Road Test Review – 2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 T SEL – Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy

The Volkswagen Passat has been in a very interesting plain of existence over the past few years. Once seen as a step up from the smaller Jetta sedan, the Passat has slowly been left in the background as SUVs and alternative fueled vehicles become more important for Volkswagen’s bottom line. That prompted Volkswagen to reveal that the Passat will be axed in 2023. With the future of the Passat looking bleak, we wanted to get behind the wheel one last time to not only say goodbye, but to also find out if the 2020 Passat still has the chops to stand out in the dwindling sedan segment.


Dull Design Makes Passat A Passive Aggressive Offering

An interesting trend that we have noticed in recent sedan offerings is that many automakers are using sedans as an opportunity to expand their design horizons with entries like the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata going all in to please buyers with infusions of athleticism and elegance. It’s clear that Volkswagen designers wanted to buck the trend here and have crafted a rather dull suit of clothes for it. Our tester did feature snazzy looking wheels and a handsome shade of grey, but it does little to draw attention to it whatsoever. Our tester preferred to blend into the background and there were occasions where it was mistaken for an older Toyota or Chevrolet model.

Granted, the previous generation model never exceled in wowing the masses with its styling either but at a time where being noticed has never been more important, the Passat’s lack of flair is a major miss especially when compared with the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata. Some of that is remedied when you go for the range topping R-Line model but while the bigger wheels and the additional black trim accents are welcome additions, it still doesn’t make the Passat leap out and grab your attention.


Passat Interior Goes For Functionality Over Form

The interior of our SEL grade tester echoes the same vibes as the exterior with VW designers pitching flair for the sake of maximizing functionality. The space is clean and handsome looking but material quality in our car felt a step below many of its rivals. A low gloss strip of wood trim snakes along the dashboard and while it has a clean appearance, it too looks a bit dated.

The center stack embraces typical Volkswagen design cues with controls for the climate control, radio, and more all being within easy reach of front seat occupants. The interior also serves as a very glaring reminder that you are in the U.S. spec Passat versus its upgraded foreign counterpart. Buyers in international markets get a Passat that’s on a newer platform which means goodies such as a fully digital instrument cluster, a newer infotainment system, and more.

Our version is based on the old model’s updated platform and that means you take a noticeable step backwards in technology. Our tester arrived with the standard 6.3 inch screen but buyers can opt for a bigger 8.0 inch unit. The screen sizes here are still competitive for the class, but the software is slow and lousy with noticeable lag between various inputs. The unit is supported by a smaller screen in between the analog gauges which doesn’t feel quite as special as some of the screen real estate seen in rivals.

Comfort Is Abundant Here

Thankfully, the Passat makes up for its technology shortcomings by offering a very large interior to stretch out in. Our car came equipped with Mauro Brown Vienna Leather seats which felt very similar to the Atlas Cross Sport we recently tested. That means a throne that is on the firm side but gradually transitions into long distance comfort once you have a chance to formally get yourself in place. Front legroom is very abundant with plenty of headroom as well.

The backseat is arguably where you want to spend the most time though with occupants back there enjoying 39.1 inches of legroom as well as a set of USB charging ports and vents. As a bonus, they even benefit from rear heated seats which proved to be a welcome blessing in Michigan’s bitterly cold winter weather. The extra space continues into the trunk with our tester having the ability to swallow 15.9 cubic feet of stuff. That’s a bit less than the 16.7 cubic feet offered by the Honda Accord but is more than the 15.1 wielded by the Toyota Camry.


Budget Focused Performance

Power for our tester came from Volkswagen’s familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder which is good for 174 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque. These figures helped the Passat feel sprightly in city driving and have enough grunt to handle freeway driving. A six speed automatic is the sole transmission available and while it’s a bit dated it still goes through the motions well and is virtually unnoticed most of the time.

The combination is pretty commendable but the Passat will never be mistaken for being a sporty four door. This particular sedan is tuned for cruising and prefers to waft about town versus being tasked with corner carving antics. If pushed into a cornering scenario, the Passat will remind you of this fact of life very quickly with the over boosted steering and the squishy suspension not giving you much confidence in sharp turns.


Value Quotient

Pricing for the 2020 Volkswagen Passat is targeted at the value focused tier of the sedan segment with a base S model starting at $23,995. However, the main problem here is that the 2020 Passat is still at the end of the day just a lightly marinated version of the 2019 model. That plays a big role when you look at some of the other models in the trim ladder. The R-Line for example has a sticker that can surpass $32,000 but it’s also going up against the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord which are both decisively better than the VW and have fresher platforms that deliver better driving dynamics.

Our SEL grade tester (which is no longer available in VW’s own configurator) had a base price of $31,095 with no cost add-ons allowing the price to settle in at a final sticker of $32,015. This pricing is in the thick of things with some of its rivals, but while standard Adaptive Cruise Control, dual-zone climate control and Forward Collision Alert are nice things to have, it’s just not enough to make the Passat truly stand out.


While the 2020 Volkswagen Passat will most likely take a quiet exit from the market, there will be a small group of buyers that will miss its low pricing ladder as well as some of the standard tech that comes along for the ride when you get one for your garage. We’ll certainly miss it but we look forward to seeing how VW will embrace a utility focused future with offerings like the Atlas.


Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as

Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.

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