The words ďQ-ShipĒ and ďSleeperĒ get tossed around a lot when describing the super-performing sedans, coupes and wagons from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW Ė 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 Ė 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 22‚Ä≥ 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 clientís substantial investments apart. In the vein of the 450SEL 6.9, though, Volkswagen launched a discrete performance sedan Ė a true sleeper Ė in the Passat W8.
Over the past year, there‚Äôs been quite a bit of buzz about the Volkswagen Arteon. These reviews tend to focus around two main points; that the Arteon is quite nice, and that the Arteon is quite expensive ‚Äď at least, for a Volkswagen. The model starts at $35,000 and if you add a few options it‚Äôs not hard to crest $40,000. I did manage to find a SEL 4Motion under $40,000 but it has few options. The 2.0T is rated at 268 horsepower in base form, and you can select front- or all-wheel drive variants and a ton of tech as the price climbs, but initially they‚Äôll all be offered only with an 8-speed ZF automatic. Although outwardly it looks a lot like an Audi A7, and indeed features the same hatchback configuration, like the previous few Passats and Passat CC it is based on the Golf MQB platform.
All this got me to thinking; is it really that radical a departure from the last CC?
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2013 Volkswagen CC VR6 4Motion Executive on eBay
Walk into a Volkswagen dealership in the early 2000s, and it was clear that the brand had taken the people‚Äôs car upmarket. The Mk.4 Golf/Jetta looked decidedly more modern than the Mk.3 holdovers from 1998. The 2001 introduction of the B5.5 Passat splashed chrome, leather and wood all over the mid-range sedans and wagons and offered exotic-sounding performance from the wild optional W8. But it was this car that really signaled VW was operating on a different plane; not only did they bring over the D1 platform Phaeton, but with it they brought the monstrous 6.0 W12.
While to many the Phaeton looked like a reskin of the D3 Audi A8 and indeed the two did share some componentry, the D1 platform was actually shared with VAG‚Äôs other subsidiary Bentley. Both the Continental GT and later Flying Spur shared the infrastructure, meaning the Phaeton enjoyed extreme levels of refinement, ride quality and fit/finish that weren‚Äôt typically associated with ‚Äúthe people‚Äôs car‚ÄĚ. While all the luxury added up to north of 5,000 lbs without passengers and it lacked the twin turbochargers the Bentley boys got, the Phaeton W12 was still the fastest car in the VW showroom in 2004. With 420 horsepower driving all four wheels, the Phaeton was capable of effortless and nearly silent 5.5 second 0-60 runs and could break 200 mph unrestricted.
While it sounds great, there were two drawbacks. One was that to nearly everyone your Phaeton looked just like my Passat. And while a loaded W8 4 Motion Variant Passat was really, really expensive, you and your significant other could drive out of your local dealer with not one, but TWO fully loaded Passats for the price of just one W12 Phaeton. It‚Äôs no surprise that the U.S. market wasn‚Äôt ready for a $90,000 Volkswagen, and a scant 482 were sold here before the model was yanked. But today, that means you can get these market-busting models for pennies on the dollar:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 on eBay
Continuing on my theme of rare European treats, here‚Äôs a Jetta you don‚Äôt see every day. While the market may have seemed fairly saturated by the 2000s with all-wheel drive wagons ‚Äď including Volkswagen‚Äôs own Passat Variant 4Motion ‚Äď that didn‚Äôt stop VW from bringing a new generation of small wheel drive five-doors to customers. Of course, there had been a Mk.3 Golf Variant Syncro available with the VR6 previously ‚Äď I looked at one a few years ago:
The Syncro name was dropped for the 4th generation and fell in line with the new 4Motion branding shared with the Passat. However, while the Passat‚Äôs longitudinal drivetrain borrowed Audi‚Äôs B5 quattro system, the Mk.4 was of course transverse. As a result, the Mk.4‚Äôs Haldex system was shared with the Audi A3 and TT. The Golf Variant was also renamed the Bora Variant, and thus was born today‚Äôs car. Engine revisions mid-run led to this model: the 2.8 V6 4Motion Highline. While the car is branded ‚ÄúV6‚ÄĚ and if you open the engine bay it even says ‚ÄúV6‚ÄĚ on the beauty cover, it was in fact a 24 valve variant of the 2.8 liter narrow-angle VR6. Dubbed the BDF and rated at 201 horsepower, that made this a little all-wheel drive pocket rocket 5-door, and just like the R32 we saw it could be mated to a manual transmission: