Like most mainstream automakers, Volkswagen has pinned its hopes on its crossovers.
The Tiguan compact CUV is the company’s best seller. Its No. 3 is the midsize Atlas.
Still, VW’s heritage is rich with vehicles of all types, from practical four-doors to hot little hatchbacks and handsome coupes.
The midsize Passat has been the company’s go-to midsize family sedan for decades. It’s one of the least expensive midsize sedans ($23,915) available in the U.S. — and one of the roomiest.
The Passat is made-over this year, though in key respects it’s fundamentally unchanged. It employs the same platform as the previous generation and is powered by the same turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Last year’s six-cylinder option goes away this year, leaving Passat as one of a handful of midsize sedans with a sole engine choice.
Not that it matters much. The turbocharged four makes 174 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Our tester effortlessly handled freeway merging and passing on two-lane roads.
The gearbox made quick and unobtrusive shifts that kept the engine in the meaty part of its powerband.
Passat runs the 0-60 sprint in the high-7-second range and earns an EPA-estimated 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway).
Hallmarks of the new Passat include a gentle ride, a well-built and comfortable cabin, extra-roomy rear seats and a large trunk. Its seats are large, well-contoured and supportive and most drivers will find a comfortable driving position.
The cabin gets improved interior materials, an updated instrument panel and a capacitive-touch touchscreen display. Upholstery choices now include cloth and either simulated or genuine leather.
VW’s MIB II touchscreen infotainment system employs a capacitive-touch touchscreen. Like smartphones and tablets, it enables such gesture controls as swiping and pinch-zooming. All controls — including climate and audio systems — are easy to understand and use.
At 6.3 inches, the touchscreen is smaller than most rivals’ and is positioned low in the dash.
A focus on value
Historically, VW has charged a premium for its cars. Recently, though, it has shifted to a value-oriented strategy. It strengthens that formula this year, by more fully equipping its lower trims.
The 2020 Passat is available in four trims: S, SE ($25,845), R-Line ($28,645) and SEL ($31,095).
All models include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. All are eligible for satellite radio and VW's remote-control-via-phone App Connect.
Automatic on/off LED headlights are standard, as is VW’s suite of driver-assist and safety features. It includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
SE models and above feature dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated side mirrors and an automatically dimming rearview mirror.
The R-Line, which we drove, sports a unique front fascia and other cosmetics, as well as larger (19-inch) alloy wheels and tires.
The SEL is the only trim to offer leather-trimmed seating surfaces. Heated seats — including the rear outboard positions — are standard, as are native navigation, driver-seat memory, parking sensors and a nine-speaker Fender audio system with an amplifier and subwoofer.
Passat’s reconfigured suspension absorbs the impact of all but the worst potholes and feels secure and settled at speed.
Longtime VW drivers will find that Passat lacks the crisp dynamics of earlier generations. The suspension compliance that produces Passat’s easy-going ride also evokes sluggish and imprecise chassis responses.
Substantial body lean reveals itself in the corners.
Steering feel is lightly weighted but builds resistance in corners. A good on-center channel enables straight-line tracking; otherwise, the system feels numb and uncommunicative.
This year’s update includes all-new sheet metal — only the roof panel carries over untouched — brings clean lines and a hint of elegance without abandoning the familiar VW forms.
A curved hood slopes into a full-width, three-bar grille. At the shoulder line, a strong character line — inexplicably, VW calls it a Tornado line — runs the length of the Passat.
Looking to redefine itself in the wake of the diesel-emissions scandal and the Great Recession, VW is nudging its lineup toward the mainstream. The 2020 Passat is a prime example.
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2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T R-Line
Vehicle base price: $22,995
Trim level base price: $28,645
As tested: $29,690 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Aurora Red Metallic paint
EPA ratings: 27 combined/23 city/34 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified