Volkswagen's midsize sedan, the Passat, gets refreshed for 2020. Though continuing to ride the same platform, the 2020 model gets fresh exterior styling, interior upgrades, a more powerful engine and additional standard equipment. Passat is only available as a 4-door sedan and competes with the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry.
Passat is available in S, SE, R-Line and SEL trim. Prices start as low as $22,995 and climb to more than $31,000 for the SEL. All are front-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 174 horsepower. Torque, at 206 lb-ft, is up 12 percent over last year. Sole transmission offering is a 6-speed automatic, which for 2020 gets a new torque converter designed to provide smoother and faster shifts.
All trim levels come standard with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic LED headlights. S models come standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, 6-speaker audio system, 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system and rear-view camera. SE models add leather-wrapped steering wheel, power driver seat, heated front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, pushbutton start, dual-zone automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. R-Line adds unique front bumper and grille, rear diffusor, chrome exhaust pipes, 19-inch alloy wheels and R-Line interior trim. The line-topping SEL swaps in 18-inch wheels and adds to the R-Line power passenger seat, driver seat memory, leather seating surfaces, hand-free easy-open trunk. Fender premium audio system, navigation system, park assist, park distance control and auto high-beams.
Passat's sole engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four. It strikes a balance between the economical and sporty offerings of competitors. Though uninspired, acceleration is adequate and the engine is smooth and quiet at all times. From a standstill, Passat will acceleration from 0 to 60 MPH in about 8 seconds. That's on par with base engine offerings from other competitors. What Passat lacks, and enthusiasts will miss, is performance-orientated optional engine.
EPA ratings with the 4-cylinder are 23 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, which compare favorably to others in the class. A huge 18.5-gallon fuel tank gives Passat an effective range north of 500 miles per fill up. Real-world fuel economy will certainly impress. It's easy to net 30 mpg in an even mix of suburban commuting. That's about average for the class. Straight highway driving at reasonable speeds yields about 38 mpg overall.
Dynamically, it is hard to fault Passat's combination of roadworthiness and overall ride comfort. The supple suspension does an excellent job of soaking up pavement imperfections and softening hard impacts. At the same time, there's enough body control to limit secondary motions and lean in quick maneuvers. If there's a fault, the suspension just isn't taut enough to provide an athletic feel on twisty roads. Opting for the R-Line's 19-inch wheels tightens things up a bit with little impact on overall ride quality.
Around town, the steering can be overly light and lacks feel. At highway speeds it seems to tighten up and provides good feedback. Brakes offer plenty of stopping power and have an easy-to-modulate pedal. With little wind rush or road rumble, Interior noise levels are among the lowest in the class.
Passat offers one of the roomiest interiors in the class. Front-seat riders are treated to nicely bolstered buckets with ample head and leg room. Rear-seat passengers get similar treatment with ample leg and knee room. While at a comfortable angle, the rear seatback does not recline, so taller passengers might find their head touching the roof. Outward visibility is great in every direction and entry/exit is easy.
Passat sports a handsome, if somewhat conservative, interior that places function over form. Materials are top notch, as is assembly quality. Gauges are straight forward and easy to read and the center stack features a touchscreen and traditional buttons and knobs for the audio and climate control systems. Android Auto and Apple Car play integration are a nice touch as well. That said, the center display screen in the instrument cluster and the infotainment touchscreen are both on the small side.
With nearly 16 cubic feet of cargo space, the trunk is positively cavernous. Rear seatbacks fold to increase cargo space. One downside is trunk hinges that intrude on cargo space. Interior storage is adequate with a few open and covered bins throughout. A few competitors provide nice cell-phone storage bins and Passat could use one.
Bottom Line -- On its own merits, Passat is one of the best overall midsize cars. Positives include a roomy interior, lots of cargo space, efficient and reasonably powerful base engine and top-notch interior. With a nicely equipped SE coming in at trifle over $25K, the Passat is priced competitively. Because the class is very competitive, expect steep discounts on any midsize car -- Passat included.