BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Some cars have a hard time justifying themselves when new but make a whole lot more sense as a used proposition. The formula for such cars is well established. They need to be slightly out of the ordinary, laden with gadgetry and looking at a keen slide down a steep depreciation curve. Volkswagen's Passat W8 is just such an example. Although on paper it looked a well-priced new purchase, few could stomach stumping up over £30,000 for a Passat when similarly priced Mercedes, Audi and BMW models would hold their value far better. Now that used examples are filtering onto the market, the Passat W8 makes a very interesting buy.
Models Covered: (4dr saloon, 5 dr estate, 4.0 petrol )
The Passat was reaching increasingly upmarket with the post 2000 facelift. Indeed the 193bhp 2.8-litre V6 4MOTION proved that Volkswagen could make inroads into premium manufacturers territory, although many industry observers reckoned it was largely cannibalising sales from sister company Audi. These were strange times at Volkswagen, however, and having saved the company, chief executive Ferdinand Piech seemed to be getting mired in the platform sharing strategy that had returned to profitability. The Passat W8 acted as a technological showpiece and as a sweetener to soften customers up to the idea of ever more expensive Volkswagens like the subsequent Phaeton and the Porsche-developed Touareg 4x4. Top management didn't expect the car to sell in big numbers and they were right on the ball in this respect. Available as a saloon or an estate, the W8 was a sticky seller and used buyers will have to scout around to find one in the exact trim/colour combination they're after. Supplies of the W8 gradually dwindled as Passat production was wound back in advance of the all-new sixth generation model in 2005.
What You Get
Boasting an eight-cylinder engine, four-wheel drive and a power output of 275bhp, the Passat W8 features interior quality so good that you'd swear you were in an Audi were it not for that incongruous blue and white badge staring back at you from the steering wheel. Apart from the marketing tactics, it is in fact a genuinely innovative car, the W8 engine layout being especially novel. Here's how it works. Imagine a Volkswagen VR6 engine. Lop a couple of cylinders off to form a VR4, the narrow-angle banks of cylinders served by a common head. Then position another VR4 at 72 degrees to the first, all cylinders running off a common crank and bingo, you've got the W8. It's an elegant and compact engineering solution, allowing an eight-cylinder engine to fit sideways beneath the Passat's bonnet. It's a tight fit, but it works. The beauty of this system is that it's pretty much modular: add a few more cylinders and you get Audi's W12 unit, add a job lot of cylinders and you end up with Bugatti's W16. Lots of engines and minimal development costs equals plenty of happy bean counters within the Volkswagen empire. That's how the script goes anyway. Sitting inside the Passat W8 it's not hard to see where, engine aside, your money goes. We're used to Passat interiors and this is little different, albeit with the sum content of Volkswagen's lengthy options list being levered into it. Suddenly, being softened up looks an attractive option. Soften us up some more. Leather, wood and aluminium all make an appearance and even the most exigent button jabber could keep themselves amused for hours inside. There are some Kingston sound systems with less wattage than the standard fit stereo.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Passat has forged a good reputation for reliability and never attracted the sort of owners who would drive their cars to destruction. The W8 engine is capable of soaking up big mileages but it does require careful attention to oil and coolant levels. On higher mileage cars you should also check the CV joints and boots. Aside from this, check that the power steering pump is working fine and air conditioning units are fully gas charged. The interiors tend to be quite hardwearing but check electrical ancillaries such as mirrors and sunroofs as these can be costly to repair should they fail. Check to see how close to the advised service intervals the car has been back to the dealer and ensure that the car is running on original equipment tyres.
(approx based on a 2003 W8 saloon) The W8 might be a Passat but it's also a very specialist piece of engineering. Passat-generic parts are relatively cheap but anything specific to the W8 model is quite pricey. That includes all sorts of parts such as brake pads - £95 per pair up front and £65 at the rear - and an exhaust system that won't leave much change from £1,500. A pair of headlamps isn't going to leave much change from £750.
On the Road
That eight cylinder powerplant is creamily smooth at idle and stays relaxed even under hard acceleration. The ride is deliberately set soft, and the gearing is long, making the W8 an accomplished autobahn stormer. It's not so accomplished on give and take roads, but a big torque figure and the ability to hit 60mph in 6.5 seconds means it carries a mighty big stick when a straight appears. The chassis has been strengthened to cope with the W8's power and the suspension is commensurately stiffer. Top speed is quoted at 155mph, though such is the wanton muscularity of the W8 when approaching this speed that it would doubtless sail right on by were it not for the soft intervention of an electronic limiter. A six-speed manual gearbox was fitted as standard, although the majority of the cars that made it to the UK featured a five-speed auto, a box of decidedly patchy talents. This long-legged box responds smoothly when part throttle is used, but kicks down way too slowly and is geared very high, negating the benefits of the W8's power. A manual Passat V6 4Motion is a far more able companion. The manual-boxed W8, on the other hand, possesses a real punch. The strong self-centring action of the gearbox is something we've become used to with Volkswagens, but the effortless surge at higher speeds is a welcome novelty.
Although a used Passat W8 may seem like a lot of car for the money, it's worth keeping a realistic eye on running costs. The 4.0-litre 275bhp engine sups fuel at a fair old rate and you'll need to be very disciplined to manage 20mpg. That said, it does feel a very sophisticated and modern car and should run and run. If you're after a feel-good car that won't draw too much attention to you, the Passat W8 makes an intriguing choice.