Oh Volkswagen Passat, you know what they say about relationships. They’re complicated. You see, once upon a time I used to lease a Passat. It was roomy and offered a nice, comfortable ride even if it wasn’t exactly engaging. Since then I’ve discovered a sportier ride is more my style, but the Passat still holds a place in my heart. That’s where things get complicated. Despite my past history with the roomy sedan’s attributes, I expected more from the refreshed 2020 Passat 2.0T SEL I spent a week behind the wheel of recently. It left me with the conclusion that while still a good sedan, the Passat really needs a ground up redesign to be competitive in a shrinking sedan market.
The SEL sits on top of a four trim lineup: S, SE, R-Line and SEL. All models share a 2.0L Turbo engine that delivers 174-horsepower and 206 lb.-ft of torque, the latter of which is a 12% increase. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that isn’t the smoothest in the world, but isn’t a deal breaker. However, updating it would not only improve performance but also fuel economy, which is currently 27 mpg combined. The lineup is front-wheel drive only and the SEL is equipped with remote engine start.
I can call the Passat a familiar old friend despite its “updates” because the current generation rolled out eight years ago (and I leased a 2013.) Eight years is a long time in the car world. Without a new platform there’s not a lot Volkswagen can do with an overall redesign. So the Passat retains its general body shape, which I obviously liked in 2013. It’s not part of the “lower and wider to the ground” club that’s currently trending in the segment.
VW calls the 2020 redesign “bolder” and says the roof panel is the only carryover sheet metal from 2019. The SEL’s upgraded 18-inch five-spoke two-tone wheels get my thumbs up and the non-functional dual chrome rear exhausts look stylish. The lineup features standard LED headlights and taillights. It’s nice to see the SEL is also equipped with adaptive front lighting. The SEL’s moonroof seems small compared to other panoramic sunroofs offered on some competitors.
The SEL sports a well-designed user-friendly leather interior with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter. The redesigned horizontal dash makes it feel extra roomy up front, as advertised. But the premium materials promised in the press release don’t quite make it to premium status for me. While the top of the dash is soft-touch material, there are more hard, plastic surfaces on the door panels and faux trims than I’d expect in this top of the line trim.
The driver’s seat is 8-way power adjustable with power lumbar support. Front seat passengers get heated seats, a USB port, one 12-Volt and two cup holders. The push-button start is located on the cleanly designed center console along with a handheld parking brake.
One of the Passat’s biggest strengths is its interior room. This four door sedan offers a ton of it with great headroom and legroom for passengers. The one head scratcher is the notably high, large hump in the middle of the rear floor board. Overall, the back seat offers a lot of amenities including heated seats, a drop down console, A/C vents, reading lights and two USBs. Storage can be had in seatback pockets.
Praises about the Passat’s roominess aside, its technology needs an update. It doesn’t yet offer VW’s great digital tachometer and driver’s display that you can find in the 2019 Arteon. Even the 2019 Jetta I reviewed and liked offers a digital cockpit. Both the 2020 Hyundai Sonata and 2020 Toyota Camry offer nice digital driver displays as well. On the other hand, the Passat’s driver display is small and looks dated. The 6.3-inch multimedia screen is also smaller than it should be for a top trim model in 2020. I will say it offers nice graphics, along with responsive swiping and pinch/zoom capability which is great. The SEL’s 2.5D navigation and backup camera offers nice resolution, but voice navigation wasn’t as spot on for me as other systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both a plus. The eight-speaker Fender sound system is okay but doesn’t keep up with the slightly pricier 2020 Sonata system I recently reviewed.
The SEL has a great optional kick sensor trunk which is one of the easiest I’ve ever operated. Applause VW! And talk about truck space! It’s like a cavern in there. The rear seats don’t recline but they do fold down in a 60/40 split.
Ride and Drive
There is nothing wrong with the Passat’s overall driveability, the acceleration is there and it’s easy to maneuver around town and around U-Turns (though it doesn’t deliver a tight turning radius.) It’s just not that exciting if you’re looking for something sporty and engaging. It’s a great sedan though for those who prefer ride height over being lower to the ground. As for the ride, it’s smooth and pleasant handling bumps well but not as quiet as I expected.
The Passat is equipped with a list of driver assistance features that include Forward Collision Warning and standard Blind Spot Monitoring across the lineup. But I didn’t find Lane Assist as robust or precise at keeping me in my lane as in other systems. The SEL also offers Parking Steering Assistant, designed to help you park semi-autonomously. It was able to spot parking spaces either parallel or perpendicular. I felt fairly confident in its ability to parallel park itself when there was plenty of room around me. But it cut things pretty close to other vehicles when trying to park perpendicularly between two cars, prompting me to end the operation several times to be on the careful side.
The VW Passat, while offering a nice-looking cabin along with abundant roominess and a responsive multimedia touchscreen, needs some additional technology and convenience updates like ventilated seats to remain competitive at its price point. Please Volkswagen show my Passat some love with the new platform it deserves.
2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL
- What I liked most: Roominess, smooth ride.
- What I would change: 6-speed automatic. Update Technology.
- MSRP: Base price $31,095; as equipped $32,410.
- Fuel Economy: Rated at 23 in town, 34 highway, 27 combined.
- Official Color: Aurora Red Metallic. ($395)
- Odometer reading when tested: 826 miles.
- Weight: 3,225 pounds
- Spare Tire: Yes.
- Length-Width-Height: 193.6” long/ 72.2“ wide/ 58.0” high.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 18.5 gallons with the filler on the passenger’s side.
- Towing Capacity: N/A
- 2020 Volkswagen Passat in a few words: The Passat, while stylish and roomy, needs to evolve a lot more to keep up with the segment.
- Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles New Vehicle Warranty; 7-years/100,000 Corrosion
- Final Assembly Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
- Manufacturers website: Volkswagen