When it comes to sporty wagons in the mid 2000s, your only options were really Audis and BMWs, right? Well, wrong â€“ because Volkswagen dropped one pretty hot sleeper on our shores before elimination of the Passat wagon from the lineup. Granted, Volkswagenâ€™s hottest entrant into the sport wagon market â€“ the R36 â€“ wouldnâ€™t come here, but the normal 3.6 4Motion was darn close. With 280 horsepower on tap from the enlarged narrow-angle VR6 channeled through all four wheels, the unassuming Passat was the second most powerful wagon offered on these shores from VAG. Unless you spent another 50% to opt for the Audi S4 V8, this was as quick as US-bound German wagons got. Unlike the B5/5.5, the B6 chassis returned to the Golf-based platform as with the B3/4, which was both a blessing and a curse. From a performance standpoint the change was a good one, as many of the items intended for the R32 model worked on the Passat now. However, the change to transverse engine placement from the inline Audi setup in the B5/5.5 meant that the â€œtrueâ€ quattro drivetrain in the earlier 4Motions was replaced by the Haldex setup found in the R32 and Audi TT. Is this the end of the world? No, not really, and in fact because of this change you can opt to alter the power distribution with aftermarket control units. These 3.6 models were expensive and fully loaded, so theyâ€™re somewhat infrequently seen and generally unknown and unappreciated even in the German-specific realm:
The first A3 was launched alongside the then-new A4, and while the visual similarities were strong, the two models shared little. Thatâ€™s because the A3 was based heavily on the Mk.4 Golf platform with transverse mounted engines. Just like the original Audi 50, though, the A3â€™s arrival predated the Mk.4 Golf by a year. While the U.S. had to wait until the 2004 launch of the Golf R32 to get all-wheel drive performance, Europe had enjoyed Golfs with four wheels driven since 1986. So it was a relative cinch to stick the Haldex-based all-wheel drive system into the A3 chassis where, like the TT, it would be called â€œquattroâ€. And just like the TT, a high performance variant of the 1.8T would be included and become the S3 in 1999. Some of the styling cues were shared with the big-brother S4, including 17â€³ Avus wheels and deeper, smooth bumper covers. The S3 was the first model to utilize the â€˜door bladesâ€™ that would become signature S bits soon after. Performance was about what youâ€™d expect from a near twin of the TT â€“ meaning, virtually identical. But what you did get was slightly more subtle styling and slightly more practicality, with a bit more storage space and a roomier cabin.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2000 Audi S3 on eBay
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….
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagon R on VW Vortex
Update 12/23/2017 – This R32 is back with almost no changes a year and a half later – except the price. When I looked at it in June 2016 the seller was hoping for $16,700. It’s now up to $17,400. Will this bold strategy pay off?
For a few generations, Volkswagen fans were denied the cream of the crop for Volkswagen products. It took several years to finally get the original GTi to these shores, and then it wasn’t quite as hot as the European version. The second edition might have sported twin cams and 16 valves, but Euro customers got the addtional option of a supercharged, all-wheel drive version. There were plenty of cool options missing from the U.S. lineup in the 3rd generation, too – including the 2.9 liter VR6 Variant Syncro. So there was a bit of rejoicing finally when the all-wheel drive hot hatch was finally added to the U.S. lineup after the initial launch in 2003. Sporting the same 3.2 VR6 found in the TT, unlike the Mk.1 TT it was 6-speed manual only. It was also only available as a 2-door model, with special body kit unique to the R32 and dual exhaust to help announce its sporting intentions. With the best part of 240 horsepower on tap, it certainly seemed like the ultimate Golf and the sound generated from the narrow-angle 6 was mesmerizing. While heavy weight meant it wasn’t considerably quicker than the 1.8T models, it nonetheless has secured a spot in U.S. fans hearts as the top trump from the Mk.4 generation:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen R32 on eBay
If the minor nomenclature differences between what constitutes a BMW with sport items, a Sport model, and a M-Sport model can be confusing, the ordering of model designation in Audi’s TT lineup is downright infuriating. Technically, I think the correct order for the model is as shown above – Audi TT Coupe 225 quattro ALMS Edition.
And here’s the trick. First you needed to differentiate if you ordered a Coupe or Roadster. In 2002, you could get a front-drive coupe with the 180 horsepower engine, and you could also get the 180 horsepower motor with optional Haldex quattro all-wheel drive. But if you selected a Roadster, you couldn’t get a 180 quattro. Now, if you went for the upgraded 225 horsepower motor, you automatically got quattro – there was no front-drive option. That makes the “quattro” moniker after any 225 model redundant. Even more redundant in this case is the “Coupe” moniker, because if you opted for the ALMS appearance package in the 2002 model year, the hardtop was your only choice. So if you referred to this as a TT ALMS – as many do – the rest would follow – you’ve got by default a 6-speed manual 225 horsepower quattro Coupe. For many, this makes the ALMS one of the most desirable 8N TTs, and the limited run of 1,000 examples in either Misano Red Pearl with Silver Gray Nappa leather or, as show here Avus Silver Pearl with contrasting Brilliant Red Leather tends to command a premium over other examples of the first-gen Golf-based model: