Test drive: The 2020 Volkswagen Passat is an oldie, but still pretty good

New clothes with old bones underneath

The Volkswagen Passat is an old soul.

The model was redesigned for 2020, but underneath remains very much the same car that debuted as the so-called “New Midsize Sedan” in 2012.

Back then it was the first car to be built at VW’s new Chattanooga, Tenn., factory and a strong seller, but today is merely a sideshow to the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs that have been added there and will be joined by the ID.4 electric utility vehicle in a couple of years.

Large sedans are quickly going out of fashion across the industry, and while the Passat’s new look freshens things up, it still appears to be from another era. This is especially true when parked next to the similarly sized, but sleeker and more stylish German-made VW Arteon four-door “coupe.”

Unlike that pricier performance model, the Passat is basic transportation, at best. In years past it was offered with a variety of engines, including a five-cylinder and a diesel, but today only comes with VW’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rated at 174 hp in this application.

Interior space has always been a Passat strong point, and it still offers more legroom than most people will know what to do with. Unfortunately, the cabin design remains largely the same as past models and is trimmed in industrial-grade plastics and upholstery that help keep the starting price down at a best-in-class $23,915.

That gets you LED headlights and automatic emergency brakes, while features like adaptive cruise control, leather seating, Fender audio and a self-steering parking system are added on the way up through the trim levels, which top out with a loaded SEL at $32,015. Even at that price, my kids asked if it was a cheap or old car and said it seemed like something a grandpa would drive. Dang whippersnappers.


The Passat’s 34 mph highway fuel economy rating is on the low side for the segment and can probably be chalked up to a dated six-speed transmission, while most competitors offer as many as eight or nine gears and shiftless continuously variable transmissions that are good for closer to 40 mpg. It’s not terribly exciting, but is just fine for cruising around and its 206 lb-ft of torque provides a kick in the pants when needed.


The steering feel is surprisingly good, though, and the ride and handling quality are above average, so it has the essentials down. It even has air vents, heated seats and USB ports in the second row to keep the grandkids comfortable and distracted so they remain occupied and stop giving you grief about your car.


2020 Volkswagen Passat

Base price: $23,915

As tested: $32,015

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 174 hp, 206 lb-ft

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 23 city/34 hwy