Spannerhead Dot

Posts filed under ‘Volkswagen’

FWD Champions:
The B4 Volkswagen Passat

February 27, 2013 by Matt

Volkswagen VW Passat B4 Black

Sandwiched between the block-ish B3 Passat and its upmarket, posh B5 successor, the 1994-1997 B4 Passat has always been a favorite of mine. I like its stance, its detailing, its “Euro-ness” and its variety of engine choices.

Volkswagen VW Passat B4 Wagon Green

Fitted with the lovely 15″ 8-spoke wheels and adorned with a roof rack, the B4 Passat looks light on its feet, capable, about as mountain-goat-ish as you can get without going for a full-on SUV. The driving lights embedded in the bumper is a favorite detail, an element that echoes my old Audi 4000’s treatment in that area. The B4’s Passat’s proportions still scream “family hauler,” yet its lines have a little extra punch, a tautness that sets the car apart from its more turgid-looking peers.

Volkswagen VW Passat B4 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The interior is all business, with VW’s then-standard dash design that placed all bells and whistles high up, within easy reach of the driver. The steering is pleasingly direct and the damping firm according to the European paradigm. A 5-speed was available with all engine options, which included the base 2.0l 4-cyl, a 1.9l turbo-diesel and the range-topping, muscular 2.8l VR6 engine. The wide variety of choices, along with the sedan and wagon bodystyles, gave the customer a full palette from which to mix and match their ideal family sedan.

No, I like the B4 Passat very much. Above all, it seems capable—a kind of car equally at home trundling to the grocery store, absorbing the daily commute, devouring some backroad twisties or taking my son and our camping gear up into the Appalachians for a few days of hiking and fishing. A companion, in other words. I like that impression from a car, even a FWD one.

Image credits:,,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars we think highly of, in spite of our RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

4 Comments on FWD Champions:
The B4 Volkswagen Passat

Relaxed Motoring: The Karmann Ghia and 190SL

October 23, 2011 by Matt

Volkswagen VW Karmann Ghia

Speed isn’t the point here.

Neither is handling, or any of the cars’ dynamics, really. And truth be told, it’s not even exclusively about looks. Rather, the goal is a convergence of attributes, an overlap of good qualities in a very particular and specific way in order to create an impression, an aura, if you will, about them to their owners and those who observe them.

The two cars under consideration are the ’55-’71 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia—a rebodied VW Beetle, sharing its anemic but distinctive mechanicals—and the ’55-’63 Mercedes-Benz 190SL, which took the legendary 300SL Gullwing and excised all the “racing” from it, chopping the top, removing the spaceframe and substituting the fire-breathing, fuel-injected six for a sedate, carb’d four.

They’re both German cars with 4-cylinder engines, but on paper, those are really their only shared qualities. One has a rear-mounted, air-cooled flat four; the other’s engine is water-cooled, upright and in the front. They occupy significantly different price points, both when they were introduced and now, and they each arrived at their present configuration following different paths, the Karmann Ghia being a tarted-up Beetle, and the 190SL essentially a very detuned race car.

Mercedes-Benz Merc MB M-B 190SL 190 SL Roadster Cabriolet Convertible

So what’s the big deal?

They’re the sort of cars that create a universally positive impression about you on passers-by. Drive a straight sports or luxury car, no matter the make, and it’s virtually certain that there’s some segment of the population that will view you in a negative light. But I defy anyone to spy a well-kept Karmann Ghia or 190SL motoring along a high street on a sunny fall afternoon and not smile. They’re just pleasant cars; no pretension, no exhibition, just profoundly good taste—the automotive equivalent of every screen role Morgan Freeman has ever played. They’re classics, and their age and shape grants them a kind of gravitas that their deft proportions immediately play down. The cars are charming; they turn your head and encourage you to appreciate their simple elegance.

Full disclosure: I haven’t driven either. But I can visualize myself behind the wheel of a Karmann Ghia or 190SL and feel quite confident that the kind of emotion they would leave me with would be one of immense satisfaction, but without the artificial inflation so many cars create in various ways. They’re not meant to be powerful enough to go head-to-head against anything with even the power-to-weight ratio of the typical modern minivan. So no illusions there. And neither of them are achingly beautiful in a way that would mismatch with their owners—visualize a first-generation T-Bird driven by a 50-something, balding, overweight executive type and you get the idea. So their design isn’t meant to “overcome” anything; they just are, and you hold the knowledge of both their dynamic and aesthetic status as you drive. Driving the Karmann Ghia or 190SL instills the sense that you’ve got nothing to prove, and there’s something liberating about that.

Really, for graceful motoring that radiates goodwill and charm, it doesn’t get any better.

