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:
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Volkswagen is really great at theory, but not so much at execution. They’ve had a long line of really strange marketing decisions which have at times left the company in dire straights. One wonders how Volkswagen will emerge in the wake of the recent diesel scandal, for example, though many other manufacturers like Mitsubishi (you forgot they still made cars, didn’t you? Me too.) are doing their best to usurp VW’s crown as a manufacturing pariah. Yet, Volkswagen has so many debacles it has run its customers through that it should be amazing they come back for more at all. In the early 1990s, they mis-rated the timing belt service intervals on the early V8 quattros. The result was, predictably, a bunch of engine replacements. The 1.8T became notorious for turbo sludge problems, too – rectified with larger filters and synthetic-only oil, but a fair number (including my Passat) had factory turbo replacement. The 3.0 V6? A timebomb of metal shards working their way from the passenger rear of the motor through the engine, thanks to what appears to be an oil starvation design flaw. The 2.7Ts, 4.2s and all of the FSi motors? Known issues, sometimes very large and expensive. Coil packs, unnecessarily complicated PSV systems, transmissions made of glass and clogging sunroof channels? All the norm in your VAG experience. But Volkswagen really outdid themselves by making a complicated system even more complicated when they introduced the 4.0 W8 into the Passat. Sure, it was a test bed for later W12 models, and viewed in that light it makes some sense. But then, the Passat shown here is much more rare than the Bentleys and even some of the A8 W12 models that derived experience from the B5.5. Volkswagen could simply have taken any one of their proven engines and provided the answer to whatever question they were posing when they conceived this vehicle. Instead, they did things differently. That’s both something to celebrate and something to point out as an inherent character flaw:
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Oh boy. It’s a Passat, it’s a B5/5.5 generation, and it’s a wagon so automatically you know I’m interested. And, above and beyond that, it’s a whole lot like my car – a 2002 GLS in Ink Blue Pearl, 1.8T and with a 5-speed drivetrain. So, out come the production numbers! For the U.S., Ink Blue is a pretty rare color – in total, 1022 Passats were sold here in that color. 695 of those were sold in 2002. 485 of those were GLS trim, and now we start getting into the rare part. Only 131 were wagons, and only 49 of those were manuals. 38 of those were 1.8T, in 3 different color interior options and 2 different fabrics. The most common was gray cloth, with 14 sold. I have one of the 6 gray leather cars. There were 9 sold with black cloth and a further 5 with black leather. But I was pretty surprised to see the beige option numbers – only 3 sold with cloth and 1 with leather. This, then, is a 1 of 1 car – the sole 2002 Passat 1.8T GLS Variant with Beige leather sold that year: