Volkswagen Variants on a Theme: 2003 Jetta GLS 1.8T v. 2001 Passat GLS 1.8T

Obviously, this post comes to you from someone who likes Volkswagens – and, in particular, 5-door VWs. I’m not sure exactly what the attraction is for me, but the last two Volkswagens I’ve had – both Passat GLS 1.8T Variants – have been faithful and fun-to-drive companions. Despite their relative popularity (VW sold nearly 110,000 wagons in North America – 20% of production overall), they somehow manage to stand apart from the crowd. And for about ten years VW enthusiasts got to choose not only from the Passat’s fairly robust lineup of wagons which featured everything from luxurious automatic V6 all-wheel drivers to thrifty diesels and outrageous W8s, but there was also the slightly smaller Jetta Wagon as well. Like the Passat, several options were available, from a basic 2.0, the turbo 1.8, the TDI and the crazy VR6 model.

Today I’ve got two examples to consider; in this case, both are front-drive 1.8T 5-speed manual GLSs. Despite what should be a very similar basis, these two take on remarkably different character. Pricing is pretty similar but presentation and mileage are quite different. Which is the one to buy? Let’s start with the Jetta:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T Wagon on eBay

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2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS 1.8T Variant

The Volkswagen Passat isn’t a particularly exciting car to drive. It’s also not particularly exciting to look at. While most people would categorize those as negative attributes for vehicle ownership, there’s a third thing that the Passat isn’t particularly exciting at which I’d wager most would consider a very good thing.

It’s not an exciting car to own.

“But isn’t that a bad thing?!?! you’re thinking to yourself? Sure, when I go out into the garage and see the M3 sitting there, my pulse rate quickens. Scratch that, I don’t even have to go into the garage – endorphins flow at the mere thought of it. And turning the key? All sorts of goodness happens. I’ll spare you the details, but sufficed to say it’s an exciting car to own, look at and drive. The Passat is not a M3.

But it is a vehicle thoroughly devoid of drama, and to me, that’s what makes the Passat a not exciting car to own. Take the contemporary Audi Allroad from the same period for example. The Passat mimics the look and the function of the A6 in nearly every way. It’s not even much slower on a continuum. But Less exciting to own? For sure, and when you’re talking breaking and repairs, that’s a very good thing.

Because let’s be honest for a second; these cars that we love, that we fawn over, that we pontificate about – they’re pieces of metal with a lot of plastic and complicated electrical and pneumatic systems. And they’re not getting any younger. Take my 2002 Passat as a case study; it’s on the verge of being 17 years old and has now covered over 140,000 miles. Yet it’s caused no sleepless nights, no emptying of wallets, not even left me stranded once. It’s just been completely reliable transportation in all weather, with my family, all our goods and a ridiculous amount of various cargo. I’ve had full-sized sofas on the roof, entire Ikea kitchens inside. It’s been a garden gnome full of trees, flowers and vegetables to plant. It’s transported rocks, gravel, dirt, bicycles, strollers, and everything in between. It’s cool on the hottest day, warm on the coldest, the starts everytime and all the electrics work still. Is it without flaw? No, along the way items have broken. But my point is that it offers 99% of the experience of it’s more expensive brethren with 90% less drama. And don’t think my singular experience is unique, because I’ve had two, and the last one – which I sold now 6 years ago with over 200,000 miles on the clock, did the same thing – and still is, with it’s new owner. I saw it just the other day, and it’s a tick under 240,000 without major issue too. And when I look around, what’s the most common older German vehicle I see cruising around me? B5.5 Passats, pretty much everywhere in RI, MA and CT. They’re all still running strong despite the newest now being 12 years old.

And I’d argue that while most will dismiss the lack of ownership drama as not reason enough to be interested, the B5.5 Passat is also a pretty good looking car. Beyond that, it’s also reasonably fun to drive in GLS 1.8T manual form – kind of a bigger GTI in many ways. But as I said, they’re getting older, so if you really like the idea of jumping on the bandwagon a bit after everyone else has, finding a clean example is key – and this 2004 sure looks clean:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS 1.8T Variant on eBay

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed

I always get a bit of a chuckle at the keyboard warriors who love to denigrate manufacturers for not offering the full European catalog to U.S. customers. Really, you’d buy a RS6 Avant if it was offered here? You and what bank account, Mr. Sittinginhisrentedapartmentstealinginternetfromtheneighbors? Manufacturers need to live in the real world, and in the real world of the United States, while there is in fact a market who would purchase top-tier cars like the RS6 Avant, the reality is that the vocal majority of enthusiasts barking about how they’d snap them up like hotcakes would – at best – be hoping to buy a lightly used one downstream. At worst, these super wagons would only become affordable after ten years, at which point their complicated systems would render ownership prohibitively expensive for most. So, they kick tires, simultaneously ruing that such options aren’t available to them while secret thankful that they don’t have to put their money where their mouths are. We don’t have to look back far to find why this market departed the U.S., because when we were afforded the option to buy these cars, we found them unaffordable. Witness the very expensive W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant on eBay

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2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant

The main problem for the Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant is the plethora of other very capable all-wheel drive wagons that ran alongside it. Scratch that. The main problem for the Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant is that it’s just too damn complicated for its own good. On paper, an 8-cylinder, 270 horsepower all-wheel drive Passat just sounds damn cool. You could even get it with a 6-speed manual, if you could find one. If optioned correctly, the W8 had some pretty trick BBS-made “Madras” 2-piece wheels too, just like the ones we see here. But VAG designs from the early 2000s had a tendency for complicated engineering for complicated engineering’s sake, and it doesn’t get a whole lot more complicated than the timing chain routes on the back of VAG motors. That’s right, the back. Because, of course, if you put a timing chain in, you don’t need to ever service it, right? In the quest for greater performance and numbers, we stumbled through a looking glass of complexity that has rendered an entire generation of cars so massively over-engineered relative to their specific output that it simply makes no sense to even briefly contemplate their ownership:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant on eBay

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant

Volkswagen is really great at theory, but not so much at execution. They’ve had a long line of really strange marketing decisions which have at times left the company in dire straights. One wonders how Volkswagen will emerge in the wake of the recent diesel scandal, for example, though many other manufacturers like Mitsubishi (you forgot they still made cars, didn’t you? Me too.) are doing their best to usurp VW’s crown as a manufacturing pariah. Yet, Volkswagen has so many debacles it has run its customers through that it should be amazing they come back for more at all. In the early 1990s, they mis-rated the timing belt service intervals on the early V8 quattros. The result was, predictably, a bunch of engine replacements. The 1.8T became notorious for turbo sludge problems, too – rectified with larger filters and synthetic-only oil, but a fair number (including my Passat) had factory turbo replacement. The 3.0 V6? A timebomb of metal shards working their way from the passenger rear of the motor through the engine, thanks to what appears to be an oil starvation design flaw. The 2.7Ts, 4.2s and all of the FSi motors? Known issues, sometimes very large and expensive. Coil packs, unnecessarily complicated PSV systems, transmissions made of glass and clogging sunroof channels? All the norm in your VAG experience. But Volkswagen really outdid themselves by making a complicated system even more complicated when they introduced the 4.0 W8 into the Passat. Sure, it was a test bed for later W12 models, and viewed in that light it makes some sense. But then, the Passat shown here is much more rare than the Bentleys and even some of the A8 W12 models that derived experience from the B5.5. Volkswagen could simply have taken any one of their proven engines and provided the answer to whatever question they were posing when they conceived this vehicle. Instead, they did things differently. That’s both something to celebrate and something to point out as an inherent character flaw:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant on eBay

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Deja Blue: 2002 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T GLS Variant

Oh boy. It’s a Passat, it’s a B5/5.5 generation, and it’s a wagon so automatically you know I’m interested. And, above and beyond that, it’s a whole lot like my car – a 2002 GLS in Ink Blue Pearl, 1.8T and with a 5-speed drivetrain. So, out come the production numbers! For the U.S., Ink Blue is a pretty rare color – in total, 1022 Passats were sold here in that color. 695 of those were sold in 2002. 485 of those were GLS trim, and now we start getting into the rare part. Only 131 were wagons, and only 49 of those were manuals. 38 of those were 1.8T, in 3 different color interior options and 2 different fabrics. The most common was gray cloth, with 14 sold. I have one of the 6 gray leather cars. There were 9 sold with black cloth and a further 5 with black leather. But I was pretty surprised to see the beige option numbers – only 3 sold with cloth and 1 with leather. This, then, is a 1 of 1 car – the sole 2002 Passat 1.8T GLS Variant with Beige leather sold that year:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2002 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T GLS Variant on eBay

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2004 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T GLS 4Motion Variant

When it comes to rare German cars that came to the U.S., one does not immediately think of the Volkswagen Passat. The B5/B5.5 generation helped to transform the image of Volkswagen from a quirky mid-range also-ran to a more upscale, premium product – effectively, affordable Audis, which is what they essentially were. As such, the 5th generation Passat was pretty popular in North America, with a total of nearly 486,000 models sold here over its 8 year production life. While that’s not Camry numbers, compared to where Volkswagen stood in the early 1990s it was positively a blockbuster. But while that production success made the Passat a common sight on most road, there are still some very rare variations of the B5 chassis that could easily slip by most non-enthusiast’s eyes as just another example. Obviously, when “rare” and “Passat” come up in conversation, almost immediately “W8” follows. And rare they were, as only a total of 5,361 W8s made the trip across the Atlantic; just over 1% of total Passat production. But even more rare is the car we see here. The all-wheel drive Passat, dubbed “4Motion” though it was the same drivetrain as the Audi quattros, was not a new thing, being available on both the B5 and B5.5 in V6 and W8 form. But in 2004 and 2005, you could also get a 1.8T 4Motion Passat. The 1.8T had previously been available in 4Motion form in 2001, but only in Tiptronic form – by far, the most frequently selected option for transmission. A total of 23,606 1.8T 4Motions were sold between 2001, 2004 and 2005 in Canada and the U.S. in sedan and wagon form. Now, I know what you’re saying…”Not particularly rare, Carter!” But let’s break it down a bit. If we filter down to Variants, the number drops to 5,962. That number gets even more rare when you see how many selected the manual transmission option; a scant 657 between the U.S. and Canada in both 2004 and 2005. Drop down to this model – a U.S. spec 2004, and it’s one of 416 sold. 33 of those were selected in “Shadow Blue Metallic”, the color of this example, and of those only 6 were equipped with Anthracite Leather:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T GLS 4Motion Variant on Boston Craigslist

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion 6-speed

The words “Q-Ship” and “Sleeper” get tossed around a lot when describing the super-performing sedans, coupes and wagons from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW – but truth be told, virtually any enthusiast and most non-enthusiasts can spot a high performance model a mile away. We have to go really pretty far back to find examples that were true sleepers – models where it was only the number of tail pipes, subtly wider wheels, or maybe one single badge that hinted at their greater performance. There were no extra gills, bulges, flared fenders, red trim, flashy colored brake calipers and 29″ wheels with 375 section tires. For models like the 450SEL 6.9, you had to know what you were looking at to fully appreciate the performance. But even as we got towards the E28 M5, manufacturers were slapping badges, lowered suspensions, spoilers and special trim to help set their client’s substantial investments apart. In the vein of the 450SEL 6.9, though, Volkswagen launched a discrete performance sedan – a true sleeper – in the Passat W8:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion on eBay

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2003 Volkswagen Passat GLX V6

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As I prepare my departure from the Washington, DC region next year, one skill at which I’ve become quite adroit during my stay is the ability to know my audience. Sometimes it’s best not to interject personal opinion around here unless you want to start a war. But you know what? Given it’s the holiday season, I felt like I needed to spread some cheer. Or, in this case, grief. And it’s directed squarely at Volkswagen and their discriminatory and downright disappointing product decisions which they have taken in the US market. I’ve got a short list of grievances to air, so let’s run down the list:

1. Please don’t create a whole subset of models specific to the US market. Sure, tastes differ across the globe, but individuality is king. Not only that, “global” models will save development costs.

2. Tell the product planners over at Audi that we need less SUVs, more Avants and a halt to the removal of manual gearbox options year on year. You might not have noticed, but we witnessed another three-pedal death with the redesigned 2016 Audi TT.

3. Audi needs to rethink their move in not bringing the A3/S3 Sportback stateside. While not as hideous as the Mercedes-Benz CLA, not everyone wants to do yoga moves to get in the back seat of a small sedan like the A3 and S3 or lose the convenience that comes with the larger load bay of a hatchback.

4. The Volkswagen Routan. If the person who gave this model the green light is still employed with Volkswagen, they should stand trial for a crime against humanity. Is it any wonder this badge engineered turd only lasted five years? Bring the Transporter/Eurovan back, please. Those who enjoy the great outdoors will thank you.

5. US Scirocco sales should commence. Immediately. Your argument that the Scirocco would cannibalize GTi sales is invalid, Volkswagen.

6. Let’s talk about the 500 pound elephant in the room that is the Volkswagen Passat. The car which led the VW renaissance in the US almost 20 years ago is now nothing more than a German Ford Taurus. At least there was a diesel option with a 6-speed manual before the emissions fiasco this year, but now the oil burner has been removed from the lineup. Additionally, not everyone who opts for a new Passat with a manual gearbox wants the bare bones trim level. Let those who enjoy the manual gearbox choose all the options they want, please. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it is that we can still buy the attractive Passat CC (but I’m guessing not for long).

7. Will we ever see the Volkswagen Polo in the US? The Polo GTi would be a worthy competitor to the current MINI Cooper S, which has gotten hideously large. Also, how about the Passat Alltrack for kicks? This would give the Subaru Outback a run for its money and you would certainly grab the interest of the VW faithful still running the few Quantum Syncro Wagons left.

I’m sure there are other complaints which I might have failed to address. To be fair, it’s not entirely Volkswagen’s fault, as the rules and regulations to sell a car in the US would make dictators of a one party state cringe. Needless to say, the old adage holds true here: freedom defined is freedom denied. One thing is certain, though. I almost feel as if the diesel emissions scandal that shook VW to the core in September is, in a sense, a bit of karma for a car company which strayed too far its roots and lost some of its most loyal customers in the process.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s dial back a few years when you could still get a well equipped Passat with a manual gearbox. This 2003 Passat GLX V6 hasn’t even cracked 60,000 miles yet but harkens back to a time when the Passat was the darling of the mid-sized segment. This was the car that brought Audi levels of luxury to the masses.

Click for details: 2003 Volkswagen Passat GLX V6 on eBay

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed – REVISIT

The rare to find 6-speed Variant version of the B5.5 chassis Passat W8 that we looked at last month is back up for sale. The seller has dropped the “Buy It Now” price by $1,000 to $8,995 – more in line with top-of-the-market B5.5 Passats like the TDi Variants and low mile examples. While it’s possible to get more performance out of the Audi 6-speed Avants of either B5 or B6 generation for around the same money, this is one pretty neat sleeper if you’re willing to put up with the maintenance factor of the unique engine.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2008 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed on eBay

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