4 Comments on Relaxed Motoring: The Karmann Ghia and 190SL

FWD Champions: The VW Corrado

October 13, 2011 by Matt

VW Volkswagen Corrado Coraddo Corado Rear Yellow

The ’89-’94 Volkswagen Corrado. The automaker’s last attempt at a stateside sports car. Possessed of possibly the most wedge-like profile in all of automotivedom, stubby yet nicely tailored. And building on the foundation laid by its predecessor the Scirocco, engineered just about as well as a FWD chassis can be.

VW Volkswagen Corrado Coraddo Corado Front Yellow

The car arrived on the scene in ’89 touting a significant string of positives: A relatively low 2800 lb curb weight; a supercharged, 160 hp 4-banger (upgraded in ’92 to a 178 hp VR6); sharp steering and punchy, aggressive lines. By all rights, the Corrado should have advanced from the beachhead the Scirocco established, but instead, it was a chronically slow seller, tallying only 97,000 sales on both sides of the Atlantic until VW pulled the plug in ’95.

So why didn’t the car catch on? For one, the Japanese sports car wars were heating up, stealing the VW car’s thunder in the press with their turbocharged one-upmanship. The Corrado, VW’s halo car and speediest offering at the time, slotted in with the “2nd tier” sports coupes like the Ford Probe, Nissan 240SX and Toyota Celica—and it held its own, but each of its rivals had “older brothers” to elevate their image; the Corrado was comparatively isolated and ignored. Additionally, for VW, the three letters “GTI” define their sporty image in the minds of many; higher-end sports coupes, no matter how well executed, have traditionally had a difficult time fitting into VW’s lineup next their legendary hot hatch.

VW Volkswagen Corrado Coraddo Corado Interior

I love the styling, even if the stacking of the rear bumper area does tower a bit much. Particularly noteworthy design details include the light clusters in the bumper and subtle curve of the beltline. The interior combines “sport” and “business” in a uniquely German way and looks like a very inviting place to enjoy a twisty back road on a sunny Sunday afternoon. If only the Corrado had a touch less wedge in profile, its polished dynamics and exclusivity would make a very tempting FWD package.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

2 Comments on FWD Champions: The VW Corrado

FWD Champions: The VW Scirocco

August 10, 2011 by Matt

MK1 Volkswagen Scirocco

I love rear-wheel-drive cars. There’s nothing like the feel of a car whose front wheels’ sole responsibility is directing the car, and whose rear wheels’ mission in life is to push the car forward. It feels natural, balanced, efficient, perfect—and this in everyday driving; it doesn’t take a track junkie to pick up on the appeal.

That said, there are a few cars that could possibly tempt me away from my RWD fixation. It does take a lot to overcome my FWD prejudices; the car in question has to have a whole host of attributes stacked in its favor, whether lightness, or character, or chassis tuning, or just uniqueness and/or cool factor. It usually ends up being a combination.

Today, we look at the first in a series of cars that make FWD seem downright attractive: The ’75-’88 Volkswagen Scirocco.

Introduced in the mid-’70s by VW as a sportier complement to their Beetle-replacing Golf, the Scirocco took its more plebeian brother’s underpinnings, firmed them up, and wrapped them in a rakish Giugiaro-penned body. As with the Mini, its basic light weight and low-ish center of gravity (especially when lowered) masked a lot of inherent FWD disadvantages, and its styling gave it a lean and agile look absent the boxier Golf.

MK1 Volkswagen Scirocco

I love the way the first-generation (’75-’81) Scirocco looks. The wedge shape doesn’t convey pretenses of straight-line speed, but makes the car look downright hungry for a twisty road. In spite of its uprated specifications, it wasn’t nearly as popular as the Golf, which gave it a certain exclusivity, at least on this side of the pond. So the rare/cool factor is present as well.

MK1 Volkswagen Scirocco Interior

The interior is German-functional and businesslike. There’s nothing exceptional about it, but there doesn’t need to be—it’s an environment designed to focus you on the task of driving. No fluff; just a sense of ergonomic precision and purpose.

MK2 Volkswagen Scirocco

The “Mark 2” Scirocco (shown above) arrived in ’82, and while the styling alterations (especially the rear side window treatment) took a step back from the truncated wedge shape that made the previous generation’s look so appealing, dynamic improvements, including a new 16-valve engine, gave the car chops in the acceleration department to match its handling prowess.

I’m not as big a fan of the Mark 2 as I am its predecessor, but I’d still take one in a pinch—the “’80s look” appeals, and the essential goodness and rarity of the car are still there.

Either way, the Scirocco is an excellent ambassador for the FWD platform. As much of a diehard RWD-er as I am, I wouldn’t object to having one to fling about on a daily basis.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

No Comments on FWD Champions: The VW Scirocco