A few weeks ago I looked at a 1995 Volvo 850 T5-R wagon, one of the all-time great designs launched by the company:
1995 Volvo 850 T5-R Wagon
The Porsche-modified engine managed to channel an impressive 243 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. The downsides? Well, not only was that particular example expensive, it was front-drive only and equipped with an automatic transaxle. Of course, move forward a generation and there was an even more potent possibility if you like fast five-doors; the V70R. The V70R had 300 horsepower driving all-four wheels through a transversely mounted turbo five, along with heavily bolstered sport seats, Brembo brakes, and an Ă–hlins adjustable suspension. And yeah, you could get a six-speed manual. A vast majority of these cars were used quite heavily as intended, but still are appealing to consider in the used market:
Continuing on my all-wheel ‘driveatribe’, I’d be remiss to not discuss BMW’s take on moving power around to all four wheels. While BMW wouldn’t launch the U.S.-spec iX until 1988, Europeans were introduced to the concept in 1986 – the same year as the Golf syncro. Unlike Audi’s quattro system which utilized a rearward driveshaft tacked on to a front-wheel drive transmission output shaft, BMW mated a transfer case and two viscous couplings, which effectively were front and rear limited-slips. This was very different from Audi’s contemporaneous system, which relied on the driver to lock the rear and center differentials that were otherwise open. The 325iX was able to be mated to an automatic transmission long before Audi would do so in the small chassis. BMW’s system was also more rearward biased, with 67% of the power being sent to the back wheels. While still more prone to understeer than a standard 325i, it was less so than the Audi.
Compared to other E30 models, the 325iX was a slow seller – BMW moved just 6,346 over the four production years between 1988 and 1991, putting these on just about equal footing with the M3 in terms of rarity. But two factors make finding clean ixs even harder; where they were used, and how they were used both result in rust being a big concern and it’s hard to find low-mileage examples. But while the odometer reading is stratospheric on today’s first-year ’88 2-door, it’s undergone a never-seen full restoration to return it to unbelievable condition. Also unbelievable? The price…
We could argue the merits of what made the “ultimate” 924/944/968 all day long. A lot depends on what you consider the most desirable, or most pure form. Take that argument to the 911 range, and it becomes even more convoluted. Is it the 901? The RS? The Turbo Carrera? For me, it’s this car.
If the Ferrari F40 was the pin-up hero for most teenage boys, the Porsche 959 was its arch-enemy, and was the car I was always interested in. The F40 was a pared down street racer, while the 959 sported experimental exotic technologies that even 30 years later most cars don’t have – 6 speed manual? Yep. Active suspension? Yep, that too. Hollow spoke wheels with tire pressure monitoring system? Sure, we can do that. Kevlar composite body? Why not? Active torque splitting all-wheel drive system? Let’s give it a go. A technological Tour de Force, the 959 wowed crowds with all of these shocking options when it was launched in a still hard to believe 1985, beating the F40 to the market.
Even at the time it was released, the 959 was a bit of an enigma – did Porsche want to win Le Mans or Paris Dakar with it? Well, it did both – Paris Dakar outright, and it won its class at Le Mans. It was also one of the fastest production cars in the world, with a sub-4 second 0-60 time – something that modern supercars still strive for. Did I mention this car is the best part of 30 years old? Like all of the dream cars that remained firmly out of U.S. buyers hands, the 959 remained a forbidden fruit for many years. But today, even if your name isn’t Gates or Seinfeld, you can own in the U.S. one of the most highly sought after cars ever made – a Carrera White 1987 Porsche 959 Komfort:
If I’m honest, neither the outrageous Passat W8 nor the overpriced A4 Avant from Sunday really thrilled in the same way as the 2.7T-swapped B6 Ultrasport build did. Granted, you could just about buy both the Audi and the Passat for the same price as that build, but if you’re going to take on a complicated older fast wagon, there must be some sort of reward for all the risk, right?
