Wednesday Wheels GCFSB Project: 2002 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Variant Part 1

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!

-Carter

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11 Comments on "Wednesday Wheels GCFSB Project: 2002 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Variant Part 1"

  1. markiteight says:

    Carter,
    I suggest you look into getting different bulbs. The Sylvania Silver Stars have a blue coating on the glass that, even though it’s subtle, dramatically reduces light output compared to a conventional bulb while consuming just as much energy. If you want the best bulb for your application look for the High Efficacy +30 or +50 bulbs from European manufacturers like Narva or Osram. That’s what I run in my E-codes in place of the aftermarket HID kit the previous owner installed. Headlight performance is better.

    Check out http://www.danielsternlighting.com/tech/bulbs/blue/good/good.html for more information on why Silver Stars and their like are bad, and what options are good.

  2. Carter says:

    Thanks markiteight, appreciate the information. These are not the blue-coated bulbs; they were clear like the ones that came out. Next time I need some lights though, I’ll be sure to check into the high efficacy bulbs.

    Thanks for the info!

  3. Gary says:

    Lovely car, Carter. And lovely color. Wishing you many more years of happy motoring with it.

  4. Nick says:

    Love the car and esp. the color. I guess I am a wagon guy but this just looks better to me than the sedan. Out here in Oregon the ground clearance would be appreciated. You wouldn’t see one without a cargo box on the roof either.

    In part 2 some interior shots please.

  5. jeff says:

    Carter – im curious as to why you chose a passat over a b5 or b6 avant. AWD and a bit more luxury with basically the same underpinings. i am not an expert with VW’s but i owned a 2001.5 b5 Avant that served me well for years (until the dreaded timing belt broke on the highway).

  6. Carter says:

    Thanks Gary!

  7. Carter says:

    Thanks Nick! Yeah, the ground clearance is an issue here in Providence, too – roads are quite bad, so a stiff and low suspension aren’t good. Happy to supply some interior shots, though in typical VW of this generation fashion they’re not spectacular; the leather has held up well but the soft-touch plastics are pretty weathered after 12 years of use.

  8. Carter says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Sure, happy to explain. Having gone from a complicated, expensive to maintain Audi Avant (200 10V Quattro) to the VW Golf K2, I was happy with the fuel mileage gain – at the time, I drove around 50,000 miles a year and paid my own gas. When I was looking for a replacement for the Golf, fuel mileage and simplicity were key rather than luxury and awd, and I found that the Passat 1.8T Variant was the best solution given that they were consistently cheaper than newer Golfs. The Variants were all German-built, too, so they suffered less build quality issues than the sedans, from what I’ve seen. I paid $2700 for my first Passat with 120,000 miles on it, and drove it for 100,000 miles before selling because I got a company car. I was thoroughly impressed with how the Passat handled everything. It was less expensive and roomier than the Audis, got better mileage, felt sportier in 1.8T/5 speed because of the lower weight, and was cheaper to maintain. When I left my job and we were having a child, another Passat seemed like a good idea, and I can’t complain. I paid $4900 for the current one, but it was much better maintained and in better shape than the first one I owned. Like the later A4 1.8Ts, the B5.5 Passat moved to the 170hp motor; again, coupled to the 5-speed manual and with lower weight, the “base” Passat feels sportier than the bigger engined models. Given that it’s already 12 years old and a daily driver, the real key was keeping maintenance costs down – and awd certainly adds to the bills in the Audis. With a good set of snow tires (or, even a marginal set as it turns out) the Passat does just fine in the snow. Plus, my wife brought a 2006 Subaru Outback to the relationship, so we’ve got a monster snow car that honestly is better than the Audis in the white stuff. So, I guess it comes down to lots of reasons really; I like the way the B5/B5.5 Passat Variants look compared to both the B5 and B6 Audis; having driven all of them, I think the Passat holds its own against the bigger engines; with a child, the Variant has more room than the B5/B6 Audi inside, it was cheaper to buy, is cheaper to maintain, and gets better mileage. Aside from the badge – which doesn’t bother me – and the lack of AWD, there are no real downsides to the Passat.

  9. jeff says:

    fair enough Carter. i hear you on the space – there’s less than expected looking at the exterior. i never had any real problems with AWD maintanence other than a couple of torn axle boots. the weight i think was always an issue, but i got used to it. i went from an 325ix to the b5.5 and it always felt i was ‘plowing’ through turns based on the engine placement. i was always wanted that rear wheel bias… isnt the engine placement the same in the passat? does it understear too much for your liking? i think i was fairly lucky with the maintanence. i didnt feel like i was spending a lot until the very end of its life (i held off on the timing belt because at @ $2k it was probably 1/2 of the value of the car. also replaced the clutch which wasnt cheap either. alas it came back to bite me when it broke). your passat looks like it’s aged better than the b5 too – especially with the wheels, it doesnt look 12 years old. the b6 audi is the worst designed A4 IMO. i miss my german cars and hope to own one when i can afford it (which is never given me 4 month old). but i am enjoying my ford focus electric so maybe a tesla e!

  10. markiteight says:

    All Sylvania Silver Star bulbs have a blue coating. Some are worse than others, but they’re all blue. The only Silver Stars that do not have a blue coating are European market Osrams, which despite using the same name are a completely different product. Osram Silver Star bulbs are clear glass High Efficacy +30 and are some of the best lights on the market. They are also almost impossible to find in this country.

  11. Carter says:

    Jeff,

    Yes, in the front the Passat and A4 of this generation are nearly identical. You’d assume it would understeer more, but it doesn’t; it feels much more nimble than the AWD models. Clutch is much easier without the driveshaft heading back, too. Thanks for the compliments; yes, I think the B5.5 Passat has aged a bit better than the more round B5 Audi, and I agree – it’s hard to believe it’s a 12 year old car now. When I first bought my 4000 Quattro, it was only 10 years old but felt much older to me then than this car feels now. I still think of it as “new”, which is pretty crazy given that it’s about to be 3 generations old.