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Review: 2020 Volkswagen Passat

Chris Kaiser

Considering a sedan for your next car? The Volkswagen Passat got a refresh for 2020, but does it deserve to be on your short-list? We find out.

Endangered Species

The Volkswagen Passat received a mid-generation update in 2020, but most of the changes are relegated to the cosmetic. It remains large and spacious, residing at the bigger end of the mid-size sedan spectrum. What also remains is the single powerplant option, a turbo 4-cylinder, which is both serviceable and unexciting. But, for long drives with family and friends, the smooth ride and plentiful room make the 2020 Volkswagen Passat worth consideration.

2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com

2020 Volkswagen Passat – vw.com  |  Shop 2020 Volkswagen Passat on Carsforsale.com

Specs – No News is Good News?

Volkswagen dropped the GT trim line for the Passat in 2019 and with it the option of a V6 engine. The 2020 update to the Passat failed to rectify this situation, and the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder remains the sole engine option. The 4-cylinder makes 174hp and 206lb.-ft. of torque and is paired with a 6-speed automatic and comes in FWD only.

2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com

Fuel efficiency for the Passat comes in below the segment average at 23 city and 34 highway. For comparison, segment leaders Honda Accord and Toyota Camry get 30 city/38 hwy. and 29 city/41 hwy. respectively. This disparity was something of a head-scratcher.

Driving – Pile On the Miles

The Passat doesn’t have the biggest engine or any options for an upgrade, but power and excitement aren’t what the Passat is really about. Instead the Passat stakes it’s claim on comfortably inoffensive and unobtrusive daily driving. On the highway or around town, the Passat’s strength is its well-tuned engine and transmission. Aside from a minor bit of turbo lag off the start, the Passat’s 2.0L and 6-speed automatic provide smooth, if modest, acceleration.

2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com

Handling is likewise good, if not exactly sporty. There is a bit of lean around corners and dive when braking, but these aren’t especially pronounced. The steering is lightly weighted, which some could construe as numbing, but most Passat buyers will probably neither notice nor mind.

Comfort – The Gangs All Here

Probably the strongest case in favor of Passat is its everyday livability. The suspension is tuned for a smooth and comfortable ride, and the well-cushioned seats pair well here on long drives. The cabin in the Passat is quiet, with both wind and road noise well managed even at highway speeds.

But our favorite aspect of the Passat was its roominess. Elbow, head, and leg room are plentiful both in the front and back seats (with an excellent 39.1 inches of legroom in the rear). Even with three passengers in back, the Passat’s rear is surprisingly accommodating. The front passenger seat is even height adjustable, making ingress and egress easier.

The Passat offers one of the larger trunks in the segment at 15.9 cu. ft. of space. The rear seats also fold down to accommodate even larger items.

Trims & Features – The Must-Haves and Easy Passes

Part of the appeal of the Passat is its price compared to competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The sweet spot of price and features is probably the SE, which offers a good complement of options and features and comes in right around $25,000.

2020 Volkswagen Passat S - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat S - vw.com

S – $22,995

LED head and taillights, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, 6.3-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, rearview camera, USB port, HD and satellite radio.

2020 Volkswagen Passat SE - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat SE - vw.com

SE – $25,845

Keyless entry, leather wrapped steering wheel, V-tech synthetic leather seats, two USB ports, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line - vw.com

R-Line – $28,645

Added body styling, sunroof, 19” alloy wheels.

2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL - vw.com
2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL - vw.com

SEL – $31,095

Rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote start, ambient lighting, heated front seats.

Conclusions – Far From Flagship

What’s the opposite of a halo car? I’m not sure what the right word would be, but the Passat is the car that springs to mind. Of course, the Passat is far from the first time an automotive manufacturer has continued making a vehicle seemingly only to ensure there wasn’t a gap in their lineup. The lackluster fuel efficiency, sluggish powertrain, and less than stellar interior all hold the Passat back when compared with stellar competition like the Optima, Accord, and Camry. As comfortable, quiet, and spacious as the Passat is, it comes off as more than a little perfunctory.

2020 Volkswagen Passat - vw.com

2020 Volkswagen Passat – vw.com  |  Shop 2020 Volkswagen Passat on Carsforsale.com

The Passat makes clear that VW has decided their resources are better spent elsewhere. Which, in some ways, makes sense as the market shifts ever further toward SUV and crossovers. So while Ford exits the sedan business entirely, and Asian companies continue dominate the space, in both sales and quality, VW appears content with the Passat functioning as little more than a place holder.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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