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 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:

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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.

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed

There’s always been a fascination for me with the W8 Passat. Not only did Volkswagen take the B5 and B5.5 models upscale by offering the Audi-based chassis, but they pioneered the new engine configurations that would be the top-tier mills in the Passat. Truth told, the “W” configuration had been around for a few years before it finally entered into the mid-sized sedan and wagon. It was first floated in the Bugatti EB116 16/4, but really came into the minds of enthusiasts with the Volkswagen W12 Nardo concept. Now in appropriately named W12 configuration and powering all four wheels, the 600 horsepower mid-engined Volkswagen captured headlines with its 200 m.p.h. 24 hour run and Italdesign-penned Group C for the road looks. While the Nardo was the prototype for what would become the Veyron after some heavy revisions, the W12 would be an exotic engine only powering the most elite of the VAG range. However, Volkswagen also launched a smaller version of the engine for 2001 in the Passat. It was the first introduction to U.S. customers of the W configuration that would later appear in Bentleys, the D3 Audi A8L and the Phaeton. There was something unique about the Passat’s package, though. First, you could option the mid-ranger in long-roof 5-door configuration. More importantly for enthusiasts, you could select a manual 6-speed, too. The combination of these items coupled with the stratospheric price tag of the model meant very few sold. But briefly, until the new S4 launched in 2004, this was the most powerful manual VAG product you could buy in the U.S.:

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

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant with 46,000 Miles

Does the Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Tiptronic make any sense as a driver? Not really. If you want something as quick, a chipped 1.8T will easily keep up and is available as a manual. If you want something as luxurious, for much less money than this example you could get into a very pretty, bigger, and all-wheel drive Audi A6 quattro Avant. And if you had to have a Volkswagen Passat with 4Motion, the V6 model represents most of this car minus a bit of grunt, but what it lacks in power it makes up for in reliability and cost of bills compared to the W8. But shouldn’t we celebrate that Volkswagen even offered us this car? It’s easy to forget that this was top of the heap in 2003 for VAG wagons; the B5 S4 was out of production, and even then this car made more power than the twin-turbo V6 did stock. The B6 S4 was yet to be introduced, and while the engine in that one was a screamer, you’d need to wait another year to order one. On top of that, we often lament as enthusiasts that we didn’t get the top-spec model; not true of the W8 Passat, which minus a few minor details was the same car offered in Europe. A little over a decade later, most are heading the way of the dodo; this is likely to be a car you seldom see anymore in just a few years. There are a few devoted fans, but few who will contemplate taking on a complicated, one-off motor like the W8 as a daily driver. But what if it appears to be nearly new?

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

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2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed with 41,000 Miles

I’m obviously a big fan of the B5/5.5 Volkswagen Passat Variant, having now owned two. They’re fun to drive, have remarkable ride quality and a near-luxury feel, and are hugely capable carriers. Notably, one time I got an entire Ikea kitchen inside the rear of the my 1999 – aside from too-soft springs for really heavy loads, the 5-doors have shrugged off every single crazy task I’ve thrown at them and though parts can be a bit expensive they’ve been very dependable. But there is one thing that really flummoxes my Passat of choice, the 1.8T. Put a few people in it, turn the outside heat up above 90 with high humidity and crank the air conditioning, and the turbocharged inline-4 can barely get out of its own way. The lag, which in most other situations is barely noticeable, suddenly becomes laughable – especially if there are any hills involved. Of course, in the Passat, you had several options for engines which had more power than the 1.8T out of the box; the 2.8 30V V6 wasn’t a bad option, but if you wanted all-wheel drive, too, then you could only get an automatic. But move up to the 270 horsepower 4 liter W8, and you could select a 6-speed manual mated to the 4Motion drivetrain in Variant wagon form. That was something that only 95 people did from 2003 to 2004, making these Passats highly sought “unicorns” for some VW faithful:

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

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How rare? 2003 and 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion 6-speed

We talk at length about the rarity of various cars, and when it comes to the W8 Passat 6-speeds, that’s more than just lip service. Only a bit over 450 6-speeds were imported to North America in sedan and Variant form, making them quite rare amongst any measure of car. But when you break down the color combinations that were available and especially factor in the wagon, you can get production numbers down to single digits in some configurations. Considering the sedan outnumbered the wagon over three to one, you’re more likely to find a 6-speed sedan than wagon, but today we’ve got one of each to look at. Which is the rarest of the rare?

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Duocorns: 1987 Volkswagen Quantum GL5 Syncro Variant and 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed

In yesterday’s Audi project post, I wrote up two more-rare Audis with potential, though both would require some work and dedication to get to daily driver status. Today, I’ve got two more “project” cars – though, if anything, these two are considerably more rare these days than either of the two Audis. Both are all-wheel drive wagons from Volkswagen, but if you can quint and see a family resemblance, that’s about all that links them together. The first is the B2 Audi-derived Quantum Syncro – essentially, an Audi 4000 quattro with Volkswagen hubs, wheels and brakes and a unique rear suspension under the Quantum body. The Passat W8 also shared Audi A4 all-wheel drive components but essentially was a completely different offering, from the 6-speed manual transmission this model sports to the unique W8 motor stuffed into the discreet Passat Variant package. While there were considerably more Quantum Syncros produced than W8 6-speeds, finding one today can be quite hard – many succumbed to poor residual value, rust and neglect; though not complicated cars, the were more expensive to work on than the standard 4-cylinder models. The W8 is at the verge of falling into the same fate, with the exception of original production numbers – with only a handful of W8 Variants imported originally, both of these cars are serious unicorns these days. Which is your style?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 Volkswagen Quantum GL5 Syncro Variant on eBay

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2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion Variant with 33,000 Miles

Earlier in the day that I wrote this, I was out and about doing errands with my son in my 2002 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Variant. I was enjoying a sunny spring day that has finally arrived in New England, sunroof open with my son pointing out everything of interest to him; which is most things, as it turns out. But what struck me as I drove around is how nice and underrated the Passat is; an Audi in a Volkswagen dress, it’s a well built, quiet and comfortable cruiser. When you want to go a bit faster, it acts more like a big GTi than a small Audi. And in back, it can swallow a load of cargo that would leave most sport utility vehicles to shame. Yet the Passat is often overlooked as a choice, heaped into the Check-Engine-Light generation of Volkswagen Audi products to look out for. Well, speaking from now 6 years of Passat ownership, it’s never once left me stranded and for what should be a dull daily driver, it’s a good looking and fun to drive reminder of why we buy German cars. To top off my drive, I ended at my mechanics where I had to drop off some parts for the Coupe GT; one of the patrons walked out and up to the Passat and remarked “It looks like a new car!” While that may be a bit of a stretch on my 12 year old, 115,000 mile example, it’s not on this top of the line Passat today – a W8 4Motion Variant with a scant 33,474 miles covered since new:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 on eBay

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