Well, not to be outdone, here’s a stellar BMW option. The standard 325xi Touring, while available with a 5-speed manual, isn’t nearly as exotic sounding or performing as the duo from the other day. The M54 2.5 liter inline-6 was about 100 horsepower down on the Passat W8 and they weighed pretty close to the same. BMW also chose to not equip any of the xi models with the M-Sport suspension, either. While the 3-series was substantially cheaper than either the A4 2.0T S-Line Titanium package or the Passat W8 4Motion, out of the box it also didn’t feel as special.
Of course, if you rip it apart and rebuild it with a S54 borrowed from a M3 and a 6-speed from a X3, the story changes a bit…
I’ve been accused of ignoring the E30 325ix. True enough, I’ve flatly declared that I’m much more an Audi fan from the period. But the BMW was a pretty interesting development from Munich, and as these are still market darlings, it’s certainly worth taking a look.
While BMW wouldn’t launch the U.S. spec ix until 1988, Europeans were introduced to the concept in 1986. Unlike Audi’s quattro system which utilized a rearward driveshaft tacked on to a front-wheel drive transmission output shaft, BMW mated a transfer case and two viscous couplings, which effectively were front and rear limited-slips. This was very different from Audi’s contemporaneous system, which relied on the driver to lock the rear and center differentials that were otherwise open. The 325ix was able to be mated to an automatic transmission long before Audi would do so in the small chassis. BMW’s system was also more rearward biased, with 67% of the power being sent to the back wheels. While still more prone to understeer than a standard 325i, it was less so than the Audi.
Then, of course, there was the power difference. Because of suspension and other changes between the front-drive and quattro Audis, the system added about 225 lbs to the curb weight, while BMW claimed the ix system added around 150 lbs. Since both cars made use of otherwise standard engines, the advantage was again with the BMW. The M20B25 cranked out nearly 170 horsepower, some 40 more than the NG 2.3 inline-5 shared in the 80/90 quattros. The only real external differences between the 325i and 325ix were the addition of the color-matched fender flares and rear spoiler, slightly higher ride height and 15″ BBS mesh wheels, and the simple addition of one “x” behind the normal designation. Weren’t times so much more simple?
In the mid-1980s, Volkswagen aimed its market sights upwards and tried to gain more traction in a niche market by offering…well, more traction. Starting in 1986, Volkswagen partnered with Steyr-Damiler-Puch and made a unique alternative to corporate partner Audiâ€™s quattro drivetrain utilizing a viscous center differential. Puch was also responsible for design and manufacturing of the T3 Vanagon Syncro, which used a different viscous coupling system because of the rear-drive platform and nature of the Vanagon. In addition to the transmission of power forwards, the T3 also offered a rear differential lock while both center and front were viscous.
But in 1986, there was a third option. Because the Volkswagen Quantum (nĂ©e Passat) shared nearly all of its internal architecture with the B2 Audis, fitment of the quattro setup from the Quattro and 4000S/CS quattro was possible â€“ so Volkswagen did it. As there was no Audi B2 Avant, Volkswagen offered the new Quantum quattro â€“ also badged Syncro â€“ in Wagon form, and only in wagon form. This meant that there was no competition crossover between the 4000 quattro and Quantum Syncro in the U.S. market. The Quantum also continued to run smaller 4x100mm hubs versus the Audi, which allowed it to utilize the same â€śsnowflakeâ€ť Avus wheels borrowed from the GTI. Pricing was on par with period 4000 quattros, though â€“ base price was $15,645, but equip the Quantum similarly to the standard 4000 with power windows, mirrors, locks and sunroof and youâ€™d quickly crest $17,000 â€“ about $4,000 more dear than a standard GL5. Unlike the 4000, Quantum Syncro Wagons came standard only with power steering, brakes, cruise control and air conditioning. You had to opt-in the power package to get the other items.
