The 2020 Passat is a smooth operator, blending mid-size sedan size and modern inoffensive styling, a decent array of features, competitive performance and fuel economy. I liked plenty of what I found here, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to pull me onto Team Passat.
User Friendliness 8/10
Driving Feel 7/10
Fuel Economy 7/10
Although the R-Line gives this Passat marginally more aesthetic appeal, thanks to its stunning 19-inch wheels, cowl badging and subtle rear spoiler, it’s still a relatively bland design. There are those who appreciate VW’s current corporate styling direction and consider it a nice, middle-of-the-road look that tends to age gracefully.
There’s nothing wrong with it, and in most ways, that straight-forward design language makes for a nice handsome sedan, especially from some angles. Little touches like the LED head- and tail-lights and my review car’s beautiful paint colour help, but overall, it’s not going to win any awards for styling innovation.
Inside, I found the styling to be about as exciting as the exterior. It’s just OK – there’s nothing fresh here. The materials lean towards entry-level – there are vast expanses of hard plastic (including the entire centre console and virtually the whole rear seating area), and even the soft-touch surfaces are barely more pliable than the hard ones. On top of that, the truly awful and downright weird wood-style trim looks like it was printed on an ink-jet. Every passenger we had in the car commented on it and hated it.
There is one more thing I have to call VW out on – those fake exhaust tips. Look at how intricate they are! The designers put genuine effort into them, but the moment you look closely, you’ll realize they’re nothing more than appliqued badges. I hate them and I hate that VW has them on virtually every model now. While we’re at it, all the Audi cousins are saddled with this garbage too. I actually find it insulting and would much rather just see them leave things as they are with the hidden exhaust tips. Nothing wrong with that.
This trim comes well-equipped with a solid suite of driver assistance technology including a back-up camera, pedestrian detection, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, a lane keeping system and dynamic headlights with automatic high-beams. Best of all, everything worked well and remained unobtrusive.
There is some decent in-cabin storage, including an open bin with charging ports under the centre stack, a small space under the armrest lid as well as a generous glove compartment and door pockets.
Of course the real storage is found in the massive 450L trunk. In addition, you can flip the rear seats down – they split 60/40 – and the opening from the trunk to the rear seating area is much larger than in many other sedans. This makes for a huge cargo capacity expansion if you need it.
User Friendliness 8/10
Cabin ergonomics are quite good overall, with easily reachable buttons and knobs for major functions.
You’ll find a small-ish 6.3-inch touchscreen on the dash, which integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto nicely. The graphics are sharp, the interface is quite good and this has to be one of the most responsive touchscreens I’ve ever tested. I appreciate that the main controls are handled with actual knobs and dedicated soft buttons and I thought the 9-speaker Fender audio system did a great job.
The top trim Passat comes with a remote starter, dual-zone automatic climate control and sunroof and and excellent driver information screen. At this price, I would have liked to see a wireless phone charger and ventilated seats.
I found that the old-school hand parking brake felt very out of place, particularly on a modern top-of-the-line trim car.
The Passat has adequate power for every driving situation. While it’s no rocket, and takes a bit of time to build up significant speeds, it never feels slow or underpowered around town thanks to the abundant low-down torque.
VW’s 6-speed automatic is pretty benign, mostly doing a good job – it has Sport and manual modes, allowing you to shift with paddles or the gear selector.
The leather seats are reasonably comfortable, heated and power-adjustable with driver’s side memory. They are a bit narrower than what we usually find in a car like this, so if you’re broad-shouldered, this may be a tight fit for you.
And then we get to the Passat’s biggest trump card – the rear seating area. I’m 5’10” and sitting behind my own driving position, I found myself with over 20 cm of leg room. The seats themselves are comfortable and heated. Although the middle position is big enough for an adult, it forces the passenger there to straddle a large floor tunnel, a strange find in a car that only comes in front-wheel drive here.
Driving Feel 7/10
VW has sorted out the Passat’s suspension nicely. Its ride is balanced between firm and smooth and it handles quite well for a mid-size sedan. The outstanding flat-bottomed steering wheel deserves a special shout-out – I loved it.
The engine gets a bit noisy when pushed, but overall, it’s a decently-insulated car and typically remains quite quiet. Occasionally some road imperfections would make their way through to the cabin, but the low-profile tires are my primary suspects there. Visibility out of the Passat is excellent.
Fuel Economy 7/10
The Passat sits in the sweet spot in terms of its rated fuel economy – it never gets too thirsty and provides outstanding highway mileage. We ended up with an observed average of somewhere around 9.8 L/100 km, mainly commuting in the city during a chilly couple of winter weeks. That’s hand-calculated because the Passat strangely does not provide an average fuel economy read-out – only instant (useless) or current trip (almost as useless) fuel economy readings are available.
VW has priced the Passat competitively in terms of other sedans in the market. My loaded-up Execline-trim rings in at just under $40,000 before taxes – and that’s in and around where you’ll find the peak trims of the other manufacturers. The problem for the Passat is that every other sedan priced at that level offers more, so while the price itself is competitive, the product is not.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was reasonably high. She said it looked quite nice from the outside, and she enjoyed driving it.
The Passat does everything well and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Its biggest issue is the competition. While sedan sales continue to suffer in light of crossover popularity, the manufacturers that have stuck with them are making better sedans than ever. And the other sedans available at this price point do many things better than the Passat does. I really wanted to love this car but there is just nothing special about it and if I were shopping in this category, I would be buying a Subaru Legacy, a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry over the Passat every time.
2020 VW Passat Execline 2.0TSI
$1,315 R-Line package
Price as Tested
Turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
174 @ 4,900 rpm
206 lb/ft @ 1,700 rpm
10.2/6.9/8.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb
Does a fine job at almost everything
Not memorable in any way
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by VW Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.