2020 Volkswagen Passat Review

Liz Kim | Jan 31, 2020

Introduction

In the midsize family sedan category, there’s the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, the Toyota Camry, and then everyone else. That catch-all category contains several terrific vehicles that stand out for sterling qualities, but they quaver under the massive sales figures of the three behemoths. Among them, the refreshed 2020 Volkswagen Passat has its work cut out for it.

For 2020, Volkswagen takes the old Passat, restyles it, tweaks the engine for more torque, adds standard equipment, and upgrades the Car-Net connected services offering. Otherwise, it’s essentially the same generously proportioned family sedan that it’s been since 2012.

2020 Volkswagen Passat front and side view

Trim levels include S, SE, R-Line, and SEL, and prices run from less than $24,000 to more than $32,000, before adding any options or accessories. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Passat R-Line equipped with extra-cost Aurora Red paint and remote engine starting. The price came to $30,206, including the $920 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Passat, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 65% of Passat owners are male (vs. 63% for the segment). The median age of a Passat owner is 58 years (vs. 54 years), and their median annual household income is $92,333 (vs. $85,976).

Volkswagen’s reputation for delivering Germanic driving dynamics at an affordable price appears to play a role when it comes to Passat owners’ reasons for choosing one. For example, Passat owners are almost twice as likely to identify as Performance Buyers than are owners across the midsize car segment (14% vs. 8%), and more Passat owners are likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (67% vs. 61%).

Passat owners are also more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that offers responsive handling and powerful acceleration (93% vs. 88%) and that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (74% vs. 70%). At the same time, few Passat owns agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (40% vs. 50%).

People who own the Passat are less concerned than all midsize car owners when it comes to several traditional purchase considerations. For example, 68% of owners across the segment strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs, compared to 55% of Passat owners. Perhaps that is why Volkswagen now offers two free scheduled maintenance visits for every 2020 model in its lineup.

Passat owners are also less likely to agree that fuel economy is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (70% vs. 77%), are less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (52% vs. 60%), and are less likely to strongly agree that reliability is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (60% vs. 68%).

Owners say their favorite things about the previous Passat were (in descending order) the exterior styling, storage and space, seats, interior, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Passat were (in descending order) the driving dynamics, infotainment system, fuel economy, engine/transmission, and climate system.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Volkswagen Passat measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Passat owners love the way their cars look, citing the styling as their favorite attribute. That could make the 2020 model year makeover risky, especially since the Passat adopts Jetta-themed elements, but the execution is a success. Overall, the result isn’t much different from the Passat that was introduced eight years ago, but it certainly looks more upscale and modern.

I’m not a fan of the R-Line’s 19-inch aluminum wheel design, however, with its forked-tongue spokes. I could almost hear them hissing at me.

Interior

Volkswagen has a deft touch with the interiors of its vehicles. Despite my test car’s black-on-black color scheme, it reflected tasteful, high-contrast design thanks in part to the horizontal slats running the length of the entire dashboard and a light gray headliner.

Most of the materials used on the upper part of the cabin were soft and of good quality, and the black leatherette seat upholstery was a reasonable facsimile of the real thing. But the lower you go in a Passat’s cabin, the easier it is to find hard, shiny, hollow-sounding plastics.

Seats

Though the R-Line is supposed to be the sporty Passat, it doesn’t get the sporty front seats. They’re reserved for the leather lined SEL trim.

Nevertheless, I found the front seats comfortable, hugging their occupants with just the right amount of bolstering. The driver’s seat has 8-way power adjustment, and while the passenger makes do with manual adjustments, VW deserves kudos for providing a height adjuster for the right front chair. Conveniently, the padded center console armrest slides forward to improve comfort.

The Passat’s rear seat is exceptionally accommodating, supplying loads of shoulder space, tons of leg space, and plenty of thigh support. Three adults can fit back there with little complaint, and this VW easily accommodated my family of four. Rear air vents and two USB charging ports proved a hit at my house.

