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2020 Volkswagen Passat Review: Pass the Salt

2020 Volkswagen Passat
Photo: D.Boshouwers
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Derek Boshouwers
A more-flavourful Passat would have been welcome with the 2020 refresh

Auto123 reviews the 2020 Volkswagen Passat.

When Volkswagen introduced its new top-dog sedan, the Arteon, to its North American lineup in early 2019, attention inevitably turned to what plans the automaker might have for the smaller Passat. Would VW strike it from the lineup, or give it a bold overhaul? The answer, we’ve learned since, is neither. The 2020 model-year constitutes a mild refresh for the Passat, but no more than mild. It’s hard to imagine this new Passat being young and dynamic enough to turn around its fortunes in a segment that’s struggling mightily.

Perhaps Volkswagen has put the Passat in a sort of suspended animation, there as part of the furniture while the company works on its ID electric models and other urgent projects, and while it decides what to do with it.

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2020 Volkswagen Passat, front
2020 Volkswagen Passat, front
Photo: D.Boshouwers

What’s new
The 2020 Passat sedan does get a new front grille to help modernize its look, and the roof is a little more streamlined than before. Apparently the side panels have been slightly reshaped but you’d be hard-pressed to notice the change. Also now found at the two extremities are standard LED headlights and rear lights. The latter are connected by a sculpted strip across the trunk on which feature the P-A-S-S-A-T letters.

Inside, both the instrument cluster and multimedia system have been revisited, though here again we’re not talking about anything revolutionary, and the product offering includes a wider choice of colours for the interior. Second-row legroom has been slightly increased.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, interior
2020 Volkswagen Passat, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers

Our tester featured the R-Line treatment, not to be confused with the R designation on the Golf variant that makes that car a performance beast. This package is strictly about esthetics, but in that regard it does do its part to make this sober-but-pleasant-looking sedan into more of an eye-catcher.

Mainly, the package introduces to the model gorgeous 19-inch wheels, a discreet rear spoiler and R-Line badging powdered around the exterior. They’re generally subtle additions that bring out the attraction of the model’s LED headlights and taillights. I personally like the package for its subtlety in upgrading the appearance, but in the end the decision on whether that visual upgrade is worth it is yours to make…

2020 Volkswagen Passat, R-Line badging
2020 Volkswagen Passat, R-Line badging
Photo: D.Boshouwers

The interior
I’ve always been a fan of Volkswagen’s resolutely minimalist approach to its interiors, especially the console and dashboard. And here, even though there’s been some nipping and tucking of the interior elements, those of you who feel the same way will be glad to know there’s a whole lot of… very little.

The dash spans the forward space from the driver’s cockpit to the passenger door in a straight line – no pointless curves here to try to make you feel you’re in a race car. I like the simplicity of it so much that not even the faux wood grain bothers me in this Passat. There are hard plastic surfaces I could do without, mind you.

The seating was comfortable enough that I could find no complaints to make about it. I’ve gotten spoiled over time and now grouse if there’s no power-adjust function for the driver’s seat; fortunately that’s included here, as are heated front seats.

Trunk space is a very healthy 450 litres, which can be boosted of course by folding down the 60/40 split rear seats.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, dashboard
2020 Volkswagen Passat, dashboard
Photo: D.Boshouwers

The tech
The Passat comes with a modest 6.5-inch touchscreen, but you do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The interface of the multimedia system is a reflection of the car’s interior, in that it’s simple, uncluttered and satisfying to use. I was happy to note the several physical buttons for main functions like the audio volume.

Safety worries are properly allayed here with the inclusion in the 2020 Passat of the required set of drive assist systems, namely automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and steering-responsive headlights with automatic high-beams.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, central console, dashboard
2020 Volkswagen Passat, central console, dashboard
Photo: D.Boshouwers

The versions
Consumers can choose from three porridges to find the 2020 Passat that’s just right for them – and their budget. Things kick off with the Comfortline, priced starting at $27,145. It comes with automatic headlights, remote starter, keyless access with push-button start, heated front seats and, as mentioned, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The Passat Comfortline sits on 15-inch alloy wheels.

Next up is the Highline, from $30,945. It adds dual-zone climate control, power trunk, leatherette seating blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The top choice is the Execline ($36,495 and up), which throws in a premium Fender audio system with 8 speakers and subwoofer, power-folding exterior mirrors and a reverse tilt-down function that I still struggle not to hate, satellite navigation and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, profile
2020 Volkswagen Passat, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers

Notice in that description of the range-topping Passat the things you don’t get: leather seating, leather-wrapped steering-wheel with paddle shifters, etc. That’s because to get that level of what Volkswagen calls “business class comfort”, you have to opt in the aforementioned R-Line package. It also brings unique exterior detailing such a chrome exhaust, black trim and special badging, and 19-inch wheels. $1,315 extra is not outrageous to get those features in my book, but it’s your call.

The powertrain
As before, the 2020 Passat makes use of a 2.0L TSI 4-cylinder engine generating 174 hp. It does get a slight uptick in torque from 184 to 207 lb-ft. The transmission is Volkswagen’s old-standby 6-speed auto unit, serviceable but not the right tool to get pulses really racing. It all sits on the same chassis the Passat’s had since 2005.

The drive
I don’t want to imply that because the chassis is old the drive is hopelessly outdated. It isn’t. The steering is fairly taut (using that pleasant flat-bottomed steering wheel) and handling is commendable in general, though cornering does produce a bit of roll. Overall, the ride is comfortable, but to the point of leaving you too out of touch with the road for my taste. There’s not much of a spark to the driving experience, and that isn’t helped by the mere 174 horses under the hood, which seems just inadequate in 2020 for a sedan of this size.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, three-quarters rear
2020 Volkswagen Passat, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers

It is very much at home on the highway, mind you, and the drive in that context is supremely comfortable, straight and true and confidence-inspiring. For longer road trips, the Passat becomes a more appealing choice than if you use it strictly for getting around town – in that environment, it’s just too far behind the Golf and the Jetta.

Fuel consumption
Volkswagen’s rating for the 2020 Passat is 10.2L/100 km and 6.9L/100 km, city and highway. If that latter number seems impressive to you, well it is. And lest you think it’s a number you’ll only see on paper and not in real-world use, I easily came in below the 7.0L mark when I took it on extended highway runs. In the city I averaged around 10.0L/100 km. (I have no precise total to give you because VW’s system here wouldn’t allow for a running count after reset, providing only an instant reading or present-trip total that I had little use for.)

It seems to me Volkswagen will have to be bolder with its sedan going forward if it wants to keep it alive at a time when the population of four-door buyers continues to dwindle. Good is simply no longer good enough, especially when the product is aging.

2020 Volkswagen Passat, trunk lid, nameplate
2020 Volkswagen Passat, trunk lid, nameplate
Photo: D.Boshouwers

We like

Uncluttered interior
Great highway fuel economy
Good trunk space

We like less

No more than pleasant-looking
Product needs the blandness shaken off of it
Slightly underpowered compared to its rivals
Slightly overpriced compared to its rivals

The competition

Honda Accord
Kia Optima
Nissan Altima
Subaru Legacy
Toyota Camry

2020 Volkswagen Passat, rear
2020 Volkswagen Passat, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers

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Derek Boshouwers
Derek Boshouwers
Automotive expert
  • Over 5 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 50 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 30 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists