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 with a quiet, spacious cabin, soft ride and responsive turbocharged engine. That engine isn’t the most powerful, but it’s better than many entry-level engines for power 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.
The 2020 model sits on the same platform as the previous version, carries much of the same technology, but has a sharper, smarter look from its aesthetic refresh and some additional features to keep it attractive as a value proposition. The Passat continues to boast a solidly engineered feel and a comfortable, well-appointed cabin, while the power bump from its 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is most welcome.
The 2020 model year marks a major facelift for the Passat. Every single exterior panel 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.
The exterior update is extensive, particularly for a mid-cycle refresh. According to Volkswagen, no bodywork has been left untouched below the roofline. The most subtle but effective touch is the “Tornado Line,” which runs along the side in the form of a crease that exaggerates the belt-line from front to back. More obvious is the bolder new grille on the front, but the extra 1.7 inches on the front overhang is more subtle.
Also obvious are the new lights all around the car and the new front and rear bumpers. Projector headlamps are now standard, and the LED rear taillights and multi-segment daytime running lights are also on all trims. The wheels are also all-new for 2020, with 17-inch as standard for base models and optional 18- and 19-inch circles available up the trim levels.
A reshaped dashboard stretches across the front and features new accents, but also the same 6.3-inch screen running the MIB II infotainment system. The screen is small compared with options available elsewhere in Volkswagen’s lineup, and, curiously, the Passat is missing the option for the Digital Cockpit. However, it does feature Apple Carplay and Android Auto as well as MirrorLink. Seeing as the Passat doesn’t offer any real driving thrill, we would expect the tech experience to go with the looks to provide an elevation in desirability.
Safety-wise, blind-spot monitoring is standard rear along with cross-traffic alert and a rear camera. Going up the trims, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and automatic high beams are also available. So is navigation, but it’s not impressive and thankfully you can hook up Google maps easily enough from a phone.
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. The EPA measures the 2020 Passat at 23 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined. Power is still delivered smoothly to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
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.
Third-party crash ratings haven’t been announced 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 it a five-star overall crash rating (out of five), along with a four-star frontal crash score and five-star side crash score. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, that model had 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 2020 Passat reaches $31,095 in top of the range SEL trim, but we would undoubtedly be cross-shopping it with its wealth of competition.