The B5 version of the Volkswagen Passat, based on the Volkswagen Group B5 platform, was launched in 1997 in North America and Europe as well as during March 1998 in Australia.
The Passat introduced a new design language, first seen on the Concept 1 concept car, for the latest generation of Volkswagens such as the Mk4 Golf, Bora, and Polo Mk4. The design with raked windscreens and smooth underpinnings helped give the B5 Passat sedan a 0.27 coefficient of drag. The B5 Passat included higher-quality interior trim and the availability of luxury options to differentiate it in the marketplace.
The car featured fully independent four-link front suspension; and a semi-independent torsion beam for front-wheel-drive models or a fully independent suspension on the 4motion 4WD models. The 4WD version was introduced in 1997 as an option for the 1.8, 2.8 V6, 1.9 TDI, and 2.5 V6 TDI engines, using a second-generation Torsen T-2 based 4WD system to minimise loss of traction. The 1.8 L petrol engine in the Passat and Audi A4 has a lower oil capacity than transverse applications of the same engine (4.6 US quarts (4.4 L) in transverse, 4.3 US quarts (4.1 L) longitudinal). Three transmission options were available: a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed manual (codename 01E), and a 5-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic. There was also a 4-speed automatic transmission, available only in 66kW and 81kW 1.9 L TDI, as well as some gasoline models.
The B5 generation does not have individual fog lights. They are built into the headlight itself. There is a model with two rear and two front fog lights (from 1998), and there is a model with two rear fog lights and one in the front. The facelifted model included individual fog lights.
B5 Passat models built after late 2000, also known as B5.5 models, received minor styling and mechanical revisions including revised projector-optic headlights, bumpers, taillights, and chrome trim.
A 4.0 L W8 engine producing 275 PS (202 kW) was introduced with a luxury version that included standard 4motion all-wheel drive. This engine was intended to be a test bed for Volkswagen Group's new W engine technology, which would later make an appearance on the W12 in the Phaeton and Audi A8, and the W16 engine in the Bugatti Veyron.
In 2003, a 2.0 L Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine producing 136 PS (100 kW) was added (making the Passat the only mid-sized diesel-powered car sold in the U.S.). This variant was available from 2003 until 2005.
A lengthened platform went on to underpin the 'Passat' that was introduced in China in December 1999 by Shanghai-Volkswagen. This long-wheelbase version was rebadged and launched in Europe as the Škoda Superb in 2001. Both have a 100 mm (3.9 in) longer wheelbase and length than the standard B5 Passat. An updated version called the Passat Lingyu was released in late November 2005, which has the 1.8-litre turbocharged EA113, the 2.0 L EA113, and the 2.8 L BBG V6 petrol engines.
In the United Kingdom, trim levels were E, S, Sport, SE, V5, V6, and Highline. The E trim level had a 1.6 L 102 PS (75 kW) engine only. The S trim level was considered well-equipped by the motoring press at the time, and What Car? magazine recommended the 1.8 S as the best version in 1999. SE models had the same engines as the S version, but were better equipped. The V5 models had a 2.3 V5 engine, the V6 was available with a 2.8 V6, or 180 PS (132 kW) 2.5 TDI.
Models sold in Europe and the Republic of Ireland were similar apart from the trim level naming schemes; the trim levels were Volkswagen's "lifestyle" naming scheme: Comfortline, Trendline, and Highline. A base model was also available.
Models sold in the U.S. had the 1.8 L 20-valve turbo four-cylinder engine, 2.0 TDI, the 2.8 V6, or 4.0 W8; trim levels were GL (2003 onward), GLS, GLX, and W8 (2002–2004). The W8 was only available with the 4motion four-wheel-drive system and a slightly higher trim than the GLX models. The V6 engine had 4motion as an option, as did the 1.8 T starting in the 2004 model year. The GLX trim was only sold with the V6.
Versions sold in Mexico are the same as their European equivalents.
The internal combustion engines used are shared with many other vehicles in the Volkswagen Group.
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