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2020 Volkswagen Passat Review

LIKES
  • Good base price
  • Standard active safety features
  • Good looks outside
DISLIKES
  • Clunky 6-speed automatic
  • Top trims aren’t impressive
  • Outdated touchscreen already
  • Interior storage lacking
BUYING TIP
  • Opting for the 19-inch wheels on the R-Line won’t spoil the Passat’s ride even if it doesn’t make it much sportier.
The 2020 VW Passat’s new-look exterior comes for free; it’s the same price or less than the outgoing version.

Volkswagen’s big bet on its electric future has left present models like the 2020 VW Passat in limbo. 

This year, the mid-size sedan gets an exterior makeover and a streamlined powertrain menu. It costs less than $24,000 in base versions, which is a value for shoppers replacing family vehicles, but the rest of the Passat lineup falls down compared to other mid-size sedans and even other VW vehicles. VW sells the Passat in S, SE, R-Line, and SEL grades this year. 

The 2020 Passat gets a 5.6 on our overall scale. The Passat’s value is stellar in base trims, especially with a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, but fades quickly.

The exterior looks get us a little excited. This year, VW designers sharpened an already conservative sedan with good effect. The grille is bigger and more upright, with a chrome brow that wears well. Along the sides, the Passat is similarly sharp (although a little anonymous) with crisp body lines. 

Inside, the Passat is just conservative and some of the black grained plastic that should have gone away for this year has remained. 

Don’t hold your breath for VW’s excellent 8.0-inch touchscreen or 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster either; those aren’t available on the 2020 Passat at any price. 
The only engine is a 174-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s adequate, although unrefined. We lay some of that blame on a 6-speed automatic carried over from last year that’s not doing the busy engine any favors. An 8-speed automatic borrowed from the Tiguan could improve the 2020 Passat’s meager 27-mpg combined EPA rating, and smooth out some of the harsher noises. 

The Passat only drives its front wheels this year; no V-6 or all-wheel-drive version is available. 

Four adults will ride in relative comfort, aided by a compliant suspension that quells fussy roads. The Passat’s 15.9 cubic foot trunk is a bright spot compared to the rest of the uninspired interior. 

All Passats can stop themselves to avoid or mitigate forward crashes, and every Passat gets blind-spot monitors and rear-traffic alerts. Active lane control and adaptive cruise control are equipped on Passat SE and higher trims. 

Base Passats get a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, at least one USB port, 17-inch wheels, and cloth upholstery. 

That’s good base equipment and enough for us to recommend the base models to mid-size sedan shoppers. Asking more from the Passat leaves us wanting; the Tiguan sitting across the lot is better equipped with available all-wheel drive and a better 8-speed automatic.

Styling
VW clearly has spent the 2020 Passat’s upgrade budget on the exterior, and it shows.

The news for the Passat this year is its body. Compared to the 2019 version, the 2020 VW Passat shares only a roof panel—the rest have been redesigned. 

The new Passat is incrementally longer than the outgoing version, although we’d be hard-pressed to notice any differences inside. The new Passat is crisper and cleaner than the version it replaces, starting in front with an upright grille. We have good feelings for the exterior, but the interior is just OK. It’s a 5 for style. 

A long chrome brow spans the LED headlights and grille, and creases in the hood help draw eyes toward the wide and low VW grille. The hood’s shunt lines haven’t been moved to the body sides, however, which can look a little distracting from the front. 
Along the body sides, the Passat’s body lines run from nose to tail unbroken with good effect; there’s a little Audi in the design, perhaps. 

Around back, the Passat’s tail cinches together nicely thanks to taillights visually stretched toward the center—although we’re not sure how the big, block-letter “PASSAT” on the back will age. 

Inside, the Passat is comparatively dowdy. The dash is made of black, grained plastic that’s soft, but not particularly pleasant to look at. Wood veneers in top trims aren’t very convincing and neither is the 6.3-inch touchscreen—it’s behind the times compared to the 8.0-inch version in other VW vehicles.

Performance
A smooth ride in the 2020 Passat balances a sometimes clunky automatic transmission.

Despite the new exterior, what’s underneath the 2020 Passat is largely the same as last year. 

VW makes available just one powertrain in the Passat—a 2.0-liter turbo-4 paired exclusively to a 6-speed automatic. It’s not especially quick (although it doesn’t need to be) but the 6-speed is down a couple of gears or so compared to the industry average—and down on refinement. The Passat’s gift is a smooth ride, which is more aligned with mid-size shoppers’ priorities. It’s a wash on our performance scale. 

