A Mighty Wind: Volkswagen Passat Turns 40 Years Old

By Jacob Brown | July 26, 2013
Can you believe the Volkswagen Passat has been around since July of 1973? That makes the nameplate 40 years old, the longest continuously running nameplate in the VW portfolio behind the Volkswagen Beetle. Now, with more than 20 million having been built around the world, we can reflect on the impact that the best-selling midsizer in Europe has enjoyed.
Volkswagen didn't have a midsize front-wheel drive architecture of its own in the 1970s, so the first Passat was actually based on the Audi 80. The car debuted as a fairly simple family hatchback. In the U.S., we received the model as the Volkswagen Dasher. It was replaced by a model that would be sold in the U.S. as a sedan and wagon, implementing four-wheel drive, turbo diesel engines, and a five-cylinder engine. It is currently sold as the Volkswagen Santana in China.
The third generation brought the car into relative modernity, debuting in 1987 and eventually finding the VR6 narrow-angle V-6 under its hood. Continuing on from 1993 to 1997 as a heavily modified version of that car known as the fourth-gen Passat, it was safer, more fuel-efficient, and upgraded with many more features.
The fifth generation Volkswagen Passat was really the one to break the mold, though. In the U.S., it came with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine, a 2.0-liter diesel engine, and a 3.0-liter V-6 available with 190 horsepower. The fifth-generation Passat was more a poor man's Audi than a competitor with the Accords and Camrys of the world. Yet, it was still competitive in the U.S. with those cars, price-wise. The only model that wasn't was the special-edition Passat W8, which featured a 4.0-liter W-8 engine that made 275 horsepower, which came exclusively with 4Motion all-wheel drive and could be had with a manual or automatic transmission and in sedan or wagon form. It was a swan song for the generation and was priced like an Audi A4, yet was larger, more luxurious, and more powerful.
Its replacement came to the U.S. in 2006 and stayed through the 2011 model year, larger but far more expensive than the outgoing model. It didn't fare quite as well, but it helped spawn the Passat CC (later just called the Volkswagen CC), a four-door model with coupe-like styling that followed the lead of the far more expensive Mercedes-Benz CLS. The sixth-generation Passat was replaced by a heavily modified version of the same car in most of the world. Curiously, however, Volkswagen developed a wholly new, larger version of the car for the U.S. and Chinese markets, focusing on size and value over the luxury amenities the Passat had become known for. With a $5,000 price drop, the seventh-generation Passat soared in popularity in the U.S. The car, built on the Volksagen group's New Midsize Sedan (NMS) chassis, would be supplied from a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, instead of Germany.
Over the years, the Passat has become a luxury car on the cheap, infusing German driving dynamics in a family sedan. While no longer the Audi on the cheap it used to be in the U.S., the car is far better-suited to the North American market, and its sales reflect that. We anticipate the VW Passat may eventually recross paths with the European model in the next decade, as VW is simplifying its architectures and will eventually merge everything onto common components. Until then, we say happy birthday, Volkswagen Passat, a car named for a wind (along with Golf, Jetta, Bora, and a few others) and here's to many more to come. Source: Volkswagen