Who? Dr. techn. h.c. Dipl.-Ing. ETH Ferdinand Piech himself, who else? Volkswagen states it's out to break all the rules in the mid-size class, and there's no doubting the identity of the strategy's architect. It's risky business indeed, moving away from one's traditional strengths to flex new muscles, but Piech, never one to shy away from a challenge, is convinced there's plenty of room for a "progressive and technologically forward-looking alternative" at the upper range of the market. Should this offensive be successful, it would be a capstone of sorts to Piech's illustrious career, for it would once and for all dispel the notion that the VW brand can be successful only in the volume segments.

What? The first hammer blow is being struck by a proverbial velvet-gloved fist in the guise of the Passat W8 all-wheel-drive sedan and wagon. And don't confuse midsize with mundane, because Wolfsburg is aiming squarely at Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with the W8 just the first offensive blow in Dr. Piech's course of action. Next will come the high-tech and expensive "D1" sedan, followed by "an exciting off-road vehicle and a super-sports car." The Passat W8, though, is the most critical step in the process of attracting a new group of buyers.

Its longitudinally mounted eight-cylinder powerplant, mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission delivers 0 to 62 mph in a claimed 6.5 sec. (7.8 sec. with the optional five-speed Tiptronic), the ample torque sent to all four wheels via VW's 4Motion system. Additional traction and dynamic safety aids include an electronic stability program, traction control, a new Brake Assist that accelerates the operation of full-pressure braking, and electronic brake-pressure distribution, initiating enlarged ventilated discs all around. Suspension is a front four-link axle with spring/damper units; in back is a torsion beam trailing arm arrangement with coil springs; stabilizer bars are fitted front and rear. Steering is rack and pinion with hydraulic assist.

When? The first public showing of the Passat W8 is at the IAA in Frankfurt this September. European deliveries start after the first of the year, but it won't go on sale before June or July of 2002 in the U.S. Engineering of the W8 first began in 1997 as part of the engine program that over the next several years will result in a number of W-powered models across the VW family, from Skoda to Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, ranging up to 16 cylinders and a whopping 8.0 liters.

Where? The high-tech plant building the W8 is in Saltzgitter and is designed to produce 10,000 engines per day. More to the point, though, is where Volkswagen expects to find buyers for the W8? According to Dr. Robert Buechelhofer, VW board member for sales, the W8 will first appeal to VW loyalists who've looked for a way to go upmarket without leaving the brand. The targeted demographic profiles include managers of medium-sized and large companies, proprietors of smaller and medium-sized companies, and performance- and luxury-oriented shoppers who've already been driving six- or eight-cylinder cars. Ninety percent of the buyers will be men with a high net income, and one-third of them will already have been an owner of a car from the upper middle range.

Why? Hey, it's all about the money. Upscale cars make more profit than volume cars, and Piech wants some of the euros generated by all those cars sold in the upper range of the C-segment in Europe (710,000 in 2000, and in Germany alone a very healthy 282,000), so the implications of success in that arena are enormous. VW currently sells about 100,000 Passats annually in America, and considering about half are V6s, it's not a stretch for VW to sell its allotment of 5,000 W8s next year.

However, that modest figure begs the question: Why bother with a new engine? As it stands, the Passat is no sales slouch, so wouldn't the market have accepted an upgraded V6 just as readily, maybe more readily, than an unfamiliar new engine? Furthermore, the Passat was never meant for an eight-cylinder in this life cycle, so why go to all that trouble to build such an engine?The answer lies in the long view: This first, modest inroad into a new market segment is meant to demonstrate VW's resources and capabilities as much as it is to add black ink to the ledger. My guess is it will easily sell in America--even at its probable cost of more than $40,000 fully equipped--but, most importantly, it will prepare everyone for the upscale VWs to follow.

W8 Platform: The primary difference between the standard Passat and the W8 is a stiffer chassis, which benefits from a number of reinforcements. Crash protection has, of course, been upgraded concurrently--two front airbags, two front and rear side airbags, and optional side window airbags. External changes include twin chrome exhaust pipes, additional chrome trim beneath the rear light clusters, standard bi-xenon lighting, 17-in. alloys and new windshield wipers that provide more downforce for enhanced action at high speeds.

As expected, the interior received a host of upgrades to help justify the W8's elevated cost (about DM80,000 in Germany; just under $40,000 in America). New features include leather-esque dash surfaces, redesigned center console, adjustable armrest with cubby, new door trims, redesigned instrument panel, walnut veneer on the center console, and wood surrounds for the electric window lifts and door handles. Leather and cloth are combined in the standard seating; leather covers the steering wheel and gearshift and handbrake boots; and optional integrated child seats swivel up from out of the rear seat squabs.

Standard equipment levels are generous. Leading the list is a new bi-xenon headlamp technology, wherein both low and high beams emanate from the same xenon bulb, a moving shield within the light cluster determining the pathway of light through the single 70mm lens. Headlight flash function is handled by a separate halogen bulb. In addition to superior nighttime vision, the bi-xenon headlamps use about one-third of the energy of conventional lighting.

