Back in 2018, in our week with the VR6-powered Passat GT, we admitted that the infotainment screen was small for a new car at that time and the 6-speed automatic was a bit dated. So here we are two years later with a new 2020 Passat. Has much changed since then? For Volkwagen, the answer is an unfortunate yes. For the Passat, the answer is an unfortunate no. This US-specific Passat was likely in development during a difficult time for Volkswagen internally, and it shows.
2020 brings some exterior changes to the Passat, retaining only the roof panel from the previous generation’s design. A larger grille and slimmer headlights are the most notable change. Volkwagen points out a “coupe-like” roof line…but what they really meant to say is that they simply drew out the C pillar. VW also coined the phrase “Tornado line” to describe a beltline crease in the bodywork that runs down the flank from the headlights around to the rear and terminates at the inside of the taillight. In our tester’s Platinum Gray Metallic color, the design is restrained past the point of anonymity. No amount of marketing pizzazz, not even the new “P A S S A T” tramp stamp stretched across its derriere can help this grey slab stand out in traffic.
Inside, VW’s “premium materials” don’t live up to the hype either. Sure, the touchpoints are ok and most of the upper surfaces are well sculpted, but the center tunnel is particularly budget both in material and tactile feel. Even Volkwagen’s typically stellar ergonomics are egregiously lost in the redesign. The steering wheel is noticeably off center to the seat and pedal box, leaving the driver feeling as if they have two different length arms. No complaints from any other passengers though, the interior space is large and rear seat leg room is immense. Where VW continues to excel is delivering a vehicle with a long list of attractive standard safety and technology features. Full LED lighting, 360-degree cameras with park assist and self-park feature, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive radar cruise control all come standard on this SEL trim Passat. For an as-tested price just over $32,000, you’ll be hard pressed to find this feature set and interior volume elsewhere in the market.
Unfortunately, the sensations behind the Passat’s helm fall in line with its new visuals. The soft suspension and adequate sidewall provide a compliant and non-disruptive ride. On the highway, that’s an excellent trait. But if you try to drive this Passat anything like a German saloon car, you’re met with a total lack of dynamic control punctuated by rapid onset understeer. The 2.0T motor isn’t at fault, here. With 174 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque, the Passat can build a modicum of speed. Other than a torque boost over last year, it’s the same unit and same 6-speed automatic as before. But turn the wheel even the slightest bit and the tires simply can’t cope. On close inspection, our US-produced Passat is wearing US-produced Giti Comfort XA1. A bit of Internet research indicates the Singapore-based company, Giti Tire, opened a US manufacturing site in South Carolina at the end of 2017 and is the 11th largest global tire manufacturer. Additional real-world research has lead us to conclude that their Comfort XA1 is an absolutely terrible tire.
Value. Volkwagen has done all it can to pack as much value in the 2020 Passat as it possibly can. With safety and technology features that customers demand, plus the roominess and efficiency of a traditional sedan layout, VW has taken another shot at out-valuing the Toyota Camry. But at what cost? The underwhelming design and soulless driving experience completely go against the grain of VW’s history and brand appeal. Mind you, this also comes at a time when we proclaimed that there’s nothing the new Toyota Camry does better than erase the bland, appliance-like stereotype the nameplate has carried for generations. And for 2020, it seems like there’s at least one automaker happy to take up that mantle. It’s just too bad it was one of the good ones.
|2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL
|Platinum Gray Metallic Exterior w/ Titan Black Vienna Leather Interior||$N/C|
|6-speed Automatic w/ Tiptronic||$N/C|
|As Tested MSRP||$32,015|
Related: Quick Spin: 2018 VW Passat GT