Most Volkswagen fans think that the Golf is currently the longest-lived Volkswagen nameplate, but that honor actually belongs to the Passat, which went on sale a year before the Golf in Europe, in 1973. Based on the Audi 80, the Passat was initially sold in two- and four-door fastback sedan and three- and five-door hatchback form, with a wagon joining one year later.
In the U.S., the Passat was marketed as the Dasher, and sold in all three versions from 1974. More than 222,000 were sold before the car was replaced by the second-generation Passat, this time marketed as the Quantum. The Passat name appeared for the first time in this market in 1990, and has remained ever since.
Until 2011, all U.S.-market Passat models originated from Europe. A sea change occurred in 2011, when Volkswagen started building an entirely different car, tailored to American midsize sedan tastes. More affordable, the U.S.-market car was codenamed New Midsize Sedan (NMS) and was larger both inside and out than the eighth-generation European car that debuted in 2014.
The current U.S. Passat has been given two updates since first going on sale, and has been exported to Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Middle Eastern markets. A version of the car has also been on sale in China, assembled by SAIC in Shanghai, alongside the Passat Lingyu and Magotan.
1974 Dasher (Passat B1)
The Dasher marked a number of firsts for Volkswagen in America: first water-cooled VW, first front-wheel-drive model, and first vehicle designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also styled the Golf at his ItalDesign company in Turin, Italy. The Dasher went on sale with one engine choice, a 74-horsepower 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder. In 1976, the engine was replaced by a Bosch fuel-injected 1.6-liter four making 78 hp. In 1979, a 48-horsepower 1.5-liter diesel engine became available. Two major differences separated the early Dasher from Passat models sold in other markets: round, rather than square, headlights, and big, federally-mandated bumpers.
1982 Quantum (Passat B2)
Like the Dasher, the Quantum was based on the European Audi 80 (4000 in the U.S.). As with its predecessor, there were multiple body styles: a wagon, a three-door hatchback, and a four-door sedan. The base four-cylinder engine gave just 74 horsepower, but a five-cylinder 2.2-liter engine that produced 100 horsepower became available for 1984. By the end of the car’s life, it was making 115 hp and was available with the Syncro full-time all-wheel-drive system, based off Audi’s Quattro drivetrain. The Quantum didn’t sell particularly well, mainly because it was priced close to an Audi, but without the Ingolstadt maker’s cachet.
1990 Passat B3
The first Passat to be built off a Volkswagen, as opposed to Audi platform, this was also the first model to be marketed as “Passat” in the U.S. It was based off a stretched Golf platform, with a transverse front-engine layout; it was also engineered to accept Volkswagen’s own Syncro all-wheel-drive system. It was sold only as a four-door sedan and a wagon, with slightly bland styling dictated by aerodynamics—there was no grille at the front, just a large VW badge. The U.S.-market Passat had a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower; from 1992, the 2.8-liter VR6® engine making 172 hp was available, giving the car a significant performance bump.
1995 Passat B4
Although the 1995 model was designated as a new Passat, it was more of a comprehensive facelift. The bland face of the previous car was replaced by a waterfall grille to give the car a more aggressive appearance. Inside, there were now dual airbags and tensioned safety belts in place of the previous car’s motorized belts. As before, it was available as a sedan and a wagon, with two initial powertrain choices: 115-hp four-cylinder engine and 172-hp VR6. Later on, from 1996, a four-cylinder turbodiesel was available, making 90 hp.
1998 Passat B5
The 1998 Passat was a revelation in the U.S. market, offering upscale interior appointments with the kind of design that the previous two generations of Passat couldn’t approach. Based off the PL45 platform that was shared with the Audi A4, the Passat sedan and wagon were among of a plethora of great-looking Volkswagen Group products that were signed off by design chief Hartmut Warkuss—think Audi A4, A6 and TT, along with VW’s New Beetle, Mark 4 Golf and Jetta. This was another example of platform sharing, with the Passat being closely related to the Audi A4 and A6. The car was facelifted during the 2001 model year and was available with no fewer than four engines over its lifecycle: 134-hp turbodiesel four, 150-170-hp 1.8-liter turbo four, 190-200-hp 2.8-liter V6, and the ferociously complicated and slow-selling 4.0-liter, 270-hp W8. All-wheel drive was also offered late in the car’s life.
2006 Passat B6
Completely redesigned, the Passat again reverted to a Volkswagen platform, with a transverse engine location in place of its predecessor’s longitudinal arrangement. The new car featured fresh styling, more power, and was bigger overall. The wagon followed a year later and all versions were powered by either a 2.0-liter turbocharged four making 200 hp or a 280-hp 3.6-liter VR6. The latter was available with Volkswagen’s Haldex-based 4Motion® all-wheel-drive system and an automatic transmission. This generation Passat offered more safety features such as standard ABS and stability control, plus six standard airbags, and was more luxurious, with available navigation and dual-zone climate control.
2012 Passat New Midsize Sedan
In 2011, Volkswagen started producing the Passat for the North American and other world markets out of the company’s state-of-the-art assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN. Specifically designed for North America, the Passat was bigger than the car it replaced, with massive amounts of rear-seat and trunk space. It was also much more competitively priced in order to battle the established midsize sedans from the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Ford. Initially, the car was offered with a 140-hp turbodiesel four, 170-hp 2.5-liter five-cylinder and a 280-hp 3.6-liter VR6. In 2013, the five-cylinder was replaced by a turbocharged four making the same horsepower, but slightly more torque. The car was refreshed in 2015, with slightly different styling and a raft of new driver assistance and infotainment systems. The diesel was dropped after 2015, and the V6 disappeared for model year 2019, by which time the 1.8-liter four was supplanted by a 2.0-liter making 174 hp. For the 2020 model year, the design of the Passat was completely overhauled to look sleeker and more modern.