Among the many electronic features are VW's Climatronic electronic temperature control; a multifunction console gauge; various ranges of sound systems; a navigation system (optional); an anti-theft warning system and remote keyless entry. Additional upscale options include Nappa leather upholstery, Recaro sports seats in Alcantara-leather/leather, electric eight-way seat adjustment, sliding sunroof with automatic ventilation activation and sun blind for the sedan's rear window.

W8 Power: Smoothness and good torque from a compact dimension were the major engineering goals. Its main elements are a narrow, 15-degree cylinder angle; four valves per cylinder; pentroof combustion chamber with central spark plug; higher-flow inlet ports; roller finger cam followers for the valve drive; adjustable inlet and exhaust camshaft variable timing; aluminum resonance intake manifold; new Bosch ECU; and continuous lambda control.

When viewed out of the engine bay, the W8 appears almost square and is made up of two V4 modules in a narrow-angle V configuration. An engine with this 15-degree angle is typically about 25-percent shorter than comparable inline engines and about 78-percent narrower than comparable V engines.

Two or more Vs put together form a W engine with a cylinder bank angle of 72 degrees. In order to achieve optimum ignition timing with this setup, the crank journals are offset by 180 degrees to each other (in typical race-engine fashion), thus creating a "flat" crankshaft for more torque at lower rpm. The small cylinder spacing and corresponding short length of the crankshaft means a compact crankcase with a high degree of torsional stiffness, aided by a new method of mounting the transmission to the block. Two counter-rotating balancer shafts rotate at twice crankshaft speed to further dampen vibrations.

The four-valve cylinder heads, based on the V6 engine, were modified for improved oiling and cooling in response to conditions caused by the acutely inclined cylinders. Inlet port flow rate was increased by 10 percent over the 2.8-liter V6, and re-engineered valve rows means only one inlet cam and one exhaust cam needed to be used.

Making this engine lightweight (190kg) was achieved in concert with other design goals. For instance, the pistons--shortened and given stepped skirts to allow them to drop between the bearing bulkheads--have a larger bore than their V6 counterparts yet are much lighter. And the connecting rods, though longer than in the V6, are also lighter.

This cleverness extends to the number of shared components between the V engine family and the new W cousins and the ability to machine all cylinders heads for any W engine on the same line, reducing costs all down the line--and it's an eminently practical approach to the displacement question. It's not as easy as just tacking on a couple more cylinders, but you get the point: Piech has set up a system to provide VW's widely scattered family its engines long into the future.

Well?: A total of 5 hours in a car over glass-smooth Swiss roads at modest speeds isn't a sound basis for the rave review I'd love to give. Instead I'll wait until the W8 challenges off-camber curves with broken asphalt, concrete expansion joints, L.A. freeway mayhem and our favorite mountain test route before I can tell you, unequivocally, that this wonderfully well-conceived velvet-covered fist should rightfully steal business away from the crowd in Munich, Stuttgart and, of course, Ingolstadt.

2002 Passat W8 Technical Data
ENGINE
Type of engine Eight-cylinder W8, longitudinal
Material cylinder head/engine block Aluminum/aluminum alloy
Bore x stroke 84 x 90.17mm
Displacement 3999cc
Valves per cylinder/drive Four at an angle/indirect, roller cam followers
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Mixture formation Indirect electronic multi-point injection
Ignition system Distributorless electronic ignition
Emission control system Three-way catalytic converter with Lambda probe
Power output 275 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max. torque 273 lb-ft A 2750 rpm

PERFORMANCE
(at curb weight + 200 kg/440 lb)
0-80/100 kph, auto/man. 5.6/7.8 sec. / 4.5/6.5 sec.
Top speed 250 kph/155 mph
Type of clutch, auto/man. Converter with lock-up clutch/
single-plate dry clutch, double-mass flywheel
Gearbox, auto/man. Five-speed automatic, 4MOTION tiptronic/
six-speed manual 4Motion

CHASSIS

Suspension, front Multi-link suspension,spring/shock absorber unit, anti-roll bars
Suspension,rear double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bars
Steering Rack-and-pinion; hydraulic power steering; ESP
Wheels 7 1/2 Jx17
Tires 225/45R17 W
Brakes Internally ventilated disc brakes all-round,
ABS, EDL, EPBD, Brake Assist system
Brake diameter, front/rear 334/269mm 13.15/10.59 in.

DIMENSIONS

Length/width/height 4703/1746/1461mm 185.16/68.74/57.52 in.
Wheelbase 2702mm 106.38 in.
Track, front/rear 1511/1510mm 59.49/59.45 in.
Turning circle [m] 11.5m 37.73 ft
Steering ratio 14.3:1
Number of seats 5
Unladen weight (incl. driver), auto/man. 1,716kg/1,665kg 3,783 lb/3,271 lb

CAPACITIES

Engine oil 8.3L/8.77 qt
Coolant 8L/8.4 qt
Fuel tank 80L/21 gal.
cd figure*/frontal area 0.31/2.19
*Provisional data
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