That made the Quantum Syncro Wagon very much more expensive than, say, a Subaru GL 4WD Wagon or the Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon. But both of those cars were part-time 4WD; in order to get a car with similar build quality and seamless drive of all wheels, youâ€™d need to pony up a staggering $30,000 for the Audi 5000CS quattro Avant. Volkswagen only brought over 2,500 1986s, making them a rare treat to see today. But the condition which this particular 1986 appears in is staggering:
While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.
But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?
Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.
However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!
Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….
There was nothing particularly revolutionary about the B3 Passat G60 Syncro. The prior Quantum (nĂ©e Passat) had borrowed Audi’s full quattro setup in the Syncro model. The G60 supercharged engine had debuted in the Golf in Europe as early as 1988, 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. But the G60 Syncro Passat was the first time that all three were combined, and it took the more exotic drivetrain setup from the Rallye and brought it to a mainstream market.
The PG G-Lader devoted to the Rallye, G60 and 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 Golfâ€™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, Steyrâ€™s solution to the transverse problem was to utilize a viscous coupling similar to the AMC Eagle. However, while the Eagleâ€™s system was all-wheel drive, all the time, Volkswagenâ€™s system would only engage when the front wheels slipped.
Like the Audi 90 quattro it competed against, the Syncro Passat wasn’t particularly quick but was pretty expensive in period, and neither sold very well in the grand scheme. The G60 Syncro was offered in the Great White North, though, and now that enough time has passed these forbidden fruits can finally be brought in to the U.S. – if you can find one….
While legend has it that Audi popularized all-wheel drive with the Quattro, it would not have been the case were it not for the 1970s Volkswagen Iltis – a military vehicle that utilized a normal Audi 100’s underpinnings to create an all-wheel drive vehicle with lockable differentials which easily outpaced Audi’s normal production line cars in inclement conditions. It was this story which sprung the idea for the Quattro to be created, but the Iltis itself had inspiration drawn heavily from another car – the DKW Munga. As Auto Union struggled to re-establish itself post-War under first the leadership of Mercedes-Benz and later Volkswagen, the company’s diminutive DKW brand led the way with economical, smart designs. One of those designs was the paradoxically-named 3=6 model, which had a .9 liter 2-stroke inline-3. Produced in DĂĽsseldorf, DKW helped to keep the Auto Union’s name alive in the early 1950s. Part of that rebuilding included new Auto Union facilities in Ingolstadt, and one of the first production vehicles to make it out of there was the Manga. German for Mehrzweck UNiversal GelĂ¤ndewagen mit Allradantrie (basically, go anywhere all-wheel drive vehicle), the Manga utilized F91 (3=6) underpinnings mated with new all-wheel drive capability. Up front, the four rings of the Auto Union reappeared proudly on the roughly 47,000 models produced between 1956 and 1968 – a full decade prior to Iltis production:
Though it was never available in the U.S. until this coming model year, all-wheel drive in a standard Golf is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since 1986.
If you follow me around the internet, and I don’t expect you to, you might have caught my article for The Truth About Cars about all-wheel drive Golfs which predated the R32. Though the idea sounds simple enough since parent company Audi had an all-wheel drive system that was ever so popular, mounting that longitudinal transmission and drivetrain into the transverse engine Golf was impossible. Instead, Volkswagen contracted Steyr-Daimler-Puch to design a viscous coupling setup for the Golf with a new independent suspended rear. Like the contemporary Quantum and Vanagon setups, it was dubbed “Syncro”, though outside of all-wheels being driven the three systems shared almost nothing.
The result was a few fan-favorite models. Performance types love the Quattro-inspired Golf Rallye, Golf G60 Syncro and Golf Limited models. But undoubtedly the most recognizable Golf to wear the Syncro badge was the jacked-up Golf Country. Utilizing an already heavily modified Golf Syncro, Daimler-Steyr-Puch installed some 438 unique pieces to create the light offroading Golf way before the Outback was conquered by Subaru: