The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Volkswagen W8 fails to create ripples

Detroit, Nov. 3: My 14-year-old daughter cut to the chase as she settled into the front passenger seat of a Volkswagen Passat W8 station wagon. “How much does this cost'” she asked.

“Almost $ 40,000,” I responded, as deadpan as possible. “$ 40,000—for a Volkswagen'” she said incredulously, a sign of how car-savvy she has become. “What makes it worth $ 40,000'”

The company has answers: “Power, refinement, luxury and value.” The W8 is the most muscular VW yet, with an innovative eight-cylinder engine. It comes with standard all-wheel drive. Its cabin is nicely finished in high-grade leather and real wood. Yet I couldn’t help ponder the question while test-driving the W8.

Surely, one does not associate Volkswagen, whose name means “people’s car” in German, with expensive vehicles. The automaker was created—a brainchild of Hitler, actually—to build cheap transportation for everyday people to drive to work. In recent years in the United States, VW has successfully lured young buyers with its high-value Golfs, New Beetles and Jettas.

VW executives say the W8, and even more pricey vehicles to follow, will keep those buyers from leaving the family and moving up to BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

Next spring, Volkswagen will introduce its first sport utility, the Touareg. Developed in conjunction with the Porsche Cayenne, the Touareg will start around $ 35,000, roughly what the most expensive Volkswagen had cost before the Passat W8 arrived. Also next year, Volkswagen will bring out its first true luxury car, the Phaeton. Priced at $ 60,000 to $ 75,000, it will challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.

Meantime, the W8 serves as a makeshift bridge over the yawning gap between Volkswagen’s traditional value-packed offerings and the expensive models yet to come. On the outside, one must inspect the W8 carefully to spot differences between it and a standard Passat. Both come as either sedans or station wagons. The W8 is the same size as a regular Passat, though it has special badges on the grille and rear deck. It also has high-intensity headlamps with power washers and four chrome exhaust tips.

A combination of wood and metal alloy dresses up the dashboard, doors and console. (Fancier versions of the regular Passat have plain wood trim.)

The biggest difference is one that isn’t readily apparent. Under the hood is VW’s first eight-cylinder engine. Because the original Passat was not designed to accommodate a V-8, the engineers had to use a non-traditional layout to fit a bigger motor into the engine compartment. In simple terms, they spliced together two V-4 engines, which together form a W shape—hence the W8 name.

The W8 accelerated reasonably well, although it lagged peculiarly when moving from a stop. Road & Track magazine took the car from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. Obviously built to handle high-speed German autobahns, the W8 hums along quietly and comfortably. The W8 also comes with four-motion all-wheel drive, essentially the same as Audi’s respected quattro system. This provides stability at high speeds and sure-footedness in rain or snow. The W8 also has features not available on other Passats, like stability control and emergency brake assist. But more is missing from the W8 than a couple of features.

The problem is not so much the refined and powerful W8. By the standards of the midsize luxury class, it performs well and is attractively priced. But nothing about this car makes the heart beat faster. It will not have many people saying, “I’ve got to have one of those.” Finally, this is a $ 40,000 Passat that looks pretty much like a $ 22,000 Passat. In this and so many other ways, the W8 does not compute.

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