Buying Guide

2020 VW Passat Review & Buying Guide | New skin, same bones

The styling was extensively overhauled for 2020, but the Passat's virtues and detriments remain

2020 Volkswagen Passat 1
2020 Volkswagen Passat 1 / Image Credit: James Riswick
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The 2020 Volkswagen Passat marks the latest refresh of a midsize family sedan that dates back to the 2012 model year. It's a significant refresh to be sure, with new exterior and interior designs, but the bones are the same. Nevertheless, the car holds up well enough with a quiet, spacious cabin, soft ride and responsive turbocharged engine. That engine isn’t the most powerful, but its deep well of turbocharged torque makes it feel stronger than many entry-level engines while providing better fuel economy than other sedans’ larger turbo engines and V6s. Its updated styling makes it feel more modern and upscale than past models, too.

That said, even if the Passat is improved, it remains behind numerous class leaders than have recently undergone a complete aesthetic and mechanical overhaul, including the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, both of which offer comparable space as the Passat, but with better handling, more powertrain options and high-quality cabins. There are also more stylish choices with near-luxury cabins (something older Passat generations offered), including the Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata.

So there are stronger choices, but the Passat still offers a lot of value. Its price undercuts many rivals, its massive cabin is well-equipped and VW offers a longer warranty than most rivals. 

What's new for 2020?

The 2020 model year marks a major facelift for the Passat. All exterior panels except the roof and A-pillars have been redesigned. The interior has been given a major refresh, too. The engine is carry-over, but it makes more torque than the previous model year. Volkswagen has expanded the trim lineup to S, SE, R-Line and SEL, rather than the two trims of 2019, Wolfsburg and SE R-Line. The expanded trim lineup also means the Passat has a lower starting price than the 2019 model year: $23,915 versus $26,190.

What's the Passat's interior and in-car technology like?

The 2020 Passat’s interior is significantly more stylish than the simpler, more utilitarian previous model. Trim connects the air vents to make them appear as though they stretch the full width of the dashboard. It’s also paired with more prominent contrasting trim that can be faux aluminum or faux wood depending on trim level (the SE is pictured above). Although everything fits well, the materials are just middle of the road with lots of hard plastic, and in general, the cabins of most rivals are superior in terms of both materials quality and eye-pleasing design.

No matter what trim level of Passat you choose, you’ll get a 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s similar to what’s found in other Volkswagens, and it’s responsive and simple to use. It's also smaller than what you'd find in many competitors and located pretty low by current standards. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but satellite navigation only comes on the top-level SEL trim in which it’s a standard feature. The SEL also gets an upgraded sound system while all other trims make do with the standard six-speaker system.

How big is the Passat?

The Passat is very similar in size to larger midsize sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It’s about an inch longer than those cars and an inch taller, but is a tad narrower with a slightly shorter wheelbase. The story is about the same inside the Passat, especially in the back seat which trails only the Accord in terms of the cavernous amount of space it provides. The below video provides a close look at just how much there is back there including some noteworthy back seat features. 

The front seats can feel a bit tight due to the center stack and console encroaching on knee room, and although the driver seat is power-adjustable, it only does so six ways. It's missing the common front tilt height adjustment that's beneficial for taller drivers by providing sufficient under-thigh support and reducing the amount they have to motor the seat backward. 

The trunk is a sizable 15.9 cubic feet, which tops most of the competition including the Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy and Mazda6, but it’s a smaller than the Accord’s huge 16.7 cubic foot trunk. We did a full luggage test on Passat, which shows you how many bags can fit in the trunk and compares that amount to what can fit in those competitors. 

What's the Passat's performance and fuel economy?

The Passat has only one powertrain combination consisting of a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The engine makes 174 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is an increase of 22 pound-feet over the previous year. Curiously, fuel economy has dipped by 2 mpg from last year's model to 23 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. This is considerably lower than what you'd get in the base engines of an Accord (33 mpg combined) or Camry (34 mpg combined), to name just two examples.