Climate Control System

Using the Passat’s climate control system is easy thanks to the control panel’s three big knobs and a row of clearly marked buttons above. However, Passat owners cite climate control as the least favored aspect of the car. I tested the car during cool weather in Los Angeles, so perhaps the system doesn’t work well in extreme cold or heat.

Infotainment System

Volkswagen offers a couple of different infotainment systems for the 2020 Passat, but both include small 6.3-inch touchscreen displays. Compared to segment standards, this is mighty tiny.

Perhaps in exchange for screen size, Volkswagen equips the technology with Bluetooth including text messaging support, satellite radio, and App Connect smartphone integration supporting Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirror Link. The 6-speaker sound system is decent, too. Upgrade to SEL trim, and you’ll get HD Radio, navigation, and a Fender premium sound system.

Aside from the small screen, the infotainment system is easy to use thanks to main menu shortcut buttons and both volume and tuning knobs for the stereo.

Storage and Space

You shouldn’t want for storage space in the Passat. While the center console bin is small, the car otherwise provides generous spots in which to stash your stuff, including a large bin on the lower left side of the dashboard. Unfortunately, most of these storage places are unlined. That means things placed within them slide around and can make noise.

Open the trunk and the Passat supplies 15.9 cu.-ft. of cargo space. The trunk floor is flat an accommodating, and Volkswagen includes slots on the inner part of the lid that you can use to swing it closed.

Visibility and Safety

With thin roof pillars all around and a flat, sloping hood out front, you get a terrific view out of the Passat. Plus, it’s easy to tell where the car’s corners are, making it easier to maneuver. A reversing camera is standard, and the SEL trim includes front and rear parking sensors as well as parking steering assistance.

Standard equipment includes forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning. Adaptive cruise is standard with SE trim, along with lane keeping assist. Volkswagen’s Car-Net connected services are also available starting with SE trim, and provides access to automatic collision notification and Family Guardian, which allows Passat owners to program alerts related to speed, curfew, and geographic boundaries.

In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2020 Passat provides Good protection in a collision.

Engine/Transmission

When it comes to delivering usable, plentiful power combined with impressive efficiency, VW’s turbocharged 4-cylinder engines rank among the best. And for 2020, the Passat’s 2.0-liter turbo four is no exception.

It produces 174 horsepower, the same as last year. That’s not a terribly impressive number, but the engine’s newly muscular 206 lb.-ft. of torque makes up for it. Available across a wide rev range, the additional 22 lb.-ft. of torque gives the Passat plenty of oomph. This isn’t necessarily a fast car, but acceleration is satisfying.

I wasn’t as enthralled with the 6-speed automatic transmission, which under normal driving conditions tends to upshift too quickly. To resolve this, you can shift into Sport mode or even futz with the tiny little paddle shifters in order to stay within the sweet spot.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the 2020 Passat should average about 27 mpg in combined driving (23 city/34 highway). That mirrored my experience, as I averaged 26.2 mpg on my test loop of mixed driving conditions.

Driving Dynamics

Volkswagen has never marketed the Passat as a sports sedan, perhaps because it isn’t one. Indeed, the ride does favor comfort, gliding over whoop-de-doos and soaking up dips. The suspension can, however, amplify road harshness and sharper surface anomalies.

Get this family-sized sedan on a twisty, scenic road, though, and the Passat is a pleasure every time. Good roll control, light and precise steering, beefy brakes, and a fairly taut chassis combined to give you a sense of confidence.

Final Impressions

Families just aren’t buying sedans anymore. Instead, they’re opting for the greater cargo flexibility and higher ride height of crossover SUVs. As part of this shift in consumer preferences, they’re giving up more nimble and efficient vehicles with better driving dynamics. Vehicles like the roomy, efficient, and thoroughly enjoyable 2020 Volkswagen Passat.

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