By on January 14, 2019

Volkswagen introduced the new 2020 Passat at the Detroit auto show on Monday, but calling it “new” might not be entirely fair. While the midsize sedan has undergone a complete visual overhaul and received some new technology in the process, its mechanical bits have gone mostly unchanged versus last year’s model.

For 2020, Volkswagen modernized the Passat’s image by stretching the grille and adopting smaller headlamps. The prominent crease seen on the Jetta runs from stem to stern. That means some will continue confusing the two models well into the next decade but, for those who appreciate reserved styling and have a keen eye, the Passat is the more dapper of the pair. Still, like we said, this is pretty much the same car VW has been slinging for the last eight years — just newer looking. 

That’s most true beneath the hood, where you’ll find the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine pushing 174 horsepower. However, Volkswagen did slap on a new torque converter to improve torque from 184 to 207 lb-ft. The Passat still puts all of its power to the front wheels and relies on a staid six-speed automatic transmission to do it. The suspension also goes unchanged. But that’s not a real problem, as the model already has rather good road manners (and brakes).

As the model hasn’t yet gravitated to VW’s new MQB platform, the 2020 Passat misses out on the company’s Digital Cockpit. However, the still-spacious interior receives significant upgrades that appear new yet very familiar to the old Passat’s cabin. An ultra-wide vent stretches from the center of the dashboard and extends all the way to the passenger door, the 8.0-inch MIB II infotainment system (standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) now comes on a new glass-covered touchscreen, and there are some new materials. Nobody is going to suddenly think they’re sitting in a premium sedan, but they will have the satisfaction of knowing their affordable commuter hasn’t abandoned any attempt at luxury.

As with the 2019 model, the Passat comes standard with forward collision warning and emergency braking. For 2020, it adds a new pedestrian monitoring system and Parking Steering Assist, which can automatically guide the vehicle into tricky spaces. Also standard is blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, but adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist cost extra. Other upgrades include scaling up the standard 17-inch wheels to 18 or 19 inches (depending on trim), a Fender audio system, Nappa leather seating surfaces, and keyless entry with push-button start.

Considering how quickly the market turned on sedans, we imagine Volkswagen didn’t want to take any risks with the 2020 Passat and is hesitant to put it on the MQB platform that’s now commonplace in its fleet and implemented by its Euro-spec twin. By and large, this isn’t a problem for people who already appreciate the model. In fact, most customers will probably see the new bodywork and automatically assume it’s an entirely updated car.

It also dampens our hopes for the vehicle’s future in North America.

The Passat is getting very old and is starting to face fiercer competition with stronger engines, newer tech, and bolder styling. Maybe that will help the car play to its base while sneaking out the door with a lower MSRP, but we’re worried it won’t measure up in head-to-head comparisons. Shoppers tend to test drive more than one car before making a final decision, and if they spend some time in the likes of the Honda Accord, Mazda 6, or even some of the less impressive midsize sedans still on the market, Volkswagen might just lose the sale.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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52 Comments on “2020 Volkswagen Passat: Fresh Look, Same Car...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    VW has made the process of building nondescript cars a high art form.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      But it is still a sedan so time will tell how well it will sell in a day and age where other automakers are discontinuing or drastically reducing their production of sedans.

      Atlas, Tiguan? Yeah, they’ll sell. Sedans? Maybe not so much.

  • avatar

    It’s weird, with those wheels I’m getting SHO vibes. The rest of the car is just meh. Pleased to see a return to centered block model name lettering across the industry – always a fan of that approach.

  • avatar
    HelloWorld

    This thing looks better and more up-scale than any of its competitors (Camry, Accord, 6, etc.).

    Some tech is carried over from the old model, but that’s nothing unprecedented in the automotive world. Plus, the thing has all of the fancy new tech of the end of the 21st century’s second decade on board (automatic parking, lane-keep assist, radar this and that, this-and-that monitoring etc.).

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but there’s no mention of price in the article?

