The 2020 Volkswagen Passat is a smooth operator, blending competitive performance and fuel economy with a decent array of features and modern, inoffensive styling. There’s plenty to like about the midsize sedan, but not quite enough to put me onto Team Passat.
Although Volkswagen’s R-Line styling package gives the new Passat marginally more aesthetic appeal – thanks to its stunning 19-inch wheels, cowl badging, and subtle rear spoiler – it’s still a bland design overall. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it; and in most ways, that straightforward design language makes for a handsome sedan. Little touches, like the LED head- and taillights, and my tester’s beautiful paint colour, certainly help. But overall, it’s not going to win any awards for styling innovation.
Inside, the styling is about as exciting as the exterior. It’s just okay; there’s nothing fresh here. The materials lean towards entry-level – there are vast expanses of hard plastic, including the entire centre console and virtually the whole rear passenger area), and even the soft-touch surfaces are barely more pliable than the hard ones. On top of that, the truly awful and downright weird wood-style trim looks like it was printed on an inkjet printer.
Another styling cue VW needs to be called out on are the Passat’s fake exhaust tips. Designers put genuine effort into them, but they’re nothing more than appliqué badges. I hate that Volkswagen [and sister brand Audi – Ed.] has them on virtually every model now.
This trim comes well-equipped with a solid suite of driver assistance technology including a government-mandated back-up camera, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and steering-responsive headlights with automatic high-beams. All systems worked well and remained unobtrusive during testing.
There is some decent in-cabin storage, including an open bin with charging ports under the centre stack, a small space under the armrest lid, as well as a generous glove compartment and door pockets.
Of course, the real storage is found in the massive 450L trunk. In addition, you can flip the rear seats down (they split 60/40), revealing an opening from the trunk to the rear seating area that is larger than most competitors. This makes for a huge cargo capacity expansion if you need it.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Cabin ergonomics are quite good overall, with easily reachable buttons and knobs for major functions. You’ll find a small-ish 6.3-inch touchscreen on the dash, which integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto nicely. The graphics are sharp, the interface is quite good, and the screen itself is among the most responsive I’ve ever tested. I appreciate that the main controls are handled with actual knobs and dedicated soft buttons, while the nine-speaker audio system is a good one.
The top-trim Passat comes with a remote starter, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, and an excellent driver information screen. At this price, however, I would have liked to see a wireless phone charger and ventilated seats. I found that the old-school hand parking brake felt very out of place, particularly in a modern, top-of-the-line car like this Execline trim.
The Passat has adequate power for every driving situation. While it’s no rocket, and takes a bit of time to build up significant speeds, it never feels slow or underpowered around town thanks to the abundant low-end torque generated by the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder under the hood. VW’s six-speed automatic transmission is pretty benign, though it does have a sport mode as well as paddle shifters.
The leather seats are reasonably comfortable, featuring heat and power-adjustability with driver’s side memory. They are a bit more narrow than what’s usually found in a car like this, so if you’re broad-shouldered, this may be a tight fit.
Which brings us to the Passat’s biggest trump card: the rear seating area. I’m 5-foot-10, and sitting behind my own driving position, I had legroom to spare. Better yet, the seats themselves are comfortable and heated. Although the middle position is big enough for an adult, it forces the passenger there to straddle a large tunnel in the floor, a strange find in a car that only comes with front-wheel drive here.
Driving Feel: 7/10
VW has sorted out the Passat’s suspension nicely. Its ride is balanced between firm and smooth and it handles quite well for a mid-size sedan. The outstanding flat-bottomed steering wheel deserves a special shout-out. The engine gets a bit noisy when pushed, but overall it’s a decently insulated car and typically remains quiet. Occasionally, some road imperfections would make their way through to the cabin, but the low-profile tires are my primary suspects there. Visibility out of the Passat is excellent.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The Passat sits in the sweet spot in terms of its rated fuel economy; it never gets too thirsty and provides outstanding highway consumption. I ended up with an observed average of somewhere around 9.8 L/100 km, mainly commuting in the city during a chilly couple of winter weeks. That’s hand-calculated because the Passat strangely does not provide an average fuel economy read-out – only instant (useless) or current trip (almost as useless) fuel economy readings are available.
Volkswagen has priced the Passat competitively compared to other sedans in the market. My loaded-up Execline-trim rings in at just under $40,000 before taxes – and that’s in and around where you’ll find the top trims from other manufacturers. The problem for the Passat is that every other sedan priced at that level offers more, so while the price itself is competitive, the product is not.
The Passat does everything well and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Its biggest issue is the competition. While sedan sales continue to suffer at the hands of crossovers, the manufacturers that have stuck with them are making their passenger cars better than ever. And the other sedans available at this price point do many things better than the Passat does. I really wanted to love this car, but there is just nothing special about it, and if I were shopping in this category, I would be looking at a Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, or Toyota Camry.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||174 hp @ 4,900 rpm|
|Peak Torque||206 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.2/6.9/8.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||450 L|
|Model Tested||2020 Volkswagen Passat Execline 2.0TSI|
|Price as Tested||$39,675|
$1,315 – R-Line package, $1,315