(first posted 5/1/2013) The Ferdinand Piëch era at VW resulted in many spectacular things; most of them successful. But his tendency to over-reach resulted in a few spectacular failures, like the very short-lived Passat W8. It was VW’s first shot into the true premium market, an effort to turn the Passat into a BMW 5-series competitor. It was also a test bed for the W-engine family, which in 12 cylinder trim would soon appear in that other over-reach, the Phaeton, and the 16 cylinder version in the ultimate über-mobile, the Bugatti Veyron. So how would you like to have just bought a used Passat W8, like this temporary-tagged black wagon’s owner?
The notion of turning VW’s narrow-angle VR engine (5 and 6 cylinder) into a double-bank “W” engine is obviously compelling, given what a compact eight cylinder engine would ensue. Which of course was appealing, if one is going to hang it in front of the transaxle centerline, as in the Passat B5 (based on Audi architecture). Still, Audi did have its own quite compact V8 engine in its cars, but this was Volkswagen! The result looks like something Lancia might have cooked up in the early sixties, had they been that ambitious.
It’s compact, but very complex too. And from what I read on a few forums, if you drive into your friendly VW dealer with a W8 problem, you’re not likely to be met with open arms. It’s quickly becoming an orphan engine.
Ironically, these cars aren’t all that hot. The 4 liter (half of the Bugatti’s 8 liter) W8 was rated at 275 hp, which even ten years ago was a tad modest for a four liter eight. Prices starting above $40k ($50k adjusted), or twice the price of a regular Passat, made the W8 a non-starter.
The interior received a few upgrades. There was a stick available, but the automatic was the preferred box of choice.
Some 10,000 Passat W8s were built, before the model quietly disappeared after 2004. By then, VWoA was having enough other challenges, trying to sell the Phaeton. Now, it’s a very rare sight indeed. I wonder if this new owner knows what’s they’ve just (really) bought?