If you combined "eight-cylinder engines" and "Volkswagens" in the same sentence a few years ago, you'd have been meet with either stares of incredulity or outright guffaws. The people's car company was known for outfitting its cars with small, peppy four-bangers--with the occasional V6 thrown in the mix.
My, how times change. Today, Volkswagen has eight-cylinder engines coming out of the woodwork (there's even a V10 diesel in Europe). The new Touareg has a V8, as does the soon-to-be-here Phaeton, and the 2003 Passat W8 sports the world's first double-V-configured eight. european car drove the Passat W8 last year, and the first sentence out of staffers mouths was "What a great car." The second was "Can we have one?" Much to our delight, the answer was yes. Our long-term 2003 Passat W8 recently arrived fully loaded, as do all the W8s. Its $37,900 MSRP may take many aback (a $38k VW?), but once you tally up all the features you get, the price seems right on target. The entire car is built around the 4.0-liter 32-valve W8 engine, which makes 270 bhp and 273 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to a five-speed Tiptronic transmission. Power is transmitted to VW's all-wheel-drive 4Motion system, which uses a 50/50 front/rear drive ratio under normal conditions and up to a 67/33 (or 33/67) during low-grip situations.
The W8's chassis setup incorporates four-link suspension with coil springs, telescopic shocks and a stabilizer bar in the front and fully independent double wishbone suspension with coil springs telescopic shocks and a stabilizer bar in the rear. european car's long-termer came equipped with the optional $1,500 sport package, which gives the suspension setup sport-tuned shocks and springs. A very stylish set of multi-spoke 17-in. alloy wheels wrapped in 225/45R17H all-season tires are also included.
The rear brakes are unique to the W8; they're ventilated discs (same as the front's) instead of the solid discs found on the other Passats. In addition, the optional Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) with Brake Assist is standard on this eight-cylinder variant.
Speaking of options, most of those offered on the other Passat models (GL and GLS 1.8T, GLS V6) are also standard on the W8. These include heatable eight-way power front seats with three memory settings, an in-dash single CD cassette player with the Monsoon sound system, a power glass sunroof, a multi-function trip computer, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, leather seats (ours are in reflex black), real wood accents, VW's Climatronic electronic climate control system and Homelink.
Besides the badging (front and rear), the W8 stands out from its classmates by way of four chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, high-intensity gas-discharge headlights with power washers and an integrated window antenna. On the inside, the door sills bear the W8 insignia and it has extra chrome surrounds on the doors and dashboard. The front bumper has integrated foglights.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the myriad safety features on the W8. There are front and side impact airbags for the front occupants and Side Curtain Protection(TM) airbags for all occupants. ABS is, of course, standard, as are the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, anti-intrusion side-impact beams, an immobilizer theft-deterrent system and a compact spare tire. Based on european car's previous experience with Volkswagen's safety expertise (see May 2001 issue), the W8 is more than amply equipped to handle any catastrophe.
Our long-term W8 arrived wearing a shiny coat of Reflex Silver paint, which is one of the best colors a sports sedan can sport. It is covered by a 4-year/50,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, a 12-year/unlimited mileage limit corrosion perforation limited warranty and a 4-year/50,000-mile roadside assistance program. To put it another way, VW has the W8 covered.
Which is appropriate, since the grand total on this W8, including the aforementioned $1,500 sport package and a $575 destination charge, is $39,975. Yes, this is a $40k Volkswagen.
Is it worth it? We'll keep you updated throughout the following year as to whether or not a forty-grand VW makes sense, but based on my previous driving experiences with the W8, I'm betting it is. Times really have changed.