The 2020 Volkswagen Passat is the latest refresh of the midsize family sedan that dates back to the 2012 model year. It is certainly a significant refresh with new exterior and interior designs, but the bones remain the same. All exterior panels except the roof and A-pillars have been redesigned. The updated styling makes it feel much more modern and upscale than past models.
Volkswagen has expanded the trim lineup to S, SE, R-Line and SEL, rather than the two trims of 2019, Wolfsburg and SE R-Line. We were lucky enough to test the 2.0t SEL version. While the Passat goes up against the Accord and Camry, it feels larger than those two family sedans, particularly from the extra-spacious rear seat. Unfortunately, it also drives like a larger car, with uninspired handling and mediocre acceleration.
The Passat has a single powertrain option: a 174-hp 206 lb-ft of torque, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels. During driving the engine was smooth and refined throughout its rev range and helped move the sedan with ease; the 2020 Passat makes more torque than its 2019 counterpart. The automatic is mostly a smooth operator, but occasionally it stumbled during our testing when crawling along at low speeds in heavy traffic. The VW Passat combines a soft almost luxurious ride with predictable handling, providing a vehicle that’s as comfortable as it is capable, however maintaining highway speeds led to a lot of road noise from the Giti tires in our test vehicle. Steering is accurate and well-weighted, but as with many others in the class, it doesn’t offer as much feedback as we want.
Outside new LED highlight both ends of the sedan while more sculpted front and rear bumpers and bolder Passat badging visually separate the 2020 models from the 2019’s. Inside the VW Passat features clean straight lines and follows Volkswagen’s design language. The Passat’s interior is handsome and it is among the most spacious and comfortable in its segment. With an open cabin and thin door pillars, outward visibility in the Passat is excellent. The standard infotainment system includes a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and several USB ports. The Passat SEL gives you real leather upholstery, heated rear seats, a memory function for the driver’s seat, and a nine-speaker Fender premium entertainment system.
Key safety features include automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Volkswagen announced in mid 2019 that 2020 models would drop the six year/72,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that was offered on 2018 and 2019 models. Instead Volkswagen have switched to four-year/50,000-mile coverage with two years or 20,000 mile of complimentary scheduled maintenance instead.
That said, even if the Passat is improved, it remains behind numerous class leaders from Toyota and Honda that have recently undergone a complete aesthetic and mechanical overhaul. The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry both offer comparable space as the Passat, but with better handling, more powertrain options and high-quality cabins. In the end you may have other options but the Passat offers a lot of value. In the end the VW Passat is a basic “get the job done” kind of sedan the SEL comes well equipped and time on the road spent behind the wheel is very comfortable. However a more feature-laden Passat with modern underpinnings does exist, just not in the U.S., and that’s what frustrates us about the U.S.-spec 2020 Passat.