Curbside Classic: 1985 VW Quantum (Passat B2) – Quantum Mechanics

I could certainly add the tag “Last One on the Streets Here” on this Quantum’s title. It’s been a few years since I last saw one, and I rather assumed they were all gone. I should know better. Old water cooled VWs do have a following, although it’s mostly gen1 cars. The Quantum, known as the Passat elsewhere (and Santana in sedan form some places, notably China, where it was built almost forever), was not exactly all that common when it was new here. It rather failed to maintain that spark of interest that its predecessor, the Dasher (Passat B1) generated. But then by 1982, VW’s star was hardly shining bright in the face of ever-more sophisticated Japanese cars.

The Quantum arrived here for the 1982 model year, in sedan, wagon and hatchback coupe form (the rather awkward four door hatchback was not brought state-side). It was of course very closely related to the gen2 Audi 80 (4000 in the US), which had preceded it by some three years. Quantum-come-lately. It was a bit longer than the Audi, and had a different rear suspension.

The base engine was the typical 1.7 and later 1.8 L VW fours, fuel injected. Later, a GL5 version of the sedan had the Audi 2.2L five. And there was also a rather expensive Syncro wagon, which shared the Audi’s Quattro system up until the rear axle, which was actually from the VW transporter, to help retain a flat floor, but it did require a completely different floor pan.

This’85 is a regular Quantum wagon, with the 1.8 four rated at 88hp. There was also an optional 1.6 L turbo-diesel four, with 68hp. Neither one was going to peel your eyes back, but they did their respective jobs reasonably adequately, especially as long as the power-sapping automatic was not behind it.

The rear seat of this one seems to have been spared a lot of wear, hardly an uncommon sight in older cars. Leg room was reasonably adequate; a bit better than its predecessor.

The bright trim around the rear window on this one has aged in a peculiar way. Frilly; not something one usually associates with VWs from this era.

I didn’t get a shot of it, but the rear cargo area of these was quite roomy, thanks to VW’s space-efficient FWD design.

The Quantum had a lot of tough competition from the Volvo 240 series, which was enjoying a huge late-life boom. The Volvo 245 wagon became an icon of a certain segment of the population. The Quantum just never got that kind of traction, despite its many objectively strong qualities. VW was struggling in the 80s, as its reliability and image suffered a one-two punch from the issues with the early water cooled cars as well as the Malibuization of the US-built Rabbit. The Quantum wasn’t cheap either. The Volvo was just a safer bet, in a whole number of ways, although the VWs were clearly lither and more fun to drive.

VW has struggled in the US since the demise of the Beetle, and is still trying to make it work. VW USA has lost some $500-600 million per year in the past few years. The total accumulated losses in the US over the decades must be staggering; billions, undoubtedly. But VW is hanging tough, and keeps stepping up to the plate, now with a huge commitment to EVs in the wake of dieselgate. Will this finally turn the corner for them?