Used Vehicle Review: VW Passat 4Motion, 2000 2003  volkswagen used car reviews
2002 Volkswagen Passat GLS 4Motion wagon. Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

For Volkswagen, Syncro became 4Motion in 2000. The term Syncro, which referred to all-wheel drive VWs in the past, turned out to be a cold, obscure word that failed to click with customers. The word 4Motion was invented as a more warm and fuzzy way to describe all-wheel drive.

Interestingly, the 4Motion and Audi Quattro all-wheel-drive systems are identical in the Passat and the Audi A4, A6 and A8, although the Audi TT Quattro has a different system.

For the 2000 model year, the Volkswagen Passat 4Motion became the latest addition to the Passat lineup. What the record shows is that the all-wheel-drive system in the Passat 4Motion is a superb bit of engineering. It has shown itself to be relatively trouble-free, as has the rest of the car during this period.

Sure, a single minor recall refers to problems with fuel tank sulphur deposits and there are small handful of service bulletins highlighting such things as potentially faulty keyless entry transmitters. But nothing really serious seems to have come out since 2000 – at least not in a general sense.

What’s very nice about 4Motion is that it’s a completely transparent all-wheel-drive system. You are not required to turn a knob, pull a lever, or twist a switch to get it working. This is so because at any time the Passat 4Motion is sending power to turn all four wheels. The amount of power varies, of course, depending on how much slip the wheels are encountering at any one moment.

The key to the 4Motion’s system is a centre differential (a big box of gears) splitting power to the front and rear wheels. Always. Sure, the power split can vary from one-third to two-thirds either way, but no matter what, some twisting force is being sent to both ends of the car.

As for the Passat itself, remember that there are no true “stripper” Passats to be had. And when the powerful W8 version arrived in 2002 (both sedan and wagon) prices went even higher for that model.

Pricing, in fact, tilts the Passat 4Motion towards the luxury side and away from mainstream family transportation. For comparison, the Passat 4Motion is a bit more expensive than comparably equipped Subaru Legacy cars, but less expensive than the all-wheel-drive Volvo V70 and S70 wagon and sedan.

Fair enough. The Passat 4Motion comes with loads of standard features in even the GLS. The design is handsome and the materials and textures in the roomy cabin are top-grade. On the safety side, the Passat has earned five-star crash test ratings for driver and passenger.

For the overall best balance between power and fuel economy, the 190-horsepower V6 delivers is probably your best bet — though the added weight (109 kg./240 lbs.) of the all-wheel system slows things down compared to strictly front-drive Passats. The five-speed Tiptronic automatic allows the driver to shift or not, depending on mood and road conditions.

A recent Total Quality Study from the research firm Strategic Vision Inc. rated the Passat tops in its class. This survey measures not just problems, but also how owners feel about their cars in terms of driving and owning them. Ultimately, the survey found the typical Passat owner enjoys a very positive emotional response to his or her car. Consumer Reports also rates the Passat a “recommended” buy.

So while the Passat 4Motion isn’t inexpensive, it remains a pretty good used car.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.