2003 Volkswagen Passat Review
Edmunds' Expert Review
- Fun to drive, excellent value in GL or GLS trim, roomy interior with upscale feel, outstanding build and materials quality, available all-wheel drive.
- Expensive upper-level models, can't get AWD on GLS, less rear-seat room than Camry or Altima, some confusing interior controls.
This is our favorite midsize car -- in both sedan and wagon form. Don't make your vehicle choice without driving one.
Introduction: Ever since the mid-1997 incarnation of the current generation -- followed by significant updates in mid-2001 -- the Volkswagen Passat has proven to be our favorite midsize family car. Apparently consumers agree with our assessment. Sales of Passats have increased more than six-fold since 1997. The car appeals to those who seek something a little different from the mainstream and are willing to pay a little more for the Passat's style and European engineering.
Last year, we saw the first production application of VW's "W" family of engines, as the long-awaited Passat W8 sedan and wagon arrived in the U.S., replete with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. With an MSRP around $38K, the entry-luxury W8 is 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? Still, there are many good six-cylinder competitors in this price bracket, so it's a good idea to shop around.
The Passat family is now spread out across the 20 to 40K price range; whether you seek a cloth-lined sedan with a manual transmission or a leather-lined wagon with all-wheel drive, you'll be getting an entertaining midsize car with comfortable, upscale cabin accommodations, a lengthy list of safety features and tight construction.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: VW offers the Passat sedan and wagon in four trim levels -- GL, GLS, GLX and W8. The GL comes with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, cruise control, side and head curtain airbags, a driver-seat height adjuster, a CD player, power windows and locks, keyless entry, 15-inch steel wheels, a fullsize spare and power heated mirrors. Options include stability control (ESP) with brake assist, a premium sound system and a dealer-installed CD changer.
The GLS adds a sunroof and alloy wheels; it has the options available as the GL does, as well as seat heaters and leather upholstery. All of the above are standard on the GLX, except for ESP and the CD changer, which remain optional. Additionally, GLX models come with power seats, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and 16-inch wheels. Note that GLX models are available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (4Motion). If you spring for the W8, 4Motion and ESP come standard, as do vented disc brakes all around, xenon headlamps and an upgraded trip computer. A sport package (a firmer suspension and 17-inch wheels) is optional on the W8 only.
Powertrains and Performance: Of the three engine choices, our favorite is the 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four that delivers 170 horsepower. It's standard on the GL and is one of two choices for the GLS. The other choice is a 190-hp 2.8-liter V6. While no longer among the fastest six-cylinders in the midsize class, this V6 is buttery smooth; it's standard on the GLX. Both engines come with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. Available on GLX models with automatic transmissions is the 4Motion AWD system. Under normal traction conditions, the system splits power 50/50 between the front and rear; it can redistribute power up to a 67/33 ratio either way to combat slippage. The W8 sedan and wagon are powered by a compact 4.0-liter eight-cylinder engine (called "W8" because of its staggered cylinders) that develops 270 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. 4Motion is standard, and, for 2003, both the automatic and a six-speed manual will be offered.
Safety: The Passat earned five stars for both of NHTSA's frontal impact crash tests and four stars in the side-impact categories. The IIHS gave it a "good" rating for the offset crash test. All models come with front side airbags and head curtain airbags for the front and rear. Stability control is standard on the W8 and optional on other models. Interior Design and Special Features: Even at the GL trim level, the Passat's cabin is comfortable and upscale in feel. Wagons provide 39 cubic feet of luggage space; fold down the 60/40 rear seat and you'll have 56.5 cubic feet (54.6 for 4Motion models). Driving Impressions: With a well-balanced suspension and perfectly weighted steering, the Passat is one of the most entertaining midsize cars around. Some drivers might find body roll a bit excessive around turns, but the trade-off for excellent ride quality is worthwhile.
Most helpful consumer reviews
Features & Specs
- Side Impact TestNot Tested
- Roof Strength TestNot Tested
- Rear Crash Protection / Head RestraintPoor
- IIHS Small Overlap Front TestNot Tested
- Moderate Overlap Front TestGood
Used 2003 Volkswagen Passat Overview
The Used 2003 Volkswagen Passat is offered in the following submodels: Passat Sedan, Passat Wagon. Available styles include GLS 1.8T Fwd 4dr Sedan (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5A), GLX Fwd 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl 5A), GLS 1.8T 4dr Wagon (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5A), GLX 4Motion AWD 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl 5A), GLX Fwd 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl 5M), GLS 1.8T Fwd 4dr Sedan (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5M), GL Fwd 4dr Sedan (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5A), GLX Fwd 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl 5A), GLX 4Motion AWD 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl 5A), GLX Fwd 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl 5M), GLS V6 Fwd 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl 5A), GL Fwd 4dr Wagon (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5A), GLS 1.8T Fwd 4dr Wagon (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5M), W8 4Motion AWD 4dr Sedan (4.0L 8cyl 5A), GL Fwd 4dr Sedan (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5M), GLS V6 Fwd 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl 5M), GL Fwd 4dr Wagon (1.8L 4cyl Turbo 5M), GLS V6 Fwd 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl 5A), W8 4Motion AWD 4dr Wagon (4.0L 8cyl 5A), W8 4Motion AWD 4dr Sedan (4.0L 8cyl 6M), W8 4Motion AWD 4dr Wagon (4.0L 8cyl 6M), and GLS V6 Fwd 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl 5M). Pre-owned Volkswagen Passat models are available with a 1.8 L-liter gas engine or a 2.8 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 190 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2003 Volkswagen Passat comes with front wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 5-speed shiftable automatic. The Used 2003 Volkswagen Passat comes with a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. basic warranty, a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.
What's a good price on a Used 2003 Volkswagen Passat?
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Which used 2003 Volkswagen Passats are available in my area?
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Should I lease or buy a 2003 Volkswagen Passat?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.