Quantum Syncro launches VW's 4-wheel drive system in the US

If you've ever sat behind the wheel of an Audi 4000 Quattro, you'll know what the VW Quantum Syncro is all about. Both have the same all-wheel-drive system, which is unlike any other 4-wheel-drive on the road. Volkswagen's full-time system uses three differentials, one at each end and a third in the middle. What the midway differential does is split the engine's power between the front and rear wheels. Thus, if one wheel slips, there are three powered wheels to keep the car on the go.

The balance and controllability of the vehicle are excellent, even in small-wagon form. Besides, you can lock the center and rear axles if conditions require it. That way, you should be able to get the car out of almost any conceivable kind of road fix.

The Quantum Syncro is the first sold-in-the-US VW nameplate to use the automaker's full-time, all-wheel drive, the same system used in the Audi Quattro coupe as well as in the 4000 and 5000 Quattros. The system also is used in the Vanagon and Golf, but only the Vanagon now is available in the United States.

Power comes from VW's 2.2-liter, 5-cylinder, in-line engine (zero to 60 m.p.h. in less than 10 seconds), also used in the Quantum GL. Horsepower is up slightly from the '85-model 5-speed, with the gears falling easily into any speed you select. Even the reverse gear was superclass. A turbo might be faster, but who needs it? An automatic transmission is not yet available.

In a several-hundred-mile drive on standard-type roads, I racked up a comfortable 23 miles per gallon, a better showing than the Environmental Protection Agency's 17 in the city and 21 on the highway. Of course, when you rely on a mileage check by filling the tank twice and measuring the distance traveled in between, there could be a slight mistake in the figures.

The Syncro's fuel tank is increased to 18.5 gallons, up from 15.8 in the standard VW Quantum. That should provide a comfortable range and do away with too frequent stops for a fill-up.

Starting was never a problem, even on a chilly early-fall morning with frost on the windshield. Both front and rear suspension have been modified to make full use of the all-wheel-drive system.

With its power-train combination, the Quantum Syncro provides spirited sports-sedan performance, plus the versatility of a wagon. The storage capability is good inside the car, and then there's the roof. Six crosspieces, which you can carry inside the car when not required, snap easily between the two side rails. So equipped, the roof becomes a practical luggage carrier without the fear of damaging the roof.

To distinguish the Syncro from any ``ordinary'' Quantum, the car has black window trim, black fender flares and front spoiler, and wide side molding, as well as the Syncro name on the back window glass and tailgate.

VW is test-marketing the car in only three regions at the start -- the Northwest, Rocky Mountain states, and New England -- where, according to James R. Fuller, head of VW sales in the US, it was decided the car would get its best workout. Next spring it will be found in all parts of the country.

Clearly, VW is becoming a technological leader in 4-wheel drive. The old beetle-builder has come a long way.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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