Volkswagen Passat 4 Motion W8

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Description: Cheap in Wolfsburg clothing.

We've always liked Passats. Whether in nimble, turbocharged 1.8T guise or in more regal 2.8 V-6 form, the basic Passat envelope has risen to the occasion, offering a roomy interior, dependable handling, and respectable performance for not unreasonable amounts of money.

But when news of an impending eight-cylinder variant hit the ether, we had to wonder if the versatile Passat architecture could handle that much power and prestige. We needn't have worried. The new Passat W-8 has somehow metamorphosed into a stately sports-luxury sedan, exhibiting all the poise and gravity of a BMW 540i or Mercedes E430.

That W-8 nomenclature describes an all-aluminum 4.0-liter engine comprised of two narrow-angle (15 degree) V-4 cylinder banks joined at a 72-degree angle to form a double-vee. Two balance shafts help to quell the vibes that arise from the flat (180 degree) crank chosen for the even power impulses it allows.

With this novel system, VW has packaged a 4.0-liter, eight-cylinder powerplant in a compact unit to fit easily under the hood of a Passat. And from that dense engine package, it has extracted 270 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at a mere 2750 rpm, along with a mellifluous engine note that flutters melodically at moderate revs but barks like a small-block Chevy at full throttle.

VW hooked this sophisticated W-8 to a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic (a six-speed manual will be available later). The transmission, in turn, is connected to an all-wheel-drive mechanism called 4MOTION. The system depends primarily on a Torsen center differential that allows the car to operate at a 50/50 torque allocation until one axle begins to slip, whereupon the differential sends more torque (up to 67 percent) to the axle with the greater adhesion.

All this hardware adds mass, the Passat W-8 tipping our scales at a substantial 3980 pounds. One can feel the added heft on the road, where the Passat rides with a sense of deliberate control and with body motions that are slower and more rigorously damped than one feels in Passats of a lesser order. Even the steering has a weighty, big-car feel to it, although it continues to direct the car with exemplary precision.

Overall, the Passat W-8 has a complete, integrated quality that belies its newfound mass. It also has enough torque and throttle response to overwhelm any suggestion of portliness. The vehicle we drove underwent performance testing at relatively low mileage (around 1000 miles), then continued to loosen up during the ensuing miles in a manner that was clearly noticeable.

Thus, the company's claim of a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds sounds defensible. (We got 6.9 seconds.) The W-8 engine requires tight manufacturing tolerances, resulting in this slightly longer break-in period. By the time we handed the car back, it was responding in delightfully fluent fashion, and we'd now like to try one with more miles on the clock. A long-term test, perhaps?

Accordingly, we'd expect the quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds at 94 mph to improve, along with our top-gear acceleration figures. Presuming it ends up a half-second quicker, the Passat W-8 will run a second ahead of its similarly priced six-cylinder competition (BMW 530i, Lexus GS300), trailing their V-8 variants by a half-second or so. We measured a governed top speed of 136 mph, which is a bit peculiar since our W-8 was shod with H-rated (130 mph) all-season rubber. Perhaps VW is anticipating the Sport package with 17-inch wheels and tires that may arrive next year.

That configuration may do better at the skidpad, too, where our W-8 generated 0.80 g of lateral acceleration while each front tire in turn shrieked its disapproval. Nonetheless, the handling of the W-8 proved confidence inspiring in the mountains, where the balanced chassis and excellent path control easily offset any compromises created by the all-season Continentals.

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