While it might not threaten the sales of the family sedan class leaders, the Volkswagen Passat adequately fulfills the big-back-seat mission of the mid-size sedan, and it does so at a modest price. For 2020, the rear seat remains huge, and although the latest VW Passat doesn't bring any revolutionary new features or content, it pushes what the Passat offered in higher trim levels into the bottom rungs, all without adding dollars to the window sticker. What has trickled down? Safety content such as automatic-emergency braking and blind-spot detection is now standard, as is satellite radio, VW's remote-control-via-phone App Connect, and LED headlights.
With the exception of the roof, the Passat has all-new sheetmetal for 2020. There's a more prominent character line running down the side and a thick piece of chrome across the top of the redesigned grille and over the headlights. While clean and elegant, this Volkswagen still can't boast cutting-edge design as one of its strengths. The interior has a similarly conservative update. We found the design plain, and there are more hard plastics inside than you'll find in the competition.
What the Passat has going for it is the same as before: Rear-seat and trunk space are at the large end of the class, and it goes down the road in a comfortable and secure manner. A smooth ride makes us happy, but the body control lacks the tightness of the Honda Accord, a car that won a recent comparison test and another 10Best award for 2020.
Pricing for the Passat's base S model starts at $23,915 and stretches to just $32,015 for the top SEL version. Most competitors reach further toward the $40K range, but they have optional engines. The Passat now comes only with one powerplant, a 174-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. The 3.6-liter V-6 option is no longer offered. Pricewise, the new and more powerful Arteon starts where the Passat ends.
Competitors such as the Accord and Nissan Altima employ a turbo 2.0-liter four as an up-level, more powerful option. The VW's power puts it more in line with the entry-level engines from the rest of the segment. For 2020, the Passat's four-cylinder gains an additional 22 lb-ft of torque, a 12-percent improvement, which VW claims will improve the Passat's zero-to-60-mph acceleration by a half-second. But even a sprint to 60 mph in the mid-seven-second range puts the Passat behind its fiercest base-engine rivals in acceleration, and with an EPA combined fuel economy estimate of 27 mpg, its fuel economy lags behind the 1.5-liter Accord's by a massive 6 mpg.
Because the Passat employs one of VW's older platforms, it doesn't have a lot of the features that have spread elsewhere in the lineup, such as an available digital gauge cluster or the ability for its adaptive cruise control to handle stop-and-go driving. Its 6.3-inch infotainment screen is also smaller than today's norm. While the design has been updated and the features democratized, the new Passat's changes aren't quite enough to vault it to the head of the family sedan segment.
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