After all these years of writing about junkyard-found vehicles (15 years, to be exact), I'm trying to fill in some of the thin spots in these automotive history lessons. I've caught up on some of the post-1980s BMWs I'd neglected, I'm trying to add more SUVs to the mix, and now I realize that I haven't paid much attention to discarded VW Passats built since we called that model the Dasher or the Quantum over here. So, I decided to document the very first Passat I found in a junkyard with a manual transmission (just to make the search more of a challenge), and that turned out to be this '03 GLS.
The final Volkswagen Passat has rolled off the assembly line in Chattanooga, Tennessee, ending the model’s extended run on the North American market.
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and introduced in 1973 using the VW/Audi B1 platform, the Passat arrived in the United States as the Dasher and was sold as a midsized luxury vehicle to people in the market for an imported economy car. The model carried different names in other parts of the world and even saw a few unique monikers used in the U.S. (e.g. Quantum) to help differentiate between the hatchback, sedan, and wagon variants sold throughout the 1980s. But it was officially known as the (B2) Passat by 1990, regardless of format.
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.
I was thinking about Volkswagen this weekend, as you do. We’ve all seen the recent reports that the company is losing money, betting big on the new electric ID lineup, and about to sell its halo supercar brand Bugatti.
But I think the company has another, product-centric issue in North America as you might’ve guessed by the title above. The Arteon must go.
When we last checked in on the Volkswagen Passat, the manufacturer was rumored to be considering removing the model from its production lineup. Jetta’s bigger brother failed to garner much attention after its last update, and it just so happens to exist within a vehicle segment that has has seen far better days. Combine that with VW heaping added importance on a lineup of fresh new EVs, and there was good reason to think the family sedan was living on borrowed time.
Despite some company brass eager to kill off the model, it has been decided that the Passat will stick with us a while longer. Autocar recently reported the car has been approved for another generation, expecting it to launch in Europe in 2023.
The next time certain product planners in Wolfsburg look in the mirror, they have a question to ask themselves: “How did we let the Volkswagen Passat get so damn dull?”
Especially after a refresh.
It’s not like the company is incapable of producing quality, fun sedans. The Jetta GLI is a hoot. The Arteon might struggle to find buyers, but that has little to do with the car’s dynamics, as it’s pretty fun to pilot. Even the non-GLI Jetta mixes practicality and pleasure well enough.
Why, then, did the Passat, which was once relatively engaging, if not an outright sports sedan, get so boring?
Volkswagen of America used model names that didn’t match up to those of its European counterparts for much of the 1970s and 1980s. The Golf was the Rabbit through 1984 and the Passat started out as the Dasher and then became the Quantum over here. I find the occasional Dasher or Quantum during my junkyard voyages, but nearly all of the Quantums that have survived into our current century will be gasoline-burning Syncro Wagons. Diesels? After the Oldsmobile Diesel 350 debacle of the late 1970s and early 1980s, few Americans had the guts to buy a new oil-burner.
Volkswagen bestowed the mildest of refreshes on its midsize Passat for 2020, but you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t notice. These days, people are too busy trying to tell the recently enlarged Jetta apart from its slightly beefier stablemate.
Even the previous Passat’s six-speed automatic carried over for 2020.
With Volkswagen charging ahead (ahem) on electrification, the automaker now admits the current Passat may be the last.
When your author’s 2019 Golf SportWagen (to be revealed soon) went into the shop for warranty work after just two weeks of ownership, the dealer provided a service loaner for a couple days (or four). And it was a brand new Passat, but one company PR would never release into the hands of any journalist: the most basic version.
Let’s see if the spacious S sedan is an Ace of Base.
Maybe the writing’s on the wall for the midsize car; many would agree it is. And, perhaps Volkswagen feels this will be the last Passat. Whatever the motivation, the German automaker isn’t putting maximum effort into the next-generation model, due out for the 2020 model year.
While the brand’s upcoming sedan will receive a much-needed styling revamp and new content, the bones beneath it won’t change, nor will the hood conceal the latest in electrified wizardry.
Volkswagen’s Passat has long been the choice for Euro-fetishists who believe themselves too good to purchase a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. That decision was easier to make in 2012, when VW moved 117,023 of them in the United States, diesel cars were still tolerated, and Japan had basically given up on styling its vehicles. But things are different now.
Diesel might as well be a four-letter word when not affixed to trucks and Japan’s automakers have gone mental with their newer designs. Volkswagen only sold 60,700 Passats in the U.S. last year. The automaker needs to work some real magic if it hopes to bring that number up in the years to come. While Europeans get ready to wrap their paws around an MQB-based Passat, Americans remain stuck with an older platform shared with China, South Korea, and the Middle East.
Fortunately, it looks like VW has been hard at work in Asia, delivering a sharp new sedan for the Chinese market that it might share with the U.S. next year.
If there was ever an engine type best associated with my youth, it was the V6. Most of my parents’ cars had ’em, the car I drove to high school (and bought not long after) had one, my friends’ cars had ’em. It was a V6-filled world — and one that now looks pretty distant in the rear-view.
Volkswagen has let slip details of its 2019 Passat, and the changes coming to the final model year of this generation means another V6 engine option drops from the automotive landscape. That leaves just two models in the non-premium midsize sedan space that still offer six cylinders beneath their hoods, and one of them is on its final pass around the sun.
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