HALF MOON BAY, Calif. - The Volkswagen Passat was not designed to accommodate a V-8.
So when former VW AG Chairman Ferdinand Piech decided to expand the Passat model range with an eight-cylinder engine, engineers in Wolfsburg, Germany, had to determine how to shoehorn a larger engine into a space designed for only four- and six-cylinder engines.
That wasn't all. Piech wanted the engine to emit a distinctive growl.
"Piech likes the sound of Ferraris, and he wanted the Passat to have that sound too," said Stefan Krebsfanger, manager of product strategy at VW of America Inc.
The result was a new family of engines - the W8, W12 and W16. The W comes from the configuration of narrow cylinder banks and staggered cylinders within the banks.
The 2002 Passat W8 is an important departure for the automaker. It is the first VW-brand car powered by an eight-cylinder engine. The 4.0-liter W8 produces 270 hp and 273 pounds-feet of torque.
VW hopes the extra horsepower gives owners a reason to stick with the brand.
The W family also includes the 420-hp 6.0-liter W12, to be used in the Phaeton luxury sedan that debuts in the United States in July 2003. An 8.0-liter W16 - with a whopping 1,001 hp - will be used in the Bugatti EB 16.4 Veyron supercar in 2003.
VW dealers in the United States and Canada began taking delivery of the Passat W8 last week. VW introduced the vehicles to the press here.