Just get in and drive.

    I’ve observed this time and again over the years. Rinse and repeat.

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