Did you know the Volkswagen Passat is 40 years old this year? I know! The current model doesn’t look a day over 5.

Really, I kid. Even in its current Beigekrieg guise, Actually, Americans really could be forgiven for not realizing the Passat has been around for four decades, since the nameplate has only been in this country for 23 years.


As much as we marginalize it on our shores, the Passat has been damn important to VW around the world and is probably even more commonly associated with family cars than the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

Jalops know, though, that this midsize segment is usually as inspiring as a Piers Morgan interview. The Passat has never been an exciting car, and while I don't love it, I greatly respect it. So I’ve dug up some of the more interesting Dasher/Quantum/Passat versions available to Americans over the years. Anything to liven up this birthday party a little.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dasher Diesel

In February 1974, Popular Mechanics proclaimed the Volkswagen Dasher (not called Passat here for reasons I do not know) as the “Family shape for the family car.” I can’t see why that wasn’t the case, even though it was available in three- or (later) five-door hatchbacks, a sedan and a wagon.

“The charisma of the Beetle is alive and well, but, alas, the car is just a little obsolete. The next 25 years belong to the Dasher”

How embarrassing to be so wrong.

One could argue the Dasher to be the start of Beigekrieg because it was heavily Audi influenced, water-cooled, front-engined and front-wheel drive and basically the opposite of the 411/412 it replaced here. Looking back, it still wasn't a totally typical car of the times.


The Dasher Diesel wagon has always been my favorite Dasher to look up in recent years, particularly. I know it's only packing a 1.5 diesel four with 48(!) horsepower and a 0-60 time that rivals the number of seconds you microwave a frozen burrito. Every time a clean, brown-ish one comes up for sale, I try to rationalize it.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Quantum Syncro

Another moment to mourn the five-cylinder. If the mood strikes you to go buy a five-pot VW or Volvo right now, you should probably do it as its days are very numbered. In the early '80s, however, VW introduced the again-Audi derived Quantum (Why the name? I don't know.) and tried to class it up with an upmarket five-cylinder Audi engine. The 2.1-liter engine did make that great five-pot warble, though.

Late in its life, the Quantum brought us another great gift to Americans: an all-wheel drive, five-speed manual, five-cylinder German wagon. As predicted, we were ungrateful and bought precisely a few of them. Why didn't anyone see it as a budget Audi Avant Quattro?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Passat VR6 (B3 and B4)

Americans finally skipped that Dasher/Quantum name nonsense in 1990 with the introduction of the B3 Passat. But the performance game wasn't started until a few years later when VW put the fabulous VR6 from the Corrado sports coupe into the staid Passat. It also took a few more years to put a grille on it and take away the stupid fixed seatbelt things.


Still, a Volkswagen with a VR6 and BBS wheels is kind of the ultimate sleeper sedan of the era. You'd have to know what VR6 meant to get that this isn't just any family sedan.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Passat W8

Trust me, you can’t be a car fanatic if you haven’t seen one of these listed somewhere and gone, “Yeah, that’d be a great idea.”


VW thought it was a great idea to push the Passat higher up the food chain in 2002 by dropping a 4.0-liter W8 with 270 horsepower into a Passat 4Motion and doing pretty much nothing else, and charging about 40 grand for it. Someone I knew in high school had a W8 sedan, and his parents probably picked it up for half of what it originally sold for. It was quick, but sitting as a passenger it felt just like any of the B5 Passats I’d been in. He traded it for a Z4, which made me think he even wasn’t aware it was a W8.

Still, it followed the recipe set forth by the VR6 in adding two more cylinders in a car that didn’t exactly need those. It’s the last truly insane Passat that’s been introduced to us, something you’ll recognize as we move further through the generations.

Photo: Volkswagen

Passat VR6 4Motion Wagon

When we get to B6, I had to really think about this. But then I remembered this was when the VR6 was boosted to 3.6 liters and 280 horsepower. Hot damn.


Yet another wagon, and it's sort of the antithesis of the Dasher Diesel and Quantum Syncro because it may be all-wheel drive, but the B6 VR6 wagon was a barnstorming brute with lots of traction.

I can see why this version didn't top VW's sales charts and wasn't repeated when the NMS Passat came out, but as far as budget Audis go, this one's pretty spot-on. Syncro is a cooler name than 4Motion, by the way.

Photo: Volkswagen

Passat NMS TDI SE Manual

At least it has a manual. And more than three times the power of the original Dasher Diesel.


I don't think it's actually possible to lust after a current Passat. But only in a similar way that it's never actually been possible to really want any regular Passat – save for the most special versions. Maybe the most interesting of the current range, this stick-shift TDI, will go down as the Dasher Diesel of its day. It's immensely practical, an example of common sense and modesty in a German sedan.

Just with some orange paint and in a wagon, next time. Please?