    Let VeeDub sell this thing for 20k to 22k, and it’ll be one helluva great offer.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Tried out a ’18 GT with the V-6 – it’s not bad. Kind of sums up the whole car.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      I think the GT was the one to get. I test drove an SEL V6 to replace my Dieselgate Jetta, and it was squishy as could be. It was definitely not remotely sporty. But the GT has bigger wheels, lowered and stiffened suspension, and the DSG transmission. It should be a much better driving experience than the standard Passat.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Definitely a better driving experience. Unfortunately, it’s still a long way behind an Accord 2.0T Sport or V-6 Camry.

        • 0 avatar
          johnny_5.0

          At least locally, you could scoop up a GT for ~$24k without much haggling. That’s a hell of a lot of car for the money. Solid VR6, great dual clutch, nice two-tone pleather, heated seats, sunroof, BLIS, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, backup camera, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, ~40 inches of rear legroom, blah blah. It’s basically $5k less than the Accord Sport 2.0 out the door, and the 6/72 warranty is a nice bonus. Looks best in black.

  • avatar
    George B

    Matt, I’m confused by the following two sentences. “That’s most true beneath the hood, where you’ll find the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine pushing 174 horsepower. However, Volkswagen did slap on a new torque converter to improve torque from 184 to 207 lb-ft.”

    Did Volkswagen increase the peak torque of the engine from 184 to 207 lb-ft, a pretty significant increase, and what does this have to do with the torque converter in the automatic transmission?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s using their special trick torque converter.

    • 0 avatar
      mittencuh

      Yes, the engine did receive a torque bump, which first drives a few weeks ago said made a noticeable difference. The engine in this car is pretty much the main reason I would consider it. That torque spread would make this a very comfortable car for city driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Basically, the unit can handle more twist so VW dumped in new software to make that happen. It’s worth noting that Volkswagen told us the torque improvement will “apply to most” models. We’d bet the base Passat will still have to get by with 184 lb-ft.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Every body else’s 2.0T engines are in the 250 hp/250 plus lb ft range – Is VW handicapping this engine on purpose?

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I actually think they might be underrating output. Fancy that.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Better find some similar weight cars for a drag race.

          • 0 avatar
            conundrum

            This is the Budack cycle head stuck on the 2.0 liter block. Supposedly economical yet coarsely gasping for breath at 4500 rpm, it’s handily outdone by the Honda 1.5t. I tried one in a bottom spec A3. No, just no. The new Audi Q3 is saddled with it too.

            Car & Driver’s review of the Tiguan with tbis boat anchor engine shows how it gets 4 mpg overall less than the CR-V while being a second slower to 60. How’s that for value?

            Anyone who buys a VW/Audi with this no-hoper of an engine after being warned about it deserves what they get. It’s not as good as the old 1.8t, but it’s the only engine the new Passat now offers. It does have a magic torque converter though, according to the post author. Wonder if the steering wheel is now centered to the driver’s seat? Probably not, this is VW after all. Avoid.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Conundrum, you’re talking about the FWD A3. The outgoing engine for that model was the 1.8, which was no great shakes either. Either way, the base A3 isn’t worth your time – you might as well buy a loaded-up ’18 Golf.

            Step up to a zero-option AWD model and you get the “old” 2.0T, which is what my ’15 has. Money VERY well spent.

        • 0 avatar
          Carrera

          I was thinking of that too. If Honda can get 190HP out of a 1.5l, I am sure VW is underrating output. I am sure an APR stage 1 tune will bring this to 200HP no sweat.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Apparently there’s a tune available for the 1.4T as well…if you want to void your warranty. On a VW.

            I’ll pass, but thanks!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So is there still a V6 model or not?

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Well, I’m glad we didn’t wait and picked up an 18 Accord instead. This car is a whole lot of meh.

