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 pyrrhic 5.6 on our overall scale. The Passat’s value is stellar in base trims, especially with a 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, but fades quickly. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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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.