Used 2002 Volkswagen Passat Review

Edmunds expert review

This is our favorite midsize car -- in both sedan and wagon form. Don't make your family vehicle choice without driving one.

What's new for 2002

The arrival of the 270-horsepower, all-wheel-drive W8 sedan and wagon disturbs the tranquility of the Passat lineup. Standard features in the W8 cars build upon the already impressive GLX equipment list, adding Electronic Stabilization Program with BrakeAssist, vented disc brakes all around (as opposed to solid discs in rear) xenon headlights with washers, wider 215/55R16 tires, an upgraded trip computer and extra chrome throughout the cabin. The rest of the Passats receive only minor upgrades for 2002, including a trunk escape release for the sedan, a cruise control indicator light and an on/off switch for the electrochromic mirror. In addition, all-new Volkswagens come standard with an improved four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, up from two years/24,000 miles. In addition, Volkswagen will offer a fully transferable limited powertrain warranty that covers five years or 60,000 miles.

Vehicle overview

Volkswagen has been busy recently, buying up smaller carmakers, designing 8-,12- and 16-cylinder engines, and creating a new line of luxury vehicles. But it hasn't neglected its already excellent Passat sedan and wagon. For 2002, we'll see the first production application of VW's "W" family of engines, as the long-awaited Passat W8 sedan and wagon arrive in the U.S. replete with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. With an MSRP around $38K, the W8 will be out of reach for the typical family car buyer, but look at it this way: Where else can you find a German car with eight cylinders for this price?

Meanwhile, the lower-level Passats still offer great value, particularly at the base level. With the arrival of the W8 cars, there are now three trim levels -- the well-equipped GLS and the upscale GLX being the other two. The GLS comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes; traction control (via Electronic Differential Lock and Anti-Slip Regulation); air conditioning; cruise control; side and head curtain airbags; a driver seat height adjuster; an eight-speaker stereo with CD player; one-touch power windows; power locks; remote keyless entry; a full-size spare tire; power-adjustable heated exterior mirrors; a trip computer and head restraints and three-point seatbelts in all five seating positions. Options include a leather interior, a premium Monsoon sound system and a sunroof. All of the above features are standard on the GLX, which also includes power adjustable, heated front seats with memory for the driver; variable intermittent wipers with heated jets; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; and 16-inch wheels and tires.

W8 trim adds stability control (Electronic Stabilization Program) with brake assist, vented disc brakes all around (instead of the usual solid discs in the rear), xenon headlamps with washers, wider 215/55R16 tires, an upgraded trip computer and extra chrome throughout the cabin.

GLS buyers have their choice of two engines. Our favorite is a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four (called the 1.8T) that delivers 170 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque between 1,950 and 5,000 rpm; turbo lag is virtually nonexistent and the powerband is quite broad. The 1.8T offers good acceleration and fuel economy (up to 31 mpg on the highway), and contributes to the Passat's overall grin factor. Your other choice is a 2.8-liter V6 that makes 190 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of twist. While no longer among the fastest six-cylinders in the midsize class, this V6 is still very smooth and provides strong acceleration. For 2002, it remains the standard engine for GLX models. Available transmissions include a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic (with Tiptronic automanual capability).

Advantages to the V6 models include genuine wood trim inside the cabin and the availability of the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Although it results in a rather portly Passat, 4Motion is ideal for people living in snowy climates. Under normal traction conditions, the system splits the power 50/50 between the front and rear axles; when grip is compromised, it can redistribute power up to a 67/33 ratio either way. Unfortunately, 4Motion only comes with the automatic transmission.

True to their name, the W8 sedan and wagon are powered by a 4.0-liter W8 engine that churns out 270 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 rpm. The "W" configuration was achieved by staggering the cylinders, making it look as though two "V" engines have been fused together. The resulting engine is more compact than a traditional V8 and easily fits under the midsize Passat's hood. The five-speed automatic and 4Motion are standard on every W8.

With four-wheel antilock disc brakes standard on all trim levels, a fully independent suspension and perfectly weighted power rack-and-pinion steering, the Passat is one of the most entertaining midsize cars around. Some drivers might find body roll to be excessive when pushing the car hard around turns, but the trade-off for excellent overall ride comfort is worthwhile. Inside, the cars feel luxurious and solidly constructed -- more so than most competitors.

Based on a stretched Audi A4 platform and built with plenty of Audi parts, the Passat looks, feels and drives like a more substantial car than its base price tag would indicate -- though with the 270-hp, $38K W8 on the loose, it's getting much harder to distinguish a VW from an Audi.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.