Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
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Review and photos by Russell Purcell

When the Passat W8 first hit the streets as a 2003 model, many critics suggested that as VW’s flagship sedan it was taking the company into a price category unheard of for Germany’s ‘value’ brand – and as the company is intertwined with the more up-market Audi brand, the development of the W8 was going to lead to internal competition for the same portion of a relatively small sales pie.

What a difference a year makes, as the Passat W8 is no longer the flagship for the brand – the ultra-luxurious Phaeton has broken cover and begun to roll into dealer showrooms. This may take some heat off the car as it was felt that the W8 was gunning for rival cars that were well out of its league, such as the Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW’s 7-Series, a misconception brought on largely by the fact that an eight-cylinder engine resides in its engine compartment.

Entering 2004 targeted at mid-sized executive sedans like the Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5-Series, Audi’s A6, Cadillac’s CTS and Lincoln’s LS (as well as a host of Japanese models), the W8 beats most on value with its W8 power and standard 4-Motion all-wheel-drive. Add to this the availability of a wagon variant, and the W8 gains another edge over many of its rivals.

What the heck is a W8?

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
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The W8 nomenclature stands for the unique architecture of the car’s engine, a ‘double V’ design created through the basic fusion of two 2.0-litre V4s which then share a crankshaft. The end result is one of the world’s most compact, not to mention fuel efficient, 8-cylinder engines.

W8 Style

While the W8 looks virtually identical to lesser Passat models from the side and rear, the shape of the nose is decidedly different. The Passat W8 visage is characterized by larger headlamp units complete with high-discharge, self-leveling xenon lights and covers with a tinted edge.

Standard Equipment

VW has equipped the Passat W8 with all the power

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
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and luxury accessories expected in an executive sedan including the aforementioned 4-Motion all-wheel-drive, Anti-slip regulation (ASR), and an Electronic Stabilization Program with brake assist (ESP), high intensity xenon headlamps, halogen projector lens fog-lights (integrated into front bumper) and beefy ABS brakes. Attractive, lightweight 16-inch alloy wheels wearing high-performance all-season tires (my test vehicle came equipped with the optional ‘sports’ package which offers 17-inch wheels) and four, high-polish exhaust tips reveal that this Passat has sporty aspirations.

The list also includes a dual-zone climate control, full leather seating with heated, power-adjustable front units, a handy cluster-mounted driver information system, and a high power CD/Cassette-stereo with eight, perfectly matched speakers. Power windows with one-touch operation up front, power adjustable side mirrors, remote locks, rain sensing wipers and real walnut wood trim complete the package. All instrumentation and switchgear falls readily to both hand and eye.

Also available for the first time in a VW model is the OnStar telematics system, offering owners and occupants an extra level of safety in the event of a breakdown, collision or mechanical mishap, as well as access to handy services such as voice assisted navigation or phone capabilities.


Performance

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
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The W8 generates 270 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and when mated to the standard smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic and a fully independent suspension, the W8 becomes an excellent touring car. During my week long test period I put on significant mileage, and it is important to note that the weather during this time included everything from freezing rain to a sprinkle of snow. The W8 with its 4Motion and excellent traction and stability controls never missed a step, and at no time did I sense significant loss of control or off balance.

One knock I have against the W8 revolves around its curb weight. At a hefty 1902 kilograms, the car outweighs most of its competition, largely due to the extra weight of the 4-Motion equipment. The added poundage hurts acceleration as 0-100 km/h runs take about eight seconds, but at the same time, gives the car a low centre of gravity which helps with cornering dynamics and overall stability. While stability and all-weather traction are nice, you may want to weigh what you expect from the overall driving experience before deciding on a W8. Its well insulated and luxurious cabin is a wonderful place to spend time during a long commute, but if you are looking for a rumbling 8-cylinder hotrod, look elsewhere.

The Passat W8 features a very rigid feeling body structure. This gives it a very responsive feel and predictable ride and promotes excellent steering communication between the road and the driver. My regular commute includes a few sections of road that are strewn with potholes and require me to cross some rural railway tracks, but the W8 navigated through and over these irregularities with nary a squeak or rattle. Excellent interior materials and insulation also help dampen such nuisances, as well as the cacophony of road and mechanical noises.


Safety

The Passat W8 is loaded with advanced safety features, as it should be for a base price just a tick under $60,000. A host of airbags including front and side units, as well as side curtain protection come as standard equipment. Advanced ABS brakes with vented discs, ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and traction control are joined by Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, resulting in a very reassuring package on wheels.


Bigger engine, smaller car?

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives

As is the case with all Passat models, the W8′s cabin has an airy feel due to the large greenhouse and narrow roof pillars. This gives the occupants the perception of being in a much larger automobile.

The front seats are well-designed for enthusiastic driving with effective side bolsters and a wide range of power adjustment available. Up front both passengers benefit from abundant leg, hip and headroom (even with the sunroof interloping with headspace) as long as you are under 6’4″ and aren’t akin to wearing tall hats.

Rear occupants will find the passenger compartment of the W8 to actually be less roomy than that found in lesser Passat models (the same is true of the trunk dimensions), but still comfy for three smaller adults or two larger adults if your passengers like to stretch out. This is an unfortunate situation that arose with the addition of the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system to the Passat platform, as it also includes an independent rear suspension. A padded centre armrest folds down to separate the seat, and contains a small storage bin as well as integrated cup holders. All three rear seating positions also feature adjustable headrests.


Conclusions

Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
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Although the W8 hasn’t been around for very long and no longer represents the top of the company’s offerings it should still hold a place in the lineup as the mid-size luxury class is a competitive one. The W8 engine and standard all-wheel-drive give the car an edge over many of its rivals, but at almost twice the price of an entry model (Passat GLS 1.8T $29,550), a lot of potential customers may not think the car sets itself apart enough from its brethren to justify the extra dollars. This is unfortunate as the car represents a good value in the marketplace.


Technical Data: 2004 VW Passat W8

Base price $54,358
Options $2,000 (Sport Package: Includes 17″ alloy wheels, all season tires, and sport suspension)
Freight $575 Test Drive: 2004 Volkswagen Passat W8 volkswagen car test drives
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $57,033
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 4.0-litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves, variable valve timing
Horsepower 270 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 273 @ 2750 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic Tiptronic
Curb weight 1793 kg (3952 lb.)
Wheelbase 2702 mm (106.3 in.)
Length 4703 mm (185.2 in.)
Width 1746 mm (68.7 in.)
Height 1461 mm (57.5 in.)
Trunk space 300 litres (10.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.4 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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