While we all want to have a classic, sporty German car in our lives, the reality of daily driver duty often falls onto less exotic cars. Several years ago I purchased a 1999 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T GLS to do just that; it replaced a 97 Golf as my daily driver, and I enjoyed over 100,000 miles behind the wheel. Unlike the reputation these cars have gained, I found my Passat to be very reliable – it never once left me stranded or failed to start, it could get 36 mpg if I didn’t get too deep into the throttle, and it was comfortable, quick and fun to drive. After a year of company car duty, the time had come for me to purchase another daily driver, and my immediate thought was that I wanted another Passat.
The search began, and it wasn’t very easy. There are two classes of Passats; devoted owners that keep their cars in great condition, and wrecks that will bankrupt you trying just to pass emissions. But in general the wagon versions were better kept than the sedans; likely a testament to their high sticker prices. It’s hard to fathom, but in 2002 my current car’s sticker price was over $26,000 – more than a brand new Passat will set you back today. As such, the Variants seem to be better kept than the sedans in general, and that was certainly the case when I finally found the car to buy. Priced higher in the market, it was a one-owner 100,000 mile Ink Blue model with grey leather. A GLS spec, it came with many nicer features and alloys, but wasn’t the wood-lined V6 luxury model. The single owner had been meticulous and had every record from new. It was the first time I had ever bought a car like this, and it was clearly worth the premium.
Of course, out of the box there were a few issues that needed attention. The rear brakes were in need of replacement, the battery was weak and the car was suffering from a typical valve cover leak. The owner had kept the outside clean but the headlights were fairly cloudy as is typical for the B5/B5.5 Passats, and the tires were getting old. Once the mechanical problems were sorted, I added a set of factory mudflaps to keep the sides clean and spent a fair amount of time cleaning the headlights. They came out well overall, and with some cleaning and polishing the outside was in great shape. The Ink Blue is a very unique, rare to see shade that I think is a pretty color. Similar to Audi’s Santorin Blue, it changes hue depending on the light. Speaking of lights, I decided to upgrade the headlights to Sylvania Silver Star Ultras – reportedly the best headlights for these cars by many owners. Above you can see the previous lights, and below is after the swap:
So, not much change. If you really concentrate, you can see a slight difference between the two; I’d classify it as probably not worth the premium of the headlights. The projector beam lens likely degrades the difference slightly, so with normal lens lights you may witness more of a difference. One thing the swap did allow me to address was a very dirty intake though; the feed for the airbox was full of leaves and sand. Even if it made little difference, I’m glad the headlight swap prompted me to remove the intake and find that. Now, on to a more substantial difference:
The Passat came with “Wellington” 15″ alloys; they’re decent enough looking wheels but considering the size of the car really feel pretty undersized. I found the answer when I spotted an advertisement for some BBS VZ wheels. Not the most popular BBS design, they were a dealer-installed option on some Audi and VW products at the time my car was made – inspection of the wheels shows they were made in 2003. I was able to get the set with shot tires for $125, and after some substantial cleaning efforts they came out well. They’re not perfect with some curb rash, but overall present well.
I had a set of BBS wheel bolts from a previous set of BBS wheels for my Audi GT, and the lugs are thankfully the same. The BBS wheels are only 2mm different offset than the standard wheels so I didn’t need more length, but it was still nice to have BBS bolts for the wheels. I was on the fence about tires for some time; ultimately, I found a set of Hankook Ventus V12 Evo 225-45-17 tires for $63 a piece on The Tire Rack and pulled the trigger.
The results are pretty good; they’re not exactly the wheels I envisioned on the car, but they retain a mostly-stock look. Unfortunately, they also highlight the fairly high ride height of the car – but I’m not interested in having the car so low that it’s uncomfortable. The suspension search continues, but a quick drive revealed these tires were a nice upgrade from the tired Yokohamas I nursed two years out of. Though it’s far from perfect, I really enjoy driving the Passat; it’s a fun, sporty and hugely practical. It stands apart from most of the Volkswagen crowd but also is different enough from the Audis to have a unique character. While not a fan favorite, I really think these Passats are a hidden gem in the German car sphere and I look forward to many more years of ownership!