What's the Passat like to drive?

Highway cruising is the Passat’s sweet spot. The cabin is isolated from road, wind and tire noise, even on coarse concrete. In this setting, the Passat floats right over little imperfections. In town and on twisty roads, the Passat gets a bit flummoxed. Going over larger or more frequent bumps results in a bobbing, boat-like feeling. It has a moderate amount of body roll, and not much grip. Like other VWs, the steering is numb on center, which contributes to its relaxed highway cruising by reducing the need for small corrections, but it's a detriment everywhere else. It's devoid of feedback and there's an elastic-like effort when turning through that numbness into a corner. There's never the type of engagement you can enjoy even in mundane driving as you get in virtually every competitor. 

The Passat’s turbo engine at least makes a stronger impression by occupying an interesting middle ground between most sedan’s entry-level and optional engines. While the 174 horsepower rating is modest, the turbocharged torque comes on strong early and carries through the midrange, making it feel quick around town and when passing. It's only when you're doing a strong run up to highway speeds do you start to notice the minimal horsepower. The transmission did a good job when hustling the car along, always seeming to be in the right gear, especially when its Sport mode is selected (it only alters the transmission). However, there were a few confused, rough shifts when driving around town. 

What more can I read about the Volkswagen Passat?

2020 Volkswagen Passat Luggage Test

Go in-depth with how much luggage the Passat's 15.9-cubic-foot trunk can hold. 


2020 VW Passat Back Seat Driveway Test & Video

Take a closer look at the Passat's large back seat, including its feature content and materials quality.


2020 Volkswagen Passat is a redesigned sedan in a sea of crossovers

Read more about what changed for the 2020 VW Passat.

View 22 Photos


Volkswagen Arteon Review & Buying Guide

If you like the idea of a Volkswagen sedan, but wish the Passat had more style, then the VW Arteon is for you. It's mechanically related to the Passat, but is more distinctive to look at and has a stronger engine. 

What features are available and what's the Passat's price?

The 2020 Volkswagen Passat starts at $23,915. That’s for the base S trim, which comes standard with alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, a 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment, a six-speaker sound system, two USB ports, satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It also has blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking standard.

Moving up to SE adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette upholstery, heated power front seats, proximity entry and push-button start, remote start, a leather steering wheel and two rear USB ports. It's the trim level you see in the photos at the top of this page. This ample amount of extras likely makes the SE the sweet spot for most potential buyers as its reasonably priced. The R-Line trim is pretty much just an appearance package that doesn't offer nearly as much value as the SE does (both are about $3,000 more than the trim below), and despite its many luxurious extras, the SEL doesn't offer the same sort of up-market ambiance as a similarly loaded Accord, Camry or new 2020 Hyundai Sonata.

The full list of base prices is below, all of which include the $920 destination charge.

  • S: $23,995
  • SE: $26,765
  • R-Line: $29,565
  • SEL: $32,015

You can find a full breakdown of features, specs and local pricing for each of these trims here on Autoblog.

What are the Passat's safety equipment and crash ratings?

All Passats come standard with blind-spot warning and forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. Lane-keeping assist is standard on all but the base trim. The SEL finally adds parking sensors and automatic high-beam headlights.

In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2020 Passat is rated the top “Good” crash test rating for every crash except the small passenger overlap crash that only was rated “Marginal.” The automatic emergency braking system received the second-highest “Advanced” rating for being able to bring the car to a stop before an impact at 12 mph and provided an adequate warning. Child seat LATCH access was rated “Good.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet posted crash ratings for the 2020 Passat, but as it is mechanically and structurally very similar to the outgoing model, we expect the ratings to at least match those from 2019. The government gave that model a five-star overall crash rating (out of five), along with a four-star frontal crash score and five-star side crash score. 

Related Video:

Volkswagen Passat Information

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