    I mean I get it, VW didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of money in a class that’s shrinking, but still. I figured they do something more. No 8-speed auto, no Virtual cockpit, and an interior that’s almost the same since its 2012 debut. It looks pretty decent, but just so meh. Thank god for the Arteon.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    It is no longer distinctively German. Old Accord on the side. Hyundai in the back. Front is part Ford/part Subaru

    • 0 avatar

      It does not even remotely looks like Ford but it may change in future. 2.0L Ecoboost makes 245 hp. So that Passat sucks with 174 hp. Never was on my radar anyway. Mazda6 interior looks and feels more premium and Fusion more modern. That Passat is probably made for old people (and I am not particularly young though, so for veryold people like 70-90 y.o.).

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        As mentioned above, the Passat’s engine is tuned for MPG rather than power, although by the sound of it, it’s neither here nor there. I liked my ’16 1.8TSI rental, great engine with fantastic real world MPG (40mpg with sustained 77mph cruising).

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        I don’t think, I want to buy any new car anymore. I just gonna get old 4runner and be done with it.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      “Front is part Ford/part Subaru…”

      …part Simpsons.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I don’t see how the chassis precludes them from having the virtual cockpit.

    To me, it feels like VW WANTS this to die, and for everyone to either migrate to one of the crossovers, or oddly, down to the Jetta. Jetta is MQB, has an 8AT vs this thing’s 6, can have the virtual cockpit. This may be more refined, but I imagine the Biguan is too while being modern and more refined.

    As I said elsewhere, this feels like Fredo’s boat trip.

    • 0 avatar
      johnny_5.0

      This. Keeping the old platform and only fielding one extremely underwhelming powertrain is the definition of phoning it in. They can’t care if this thing survives.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      You know, VW has access to survey technology. Maybe they asked the people who are actually buying Passats if they cared about Virtual Cockpits and they said something like, “Is that the thing where the teens can watch dirty movies on their phone? Get that garbage out of my car.” Or something like that.

  • avatar
    jatz

    So much for VW’s iconoclastic adherence to elegant and uncluttered design.

    More of the commercial kitchen appliance look we’ve seen from Fiat and most recently Chevy’s HD pizza ovens.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I like this better than the new Accord and the new Camry. The new trend in sedans is to get lower and lower and sit with your butt 5 inches away from the floor. They are getting impossible to get in and out. This looks like a real sedan and dare I say…a bit Audi-esq?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    On the positive note – no stuck-on screen. phew

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    I put 100,000 trouble free miles on a 2012 Passat and have a lot of respect for these things. It literally never had a moment of repair other than the scheduled services. I replaced it with a GTI that has been almost as good over 53k miles but for some burned out bulbs.

    • 0 avatar
      Whatnext

      What is it with VW and burnt out lightbulbs anyway?

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        I think it’s a European thing. My wife’s Volvo S40 and Mercedes ML550 burned bulbs like their filaments were made of sewing thread. I can’t recall the last time I replaced a bulb on one of my American vehicles. Not to start a flame war here or anything, that’s just been my experience.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    So VW now has three Passats: one for Europe, one for China and one for North America? How can that possibly be efficient?

  • avatar
    jatz

    That toothless overbite look in a frontal 3/4 view is goofy.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Yeah, I have to say this looks pretty good. Two thoughts come to mind: 1) What will reliability be like over, say, eight years putting 15K a year on it? 2) Can VW’s driver assistance features be turned off – and stay off?

  • avatar
    ajla

    They ever going to sell the Arteon?

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I look forward to getting behind the wheel of this at my next visit to Hertz.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I like the updated look and don’t mind “mature” engine and transmission…tends to be more reliable than bleeding edge designs.

    My 17 Jetta has been flawless in its first 2 years and 18000 miles, except for a non-functioning driver’s seat heater…I suspect I knocked a connector loose the last time I ran the vacuum under the seats cleaning up dog hair.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Wow talk about phoning it in. What a disappointment. But it also shows what VW thinks about the long term future or large sedans that they didn’t spend to money to move it to the MQB platform.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    I thought Honda hubcaps were bad. I guess that just changed! Surely there is a method to the madness? Customer buys the car, hates the wheels, and pays thousands to upgrade?


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