In the early 2000s, Volkswagen gave itself a new challenge: to compete with Mercedes in luxury. The Passat W8 was the first brick in this pharaonic project… which won’t go anywhere.
The 1970s were complicated for Volkswagen. The Beetle is still selling very well, but the rear-mounted air-cooled engine is getting old, and the company doesn’t seem to know how to keep up with the competition, which is modernizing at a rapid pace. The solution comes from the purchase of Auto Union in 1964 and NSU in 1969.
From 1973, VW launched its “front-wheel drive offensive” with the Passat, Golf (1974) and Scirocco (1975). The car of the revival, the first Passat rests under the foundation of the Audi 80 B1 (Fox in North America) from 1972. Over the years, this series gets bigger and gets more and more powerful engines, including the famous VR6 from the third generation.
We’re getting closer!
In 1991, the Wolfsburg marque presented its close-V 6-cylinder. The architecture is not new, as it was invented in 1915 by Vincenzo Lancia, the founder of the brand that bears his name. However, Volkswagen is updating it to be able to install a large displacement engine in its compact models (Golf, Jetta and Corrado). The opening of the V between the two cylinder banks is only 15 degrees (versus generally 60 or even 90 degrees in a conventional V6).
The advantages of such an arrangement are the reduction in size (almost equivalent to that of a 4-cylinder) and the use of a single cylinder head against two in a traditional V6. The disadvantages of this technological choice, on the other hand, are a complicated control of the heat exchanges as well as compromises in the design of the heads and tubes due to the compactness of the assembly. But this engine, in these different configurations (there will even be a VR5), has proven popular all over the world. So Volkswagen will not stop there.
The architecture of the W engines is not new, but it is Ferdinand Piëch, president of the Volkswagen Group since 1993, who will decide to use it himself (it should not be forgotten that he is an engineer by training). This is a logical development of the tight V-blocks, as it corresponds to the assembly of two motorhomes with a 72 degree opening. There are thus 4 rows of cylinders with only two cylinder heads. The first public application will be a W12 installed in a concept, aptly named W12 Synchro, presented at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show.
The first Bugatti concepts, after the acquisition of the brand in 1998, will even be eligible for 6.3-liter W18s (ie 3 rows VR6) before the engineers choose to use a W16 (ie two rows VR8) to Chiron. From 2001, and until today, several models of the Volkswagen group can be equipped with a W12 of 6 or 6.3 liters.
(VR6-2) x 2 = W8
The launch of the small Mercedes A-Class at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997 puts Ferdinand Piëch in all his states. If Mercedes-Benz goes down the market to compete with Volkswagen, then Volkswagen will go up the market to compete with Mercedes! he decrees. This is how the extravagant VW611 project was born, which was to become the Phaeton, the future competitor to the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series. In the meantime, customers will have to get used to paying top kroner to buy a “people’s car” … Maybe a super Passat could do the trick…
For this, there is no question of using the 4.2-liter V8 already seen at Audi, it does not fit under the hood of the Passat, according to the engineers. This is how VW will develop an 8-cylinder version of its W12, thus composed of two VR4s, with the same stroke and bore dimensions (ie 90.2 mm by 84 mm). With a displacement of 4 liters, this block is compact (420 mm long) and light (193 kilos thanks to an alloy of aluminum and silicon).
It has a crankshaft with offset crankpins (by 12.5 degrees), cylinder heads with 4 valves per engine. cylinder, Bosch Motronic ME7.1 fuel injection and twin balance shafts (which rotate twice as fast as the crankshaft to reduce vibration) per cylinder bank. In North American configuration, it delivers 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 rpm, allowing a top speed of 250 km/h (self-limited) and 0 to 100 km/h. t in 6.8 seconds. Will it be able to attract buyers?
The car of the well-to-do
The fifth generation Passat was introduced in North America for the 1998 model year and received a restyling in 2002. It was here that Volkswagen took the opportunity to unveil the W8 version. In addition to its exclusive engine, it benefits as standard from 4Motion four-wheel drive (with Torsen differential), a reinforced chassis, better sound insulation, an 80-liter fuel tank (instead of 62), 4 exhaust pipes, ABS, bi-xenon headlights, 16- inch wheels (17 optional), leather interior, power seats and an 8-speaker Monsoon sound system. It offers the choice between a 6-speed manual gearbox and a 5-speed automatic Tiptronic. To top it all off, a family variant is also available. It all looks very good, and Volkswagen plans to sell 5,000 units annually between the US and Canada.
But the reception of this new model is rather cold. To begin with, the W8 hardly stands out from its 4- or 6-cylinder cousins on the outside. Then it’s offered in Canada at $53,400 ($54,575 as a wagon), nearly $10,000 more than a V6 4Motion and nearly $24,000 more than a base Passat. Too expensive!
Certainly, the designated competitors (Audi A6 4.2, BMW 540, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS 430 and Mercedes E500) are considerably more expensive, but offer more power, more prestige, a more intoxicating driving experience, a better resale value … and the absence of a logo found on an $18,000 Golf. Finally, the W8 impresses no one with its character and will later prove to be difficult and expensive to maintain and below average reliability. Suffice it to say, customers are in no rush for concessions…
The ax falls in September 2004: production of the W8 is stopped after only a little more than 11,000 copies for the whole world (including 4,931 combined for the USA and Canada in less than 3 years, where the W8 came during 2002). Plans to use this engine in other models (including the Skoda Superb, cousin to the Passat, and a possible Golf R40) have been canceled and the Passat will remain the only model in the group to benefit from it (Audi will refuse to use it and even the Phaeton will use a classic V8).
With the Phaeton’s failure, Piëch’s vision to move upmarket fell through in a resounding “splash” and cost the group several billion dollars. Conclusion: you should NOT attack category queens to end up with UNSATISFIED shareholders.