Review : 2003 VW Passat W8

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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

THE AUTO PAGE
By
JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Volkswagen Passat W8
ENGINE: 4.0-liter W-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 270 hp @ 6000 rpm/273 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 185.2 x 68.7 x 57.5 in.
STICKER PRICE:  $37,000 (est.)

    The big news with the Volkswagen Passat is all under the hood. The car 
itself was mildly restyled a year ago as a 2001.5 model. The redesign, while 
minor, freshened the Passat and made it more aerodynamic.

    However, the largest engine previously available in the Passat was a 
2.8-liter V-6 that produced 190 horsepower. And while this was a decent 
amount of power for an engine of that capacity, there were still some drivers 
who were looking for more power. 

    In Germany, VW installed its new W-8 engine in the Passat about a year 
ago and silenced all the critics who wanted more power. Now the W-8 engine is 
available in North America, and it's a great package.

    How did VW construct the engine and why is it called a W-8? VW has had 
its narrow Vee VR6 engine for quite some time. This is a V-6 engine, but the 
angle between the banks of cylinders is only 15 degrees (in most V engines 
the angle between the cylinders is 60 or 90 degrees), so only one cylinder 
head is used. The cylinders actually overlap slightly.

    To create the W-8, VW connected two VR6 engines in a V configuration, 
creating a 12-cylinder engine, a W-12. They then "cut off" two cylinders from 
each bank to make the W-8. The W-8 is actually two narrow V V-4 engines, and 
in Spanish (don't forget that VW owns Real, a Spanish automaker), vehdoble 
(literally v double) means W. In cutaway, the engine looks like four 
two-cylinder engines. Again, the angle between the banks of cylinders in each 
individual V is narrow. The cylinders must be interlaced. They can't be in a 
straight line.

    Incidentally, Volkswagen plans to use the W-12 in the new Bugatti (yes, 
VW owns that, too) and in a Bentley performance car.

    The resulting W-8 engine is a 4.0-liter eight developing 270 horsepower 
and 273 foot-pounds of torque. It's extremely short, shorter even than the 
V-6. Therefore, the body of the Passat needed no modifications for the larger 
(in internal capacity and power) engine.

    With the new engine, the Passat gives you the feeling it can outrun 
anything else on the road, and it doesn't need a turbo to do it. In our 
introductory test runs over some gorgeous winding roads south of San 
Francisco and on Route 1 from Monterey to Half Moon Bay, the only cars that 
could keep up with the Passat W8 were other Passat W8s.

    The engine puts the power to the road through a five-speed automatic 
transmission with Tiptronic that allows the driver to shift if he or she 
wants to. The Passat W8 also has 4Motion, Volkswagen's all-wheel drive 
system. We did a little "off roading" for some photographs and the 4Motion 
kept us out of trouble, no matter how hard I tried to get in.

    Two models are being offered for the North American market, a four-door 
sedan and a four-door wagon. Later in the calendar year a sport package will 
be available with 17-inch wheels and a six-speed manual transmission.

    With a price tag in the upper $30,000 range, this is the most expensive 
Volkswagen ever sold. It does expand Volkswagen's product lineup. It's a 
great expansion, but we can only wonder if consumers will be willing to pony 
up that amount of money for a Volkswagen.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate
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