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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Forbidden Fruit: 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 Syncro Wagon

As we saw in last week’s Quantum (née Passat), underneath the Volkswagen was almost all B2 Audi. They had borrowed Audi’s full quattro setup in the Syncro model until 1988. That was the same year that the G60 supercharged engine had debuted in the Golf in Europe, but it wouldn’t be until late 1989 and the new Corrado model’s introduction that the G-Lader would become better known on these shores.

The PG G-Lader devoted to the Rallye, G60 and third generation Passat Syncro wasn’t the most powerful unit VW of the time period at 158 horsepower and 166 lb.ft of torque (the 3G 16V version in the Golf Limited had 50 horsepower more), but the combination of these items seemed awesome at the time to U.S. fans because, of course, in the midst of VAG’s early 90s sales slump they opted not to bring the package here. Like the Corrado, based on Mk.2 underpinnings the Passat’s engine configuration had moved from longitudinal in the B2 to transverse in the third gen, meaning that Audi’s quattro system remained unique to that brand. The Golf’s transverse engine placement precluded use of the Audi longitudinal design, which used output shafts and mechanical differentials. Instead, Volkswagen turned to Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch for development.

Noted for development of four-wheel-drive systems and probably most recognizable for the Pinzgauer military vehicle, Steyr’s solution to the transverse problem was to utilize a viscous coupling similar to the AMC Eagle. However, while the Eagle’s system was all-wheel drive, all the time, Volkswagen’s system would only engage when the front wheels slipped. The Passat added new electronic features to the range topper, too – including anti-lock brakes and an electronic differential lock, and the new shape dropped the drag coefficient to .31.

The best part about the G60 Passat, though? You could get one in wagon form:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 Syncro Wagon on Seattle Craigslist

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1986 Volkswagen Quantum Wagon

The lineup of unlikely VAG survivors continues today with this second generation Volkswagen Passat, of course badged the “Quantum” for the U.S. market. This model replaced the lovely and popular Dasher model which had been available in several configurations. Briefly, the new B2 continued that and if you’ve ever seen a 1982 Quantum 2-door hatchback in person in the U.S., you might be alone. The model was dropped quickly, though continuing on was the Variant (VW-speak for wagon) model. And because the underpinnings were shared with the B2 Audi, things started to get pretty interesting for the upscale VW. And, confusing.

Volkswagen was happy to tout the Quantum as the sole “German engineered Grand Touring car sold in America that was available as both a sedan and station wagon and came equipped with a 5-cylinder, fuel injected engine, front-wheel drive, power assisted rack and pinion steering, four-wheel independent suspension AND cruise control”. You don’t say, VW? Seriously, I think they could have left a few modifiers off that description and it still would have been true. The weird part is that the upscale Volkswagen actually tread on the toes of its even more upscale competition – the Audi 4000. Though early 4000s had the 5-cylinder available as an option, when it came to the mid-80s Audi saved the inline-5 only for the quattro models and Coupe GT/5000 front drivers. The 4000 grabbed the engine from the GTI, instead. But you could still get a 5-cylinder Quantum, and you could get a wagon version. Heck, you could even get a Syncro version of it, but only as a wagon!

Here’s where things get even more confusing. The 5-cylinder is usually associated with the moniker “GL5” – the upscale sedan with alloy wheels. And indeed the base Quantum Wagon in 1985 came with the 1.8. But in 1986, you could get a base Wagon with the 2.2 liter inline-5, and I believe the wagon was never officially badged the “GL5”. Weird? That’s VW.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Volkswagen Quantum 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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1979 Volkswagen Dasher Hatchback

Like the Scirocco duo from earlier this week, Volkswagen’s “large” chassis has become an obscure name long gone from these shores. The Dasher premiered VW’s use of the shared B1 platform. Marketed in the rest of the world as the Passat (a name, like the Scirocco, for a type of wind), Volkswagen opted to use a name closer to its stablemate Rabbit and came up with “Dasher”. From 1974 through 1981, the B1 laid the foundation for larger watercooled Volkswagens in three configurations; two-door hatchback, four-door hatchback and wagon. Also like the Scirocco, the design came from Giogetto Giugiaro and was forward-thinking. Power came from the EA827 derivatives, with a relative modest 1.6 inline-4 gas motor and later diesel options available. In 1978, the B1 was refreshed and gained quad-round headlights and other light revisions, visually matching the Scirocco lineup a bit more. They’re obscure and relatively rare to see at all these days, but this survivor has popped up on eBay in a no reserve auction:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1979 Volkswagen Dasher Hatchback on eBay

