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

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.…

2001 Volkswagen Jetta GLS VR6 Wagon

For me, the Jetta got a lot more interesting when it came to the fourth generation. That’s mostly because the Mk.4 came in a myriad of variations. Sure, there was no coupe as there had been in the first and second iterations. But I’d gladly trade the odd two-door sedan for what did come to the U.S., as the Golf Variant finally arrived here as the Jetta Wagon. Engine choices were plentiful, as well; the base 2.0 continued on, but there was the torquey and tunable 1.8T, the thrifty 1.9 TDI, and…of course…the 2.8 liter VR6, Volkswagen’s party hat since 1992.

Mild revisions in the late 1990s gave the VR6 174 horsepower and 181 lb.ft of torque. In most Jettas, the VR6 had been paired with the “GLX” package since the prior generation. They were fully loaded with electrical accessories and leather interiors in an attempt to bring the economy sedan closer to near-luxury models. But since the GLX and VR6 came with a serious premium on the Jetta – almost $6,000 over the base price of the 2.0 GLS Wagon – Volkswagen offered a de-contented GLS version of the VR6. I remember a friend purchasing one when new and excitedly showing it to me. There it was – a Jetta which looked pretty much like every other Jetta, but with a VR6 under the hood. It had smaller 16″ wheels, cloth interior, and…like pretty much every other basic Jetta…an automatic.

So, two days after the last cheap and interesting spec Jetta, here we are again. This one is in a very interesting configuration, as well. It’s a GLS wagon – so, cloth interior and no sunroof, but it was selected with the VR6 motor and is mated to a 5-speed manual. Talk about a sleeper!

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Volkswagen Jetta GLS VR6 Wagon on eBay

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.…

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

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

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

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.…

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

2008 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 4Motion Variant

When it comes to sporty wagons in the mid 2000s, your only options were really Audis and BMWs, right? Well, wrong – because Volkswagen dropped one pretty hot sleeper on our shores before elimination of the Passat wagon from the lineup. Granted, Volkswagen’s hottest entrant into the sport wagon market – the R36 – wouldn’t come here, but the normal 3.6 4Motion was darn close. With 280 horsepower on tap from the enlarged narrow-angle VR6 channeled through all four wheels, the unassuming Passat was the second most powerful wagon offered on these shores from VAG. Unless you spent another 50% to opt for the Audi S4 V8, this was as quick as U.S. bound German wagons got. Unlike the B5/5.5, the B6 chassis returned to the Golf-based platform, which was both a blessing and a curse. From a performance standpoint the change was a good one, as many of the items intended for the R32 model worked on the Passat now. However, the change to transverse engine placement from the inline Audi setup in the B5/5.5 meant that the “true” quattro drivetrain in the earlier 4Motions was replaced by the Haldex setup found in the R32 and Audi TT. Is this the end of the world? No, not really, and in fact because of this change you can opt to alter the power distribution with aftermarket control units. These 3.6 models were expensive and fully loaded, so they’re somewhat infrequently seen and generally unknown and unappreciated even in the German-specific realm:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 19 on eBay