NOTE: I did obtain permission from R&T to post this article, "provided that your site is not for profit and you give full credit to R&T and the author." This is merely the text of the article, with corrections and critiques at the bottom. The road test results, specs, etc, are here. The pics are here.

Volkswagen Quantum Syncro

When the last shall be first

Having not paid $19.95 for the secret, we don't really know The Lazy Man's Way To Riches. However, it doesn't take much imagination to figure this out. Come up with something people want, that nobody else offers, and the world will... you know the rest.

Volkswagen appears to have figured this out, and no one ever accused the clever band from Wolfsburg of being lazy. So VW, through its Audi division, worked hard and came up with something that works well and no one else has: No muss, no fuss 4-wheel drive.

Before the decade is done, VW will offer 4wd everything. Golfs, Sciroccos, Jettas, vans, you name it; every wheel will get it's own driveshaft.

The beginning of all this is the Quantum Syncro wagon, VW's first 4wd for the American market. Syncro, incidentally, is VW's nametag for 4wd, much as Audis are called Quattros when they sprout rear differentials.

There is, of course, much commonality between VW and Audi, which is only fair because VW owns Audi. In the past this exchange program has meant that VW's biggest car was the same as Audi's smallest. But when the Dasher became the Quantum, it also grew a few inches so it's no longer identical to the Audi 4000.

The Audi 4000, you may remember, is available with 4wd. The Quantum shares the 4000's drivetrain and general layout, so adding 4wd to the Quantum was a piece of cake. Add a driveshaft behind the fwd transaxle, bolt-on the Audi's rear drive unit and suspension and, Bingo, a VW Syncro.

To provide some measure of exclusivity, the Audi 4000 Quattro is only available as a sedan and the VW Quantum Syncro is only available as a wagon. Nothing wrong with that. The Quantum, though a piece of cake, has a little less frosting and decoration than the more upscale Audi. This suits the more utilitarian wagon very nicely, thank you.

Utility is well served by the wagon and its 4wd drivetrain. The size of the Quantum is excellent for families. It has an adult-rated back seat, four doors and a large cargo area with a folding cover for the below-window area. On top of the wagon is a roofrack with removable cross bars.

Inside things are, for the most part, simple and logical. The gauges are minimal in number and easily read, though we'd prefer to see a mark on the temperature gauge indicating which end is hot. Some of the controls are scattered around with less than ideal care: The turn signal stalk is positioned at an awkward 11 o'clock so drivers can see the cruise control button, and the window switches aren't all together. Some drivers complained about the interior styling. Similar but not identical pattern cloth on the seats and door panels bothered some, and the overall feel and smell of plastic overwhelmed others. The appearance would be appropriate in a Golf, but because the Syncro costs twice as much as a well equipped Golf, surely it could stand a little more attention to its interior appearance. However, the overall theme of utility is appropriate and not displeasing.

The exterior of the Quantum Syncro looks the part of a modern small wagon. It has a boxy shape that is pleasantly devoid of gimmicks and fads and it's identifiable as a Volkswagen. The red paint is as bright as it is well applied.

Driving the Syncro reveals a pleasant wagon that is aging noticeably, but well. In no area is automotive progress more apparent than in noise and vibration control. Here the Quantum feels its age. At idle the 5-cylinder engine booms and shakes. At peak rpm it's harsh. Fortunately it pulls strongly at all rpm up to its rev limiter, which invoked itself rather early, at 5900 rpm, on our test car. Acceleration is even quicker than the last Audi 4000 Quattro we tested and certainly up to the demands placed on any wagon. A 0-60 time of 9.6 seconds, for example, would have done justice to a good sports car not all that long ago.

Shifting has never been a strength of most Volkswagens and the Quantum is no exception. The shift lever is vague and notchy with slow syncros (gulp) particularly in 2nd gear. The ratios are well chosen, though.

Volkswagen and Audi produce some of the finest handling fwd cars in the world, but the Syncro isn't VW's best effort. The ride is very good and the handling is certainly capable of any ordinary use. Steering, though, is slightly loose on center and lacks the feel and feedback of the front-drive VWs and Audis. In our handling tests the VW turned in a good 0.76g on the skidpad and a really excellent slalom speed of 63.0 mph, 4.9 mph faster than the Audi 4000 in the same test.

Brake feel is peculiar on the Syncro. The pedal is never hard, but neither is it the soft feel of a system that needs to be bled. Rather, it is damped in motion, almost sticky. The distances in our panic stops are reasonable and the car remains under control, but some adaptation is required on the part of the driver.

Of course, what the Syncro is made for is adverse conditions, and in those conditions it is superior in every way to any 2-wheel-drive car. In snow a slight loss of steering precision is an easy price to pay for the additional traction. And, if one of the Syncro's wheels does begin to slip, the knob on the center console can be pulled, locking the center differential and then the rear differential. In this arrangement only a snowplow is going to work better.

When the Audi Quattros were introduced, VW and Audi spokesmen emphasized that their permanent 4wd systems are suited for use in all weather conditions. Even when the roads aren't covered with snow, they said, the 4wd cars are superior. For the big Audi 5000 Quattro, because it has so much power to transmit, this appears to be true. With the non-turbo Syncro, however, dry-road handling hasn't benefitted. The improvements occur only when additional traction is needed, which obviously varies for customers in different parts of the country. Originally the Syncro was only offered in a few snow-country states, but it is now found at VW dealers around the country.

Depending on the options, a Quantum Syncro can cost between $15,645 and the $17,280 price of our test car, with its optional sunroof, electric window lifts and AM/FM stereo radio. This may sound steep for the Syncro until one tries to find a substitute. All the less expensive Japanese 4wd wagons are significantly smaller and have only part-time 4wd systems. Only Audi's 5000 Quattro wagon offers the convenience of this all-wheel drive system, and it costs nearly twice what the Quantum does.

The appeal of this car will no doubt vary with the weather. Dump enough snow on the roads and people will shovel a path to the VW dealer's doors.

Click here for specs and road test results. Here for pictures.

Notes and Critiques

The photocopy I have of this article doesn't have the author, so I can't credit him. If you know who the author is, please drop me a line. Here are my problems with the article, from beginning to end, in case you care:

4wd Sciroccos? Really? Gee, I never saw one. I guess Europe got some neat AWD cars that we never saw (Rallye Golf, etc), but I wonder where the info that all VW cars would have AWD options came from.

The rear suspension on the QSW is NOT the same as the 4KQ's, despite what the article says. I WISH we had the 4KQ's adjustable rear suspension. That would be cool. I'll stick with our firmer spring rates and anti-roll bar though, thank you.

Shifting... imprecise? My QSW has my favorite shifter of any VW I've ever driven. Hehe. Maybe that's not saying much. But it's also a lot better than any Volvo or Saab I've ever driven. Can't compare with lots of Mazdas, Toyotas and Hondas that I've driven, however. And the second gear syncro is unacceptably slow.

In regards to dry road handling, they didn't mention the fact that dirt road handling is worlds better. I do agree about the handling on pavement, though. My old '83 Quantum wagon handled just as well.

And as far as the snowplow comment, I think that giving the car more than 4 inches of ground clearance might help, too : )

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