The Volkswagen Passat celebrates two big milestones this month. Not only has the car sold more than 20 million examples worldwide, but July marks the 40th anniversary of the Volkswagen Passat nameplate.
The first Volkswagen Passat, dubbed the B1 generation, was related to the Audi 80 and launched in July 1973. It quickly shot to the top of the German car sales charts. The first Passat (as well as the Scirocco and Golf) was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who went on to run the famed Italdesign-Giugiaro design studio. A station wagon version debuted in 1974, the same year the car first came to the U.S. under the Dasher name. Volkswagen sold 2.5 million units of the first-gen Passat.
The B2 Volkswagen Passat was sold from 1981 through 1987. All-wheel-drive, a turbodiesel engine, and even a five-cylinder engine joined the order sheet. This version of the Passat was sold in several overseas markets as the Volkswagen Santana and, remarkably, continued to be produced with very few changes in China until 2012. This was the most successful Volkswagen Passat ever, with a total of 5.5 million global sales.
By the third generation, the Volkswagen Passat had dropped its hatchback bodystyle and was offered only as a sedan or station wagon. In addition, the car sold from 1987 to 1993 switched to a transverse engine layout, improving interior room significantly. It sold about 1.6 million copies worldwide. From 1993 to 1997, the B4 Volkswagen Passat found only 700,000 buyers. It had improved safety features and a significantly stiffer body, as well more diesel engine choices, but the B4 was essentially a refresh of the B3 Passat rather than an all-new model.
Volkswagen claims that the fifth-generation Passat, sold from 1996 through 2005, had quality and appointments on par with luxury cars. It certainly adopted a more modern design, with a curved nose and more rounded edges over the entire body. Engine choices included four-, five-, six-, and eight-cylinder units, as well as the familiar turbodiesel options, and there was even a long wheelbase model for the Chinese market. This version of the Volkswagen Passat tallied more than four million sales. The car also returned from transverse to an Audi-like longitudinal engine layout, in which the engine is arranged perpendicularly to the drive axles. We picked this generation of the car as an Automobile Magazine All-Star in 1999 and 2000.
For the B6 Volkswagen Passat, a new four-door coupe bodystyle joined the mix. Called the CC, it offered dramatic styling and a plunging roofline (it is still on sale in the U.S. but is now totally distinct from the current Passat sedan). Volkswagen introduced dual-clutch transmissions on this Passat, as well as super-efficient BlueMotion variants for the European market. This generation racked up 1.7 million sales worldwide.
While the European market received a face-lifted Volkswagen Passat dubbed the B7 generation, the U.S. market instead scored the "New Midsize Sedan," a larger and more affordable version of the Passat tailored to American (and Chinese) tastes. Our colleagues at Motor Trend awarded the Passat their 2012 Car of the Year award, while we picked up a TDI version for a year-long Four Seasons test.
While the Volkswagen Passat is far from the best-selling midsize car in the U.S. so far this year, it has enjoyed a year-over-year sales boost of 1.9 percent through the first half of the year.