The new model can't come soon enough.
The 2020 Volkswagen Passat is a perplexing sedan. What used to be a comfy, more luxurious alternative to a Camry or Accord has changed drastically in recent years. In 2011, VW decided to split offer a different Passat specifically for the North American market that was larger and less expensive than the model it replaced, but to the detriment of its characteristic German feel.
For 2020, the North American Passat received a new variant, carrying over the same platform and engine as before, acting as a stopgap before an all-new model arrives in 2023. The next Passat could embrace electrification, drastically changing its place in the market. But as of today, the Passat seems like a middle of the road midsize sedan. After driving a loaded SEL model for the week, we discovered that the current Passat has two key selling points, but misses the mark in several other areas.
With 39.1 inches of rear legroom, the Passat would make for an excellent Uber car with plenty of space for a six-foot-tall driver and an equally tall passenger sitting behind. Only the Honda Accord boasts more legroom in this segment, making the Passat one of the ultimate people carriers around. On the top SEL trim, rear occupants can charge their phones using one of two USB ports while enjoying heated seats and rear air vents.
Just as the Passat excels at hauling people, it has plenty of space for their stuff as well. The trunk is capacious with 15.9 cubic feet and features a massive rear opening with additional room by folding the rear seats. We should note, though, that like the rear legroom, the Accord trumps the VW with 16.7 cubic feet in its trunk, so technically, it would be the ideal car to drive for a ride-sharing gig, not the Passat.
VW says the 2020 Passat is a new model, but from the front, we can barely tell it apart from the outgoing model. Standard LED headlights and taillights dress it up a bit, as does the available Tourmaline Blue paint job seen on our test car, but we still think the Passat's styling looks bland, even when optioned in the sportier R-Line trim. The Passat never jumped off the page in terms of styling, but with competitors like the Toyota Camry and Kia K5 taking bold styling chances, the Passat remains too restrained.
As with the exterior, the Passat doesn't take any bold chances inside. A small 6.5-inch touchscreen is the largest infotainment system you'll find, but the tiny display at least packs Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Even on the top SEL trim, the Passat lacks features found elsewhere in the segment such as ventilated seats, a panoramic roof, surround-view camera, or a wireless phone charger. VW's suite of safety features lag behind what Honda and Toyota offer as standard, and systems like the adaptive cruise control don't work below 12 mph.
The Passat comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels only through a six-speed automatic. This uninspiring powertrain delivers just 174 horsepower and a healthy 206 lb-ft of torque. It feels gutsy enough, though the sound it emits is not very pleasant when accelerating. We miss the outgoing model's VR6 engine and hope the next Passat can improve by switching to an all-electric powertrain.
Before the Passat tried to cater to a US audience, it was the most unique model in the midsize sedan segment. Sold either with a 200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 280-hp VR6, the B6 generation Passat felt more like a budget Audi A6 than a German Camry. It was filled with expensive wood, quality leather, and premium materials. Sure, it carried a much higher price than today's Passat, but it was worth it for the luxurious feel.