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Forbidden Fruit: 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 Syncro

There was nothing particularly revolutionary about the B3 Passat G60 Syncro. The prior Quantum (née Passat) had borrowed Audi’s full quattro setup in the Syncro model. The G60 supercharged engine had debuted in the Golf in Europe as early as 1988, but it wouldn’t be until late 1989 and the new Corrado model’s introduction that the G-Lader would become better known on these shores. But the G60 Syncro Passat was the first time that all three were combined, and it took the more exotic drivetrain setup from the Rallye and brought it to a mainstream market.

The PG G-Lader devoted to the Rallye, G60 and Passat Syncro wasn’t the most powerful unit VW of the time period at 158 horsepower and 166 lb.ft of torque (the 3G 16V version in the Golf Limited had 50 horsepower more), but the combination of these items seemed awesome at the time to U.S. fans because, of course, in the midst of VAG’s early 90s sales slump they opted not to bring the package here. Like the Corrado, based on Mk.2 underpinnings the Passat’s engine configuration had moved from longitudinal in the B2 to transverse in the third gen, meaning that Audi’s quattro system remained unique to that brand. The Golf’s transverse engine placement precluded use of the Audi longitudinal design, which used output shafts and mechanical differentials. Instead, Volkswagen turned to Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch for development.

Noted for development of four-wheel-drive systems and probably most recognizable for the Pinzgauer military vehicle, Steyr’s solution to the transverse problem was to utilize a viscous coupling similar to the AMC Eagle. However, while the Eagle’s system was all-wheel drive, all the time, Volkswagen’s system would only engage when the front wheels slipped.

Like the Audi 90 quattro it competed against, the Syncro Passat wasn’t particularly quick but was pretty expensive in period, and neither sold very well in the grand scheme. The G60 Syncro was offered in the Great White North, though, and now that enough time has passed these forbidden fruits can finally be brought in to the U.S. – if you can find one….

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 Syncro 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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1996 Volkswagen Passat TDi Variant

If I told someone in the general public that a 21 year old, cloth interior Volkswagen rolling on steel wheels would be worth $10,000 on the open market, they’d probably laugh. After all, Volkswagens half that age are worth only around 50% of that figure. But to the general public, the moniker “1Z” means little else other than the first number and last letter. Unless they’re trying to pass some perverted field sobriety test, that combination just wouldn’t have any deeper significance. But to Volkswagen enthusiasts, “1Z” is the password to secret hyper-milers. They’re the name of the Kingdom of special hippie-crunchy, make-your-own-gas type of automobile enthusiasts. One step from Moonshiners, they take showers about as often as they wash their cars (read: not frequently). They test the suspensions of their cars with how much weight they can carry and or tow at a given time. The term “low mileage” is not in their vocabulary, instead proudly patting themselves on the back for the hundreds of thousands of miles they’ve clattered slowly away. Instead of bragging about 60 m.p.h. times, they are happy to rub your nose in 60 m.p.g. claims. And though the 1Z 1.9 TDi came in a few packages stateside, they absolutely go gaga over Passat wagons of the manual variety:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1996 Volkswagen Passat TDi Variant on eBay

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2008 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 4Motion Variant

On paper, the Passat W8 4Motion Variant like the one I wrote up early in August was the enthusiast with a family’s dream; an understated, all-wheel drive eight cylinder wagon with BBS wheels, smart styling and a not-outrageous asking price. I mean, it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t RS7 money. You could even get a manual. But it was complicated, and ultimately, it was still a $40,000 Passat. The W8, while silky smooth, also was a bit underwhelming in the power department. Out of 4 liters, despite all the engine trickery, it produced only 270 horsepower – only 20 more than its contemporary 2.7 V6 twin-turbo sibling S4/Allroad/A6s could. In many ways, while the model that replaced it seemed a bit more tame in the headline department, it’s actually the one to get:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2008 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 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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