Midsize sedans are no longer the vehicle of choice for families. SUVs and crossovers are way more popular these days, forcing traditional passenger cars to reinvent themselves or risk going extinct.
In the case of the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima, for instance, that meant adding an all-wheel drive option. Same thing for the brand new Kia K5, which also banks on strikingly good looks, similar to the latest Hyundai Sonata.
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What about the Volkswagen Passat? A conservative approach and rationalized lineup suggest that the German automaker has sort of given up and is ready to move on—at least here in North America.
The Passat received a new look for 2020, but the changes are fairly minor and the car’s silhouette is still very linear in typical Volkswagen fashion. There are certain cues shared with the Jetta and Arteon, more modern-looking headlights and taillights, plus a larger front grille. It’s classy, for sure, but nothing to get really excited about.
Truth be told, the only way to spice up the look of the Passat is to select the top-line Execline model, which offers an Aurora Red paint option and R-Line package that includes sharp 19-inch wheels. The latter costs $1,315 but is money well spent. A few exclusive badges and a black finish on key elements like the small lip spoiler are part of the mix, too. We didn’t really like the fake rear diffuser and fake quad tailpipes, however.
Not So Inviting
The interior of the 2020 Volkswagen Passat is a bit more refined than in the past. The updated dashboard design is particularly notable with the horizontal air vents that seemingly stretch from the centre stack to the right-hand corner for a unified appearance.
There’s also a new eight-inch touchscreen complete with the latest infotainment and connectivity technologies. Unfortunately, the characters are too small and the display is still too low, which makes the information hard to read while driving. Besides, when you have your hands on the steering wheel at 9 and 3 o’clock, part of the screen is obstructed.
Space is one of the strengths of the Passat, especially when it comes to legroom and shoulder room, not to mention the trunk (450 litres). The front seats are comfortable at first, but a bit too narrow at the top, which becomes irritating for the upper back after a while. Also, the rear seats are too firm for a higher-end midsize sedan.
Overall, the 2020 VW Passat doesn’t have as much flair and doesn’t feel as modern as its Japanese and Korean rivals. Some of the controls are outdated, while the fake wood trim on the dashboard fails to add that desired luxury touch.
Forget the 280-horsepower V6 or the available all-wheel drive system (or the diesel engine, for that matter, but that one is easier to understand). The only engine you can have with the Passat now is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that produces 174 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque, up 22 from a year ago.
Those are decent figures in most situations. The problem is the six-speed automatic transmission, which feels poorly calibrated and sometimes results in jerky acceleration, particularly in the lower gears. Sport mode makes it just slightly better. Another downside is sub-par fuel economy. In fact, with a combined rating of 8.7 L/100 km (9.0 L/100 km on our watch), the Passat is one of the least efficient cars in its class.
On the road, things are generally pleasant thanks to a sharp, responsive steering and capable brakes, although our North American Passat is underpinned by a separate platform than other MQB-based Volkswagen models. With the low-profile tires on our R-Line tester, the ride became rather stiff on bad pavement, while the lane keeping system seemed to operate unpredictably at times. At least the Passat has a long list of active safety features.
Ultimately, the 2020 Volkswagen Passat (starting at $27,145) doesn’t have anything that makes you say “wow” or truly stands out from the competition. We have a hard time recommending this car over its numerous rivals, led by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord—unless you’re a diehard VW fan, of course.
So, yeah, it might be time to move on. A new generation based on the MQB platform is reportedly coming in 2023-2024 and it will be the same for all markets. By then, however, the automaker’s electric offensive will be in full swing and we’d prefer to see a fully electric midsize sedan based on the stunning ID. VIZZION concept than another, run-of-the-mill Passat.