The 2.0-liter turbo-4 that powers the Passat makes 174 hp and 206 pound-feet of torque, sent to the front wheels only. Unlike prior years, there’s no V-6 option for the Passat and no all-wheel drive. 
The standard 6-speed automatic is geared more toward fuel efficiency, although the Passat’s 27-mpg combined rating is down compared to competitors. There’s some questionable shift behavior: the 6-speed is eager to shift out of 1st gear after takeoff, but a long 2nd gear and the noticeable gap between 2nd and 3rd gears didn’t feel impressive accelerating up to, and past, 40 mph. We can’t help but feel like more cogs (the Tiguan has an 8-speed automatic, for example) would have made the Passat’s powertrain feel a little more refined. 

We have good feelings for the Passat’s ride, however. On 18-inch wheels, the VW sucked up road divots and imperfections with ease—19-inchers on the R-Line aren’t too harsh either. There’s considerable body lean in the Passat as a result, but that’s par for the course. 

Passat R-Line models add paddle-shifters that feel like an afterthought; at higher rpm the engine is buzzy and overworked.  

Unlike many turbo engines, the 2.0-liter turbo-4 doesn’t lag off the line. Put that in the bonus column. 

Comfort & Quality
Good space for passengers and cargo is somewhat let down by budget interior materials in the 2020 Passat.

Volkswagen says it changed all the body panels on the 2020 Passat except the roof, but the dimensions are largely the same. The Passat still rides on a 110.4-inch wheelbase, with 193.6 inches from bumper to bumper (up 1.7 inches from last year). Passengers get good room inside and there are 15.9 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk. Starting from an average score of 5, the Passat gets a point above average for its cargo capacity. 

The front seats are the most comfortable and best suited for long distances, although passengers who may sit in a more upright, knees-up position could bump their legs against the center console. The Passat is shod in durable cloth, reasonably soft synthetic leather, or even real hides—we’d stick with the vinyl or cloth, however. That’s because even in top trims of the Passat, there’s still plenty of grained black plastic and wood veneers that aren’t especially luxurious. 

Back seat riders get good space and more than 38 inches of leg room, which is good but also less than competitors that can offer more stretch-out space. 
The trunk is deep and wide, with plenty of room for multiple suitcases or multiple golf bags. Interior storage is OK, although the center armrest is pushed back far from the front passenger’s waist, which makes it hard to reach into the cubby without twisting our torsos. 

Safety
Crash-test data for the 2020 Passat isn’t yet available.

It’s too early for the 2020 Passat’s crash-test scorecard, so we’ll withhold our rating for now. 

For what it's worth the IIHS awards it "Good" scores in all its crash tests, but hasn't assessed its headlights—a critical factor in its Top Safety Pick awards. The NHTSA hasn't updated its ratings with the new model year.

Short of official data, all 2020 Passats are equipped with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear-traffic alerts. Adaptive cruise control and active lane control are equipped on Passat SE and higher trim levels. Top-shelf Passat SELs get parking sensors and assistants. 

Outward vision in the sedan is mostly good and blind-spot monitors help us peek better around our shoulders. VW’s active lane control mostly corrects the sedan if it drifts from its lane, but won’t keep the sedan centered on the road. 

Features
Good base features and a generous warranty make the best 2020 Passat a base version.

The good news for shoppers is that the 2020 Passat costs about as much as it did two years ago. 

VW offers the Passat in S, SE, R-Line, and SEL trim levels, which start at $23,915 including mandatory destination charges. All cars are equipped with active safety features (covered above), a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, at least one USB port, 17-inch wheels, and cloth upholstery. 

Starting from an average score, the Passat gets a point above average for its base features and another for its 4-year/50,000-mile warranty, which includes two years of free maintenance. It’s a 7 for features. 
We wouldn’t stray far from the base version. The top SEL version adds 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, power-adjustable heated front seats, premium audio, navigation, but the same 6.3-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility. At more than $32,000, it lacks some of the polish that comparably priced competitors offer. 

The mid-grade 2020 Passat SE adds power-adjustable heated seats, synthetic leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control and active lane control, keyless ignition, and automatic climate control but at $3,000 more than the base model, it hardly feels like a good value.  

Shoppers looking for a bargain mid-size sedan would be better served by the Passat S. Asking any more from the VW ruins its value compared to other competitors. 

Another nitpick: VW has an 8.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster on the parts shelf that the Passat skips altogether. Both would have helped the VW sedan stay competitive against others, but were left off this year’s model to clearly cut costs. 

Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is fine in the 2020 Passat, but also behind competitors.

Pared down to just one powertrain configuration, the 2020 VW Passat’s fuel economy score is a breeze: 23 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined. 

That’s a 5 on our fuel-economy scale and middle of the road for new cars, too. 

VW may have eked a few more mpg out of a transmission with more forward gears, a smaller displacement turbo-4, or all of the above—but it didn’t. 

Among new mid-size sedans such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Passat falls behind. The Accord rates up to 33 mpg combined and the Camry manages up to 34 mpg combined—and that’s before we’ve talked about hybrid versions of both, which VW doesn’t offer in the Passat.

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