The origins of today’s Volkswagen Passat go all the way back to 1973. Until that time, VW had relied primarily upon the technology developed for the Beetle to underpin its cars. The rear-engine, rear-drive platform developed for that iconic automobile underpinned a minivan (VW Type 2), a four-door fastback (Type 3) and updated variations of that four-door fastback, designated Volkswagen 411 and 412.
By the 1970s, it was becoming evident further development of the rear-engine/air-cooled design would reap no additional cost-effective benefits. Plus, emissions regulations were making it more and more difficult to keep that powertrain legal in many parts of the world.
Fortunately, Volkswagen had purchased Audi in 1964. With that company’s front-engine/ front-wheel drive technology available to it, VW started developing cars to replace the Beetle-based products upon which it had been relying. The first Volkswagen-badged product from that marriage to emerge was the 1973 Passat; following closely on its heels was the 1974 Volkswagen Golf and Scirocco. These cars were based on the Audi 80 model and opened up a new era at Volkswagen, one that continues to this day.
The first Passat to traverse the Atlantic Ocean and arrive on American shores landed in 1974, badged as the Volkswagen Dasher (although it was called the Volkswagen Passat everywhere else in the world). The name Passat goes back to the period of Volkswagen’s history when all of its cars were named after prominent winds. Passat is derived from the German word for trade wind. Golf, is derived from Gulf Stream, Jetta is derived from Jet Stream, and Scirocco is derived from the Italian word for a hot desert wind called a Sirocco.
While Passats have existed since the early 1970s, the Passat model designation was withheld from North America until 1990. The car it arrived with employed an unconventional grille-less design and was the first Passat to be built on a Volkswagen developed platform, rather than one developed by Audi. In many respects, that Passat was little more than an enlarged Golf, as the two cars directly shared many components. That car ran until 1993, when it got a facelift to include a grille to bring its styling more into line with the other Volkswagen products of the period.
The changes didn’t help much, that car never sold well on the North American market.
The car most people today envision when the hear the word Passat was introduced to North America in 1998, and that is where this article will start charting the changes to the model line over the past fifteen years. There have been three generations of the Passat offered here since 1998.