By on July 28, 2020


2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line 2.0T Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (174 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 206 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

23 city / 34 highway / 27 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

10.2 city, 6.9 highway, 8.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $28,645 (U.S) / $36,945 (Canada)

As Tested: $29,565 (U.S.) / $39,675 (Canada)

Prices include $920 destination charge in the United States and $1,865 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

The next time certain product planners in Wolfsburg look in the mirror, they have a question to ask themselves: “How did we let the Volkswagen Passat get so damn dull?”

Especially after a refresh.

It’s not like the company is incapable of producing quality, fun sedans. The Jetta GLI is a hoot. The Arteon might struggle to find buyers, but that has little to do with the car’s dynamics, as it’s pretty fun to pilot. Even the non-GLI Jetta mixes practicality and pleasure well enough.

Why, then, did the Passat, which was once relatively engaging, if not an outright sports sedan, get so boring?

I’m not saying the car needs to cater to enthusiasts; I don’t expect that in this class. But there are plenty of sedans that are sold to folks who see cars as Point A to Point B appliances that still offer some joy to those who prefer to exercise their rides.

[Get Volkswagen Passat pricing here!]

In other words, it’s not a binary. It’s not sports sedan that only Car and Driver subscribers care about or boring commuter that ticks all the right boxes with the staff at Consumer Reports. It’s a spectrum. And it’s not that hard for any given OEM to build a large sedan that eats interstate miles in comfort and makes drives to the kids’ soccer games perfectly pleasantly unremarkable while also giving some grins to the driver when he/she hits an on-ramp. Even if our driver barely knows enough about cars to locate the fuel-filler door.

One doesn’t have to care about cars to recognize fun.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Indeed, the previous Passat showed that VW understood that. I once took a manual-transmission example from Chicago to D.C. in a day for an assignment at a previous job, and the car was both a wonderful long-distance hauler and a bit of fun in Pennsylvania’s mountains.

Today’s Passat is only one of those things.

It’s not a total dog. It offers enough acceleration for urban driving, and the steering, while too light and artificial, isn’t the worst I’ve tested. Handling is acceptable, though merely that.

And yes, its freeway ride is nice and comfortable, without being unduly soft.

But I just couldn’t get excited about this car. When I sent it back to the press fleet, the most memorable part of my experience, at least in terms of on-road dynamics, was that the lane-keeping system was WAY too aggressive in its interventions.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Anyone reading this who draws a paycheck from Volkswagen will try to argue that the car offers a spacious, comfortable interior to go along with that nice ride. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s no reason to settle. No reason to say, “hey our car is large and comfortable and that’s all the average American buyer cares about, so screw it.”

Ask the rivals. The Accord remains fun to drive, Ford’s last Fusion was a hoot, the Mazda 6 banks on a zoom-zoom reputation, and the Camry has gotten more lively in recent years, even before we factor in the TRD model. Even the midsize sedans that focus less on performance are not particularly boring to drive. Hyundai balanced it right with the new Sonata, for example.

Even within VW’s own lineup sit vehicles that are supposed to prioritize utility over fun, and they aren’t quite as boring. The Tiguan is one of the more engaging crossovers in its class, and while the Atlas/Atlas Cross Sport aren’t the most interesting vehicles in the world, they aren’t total snoozefests from behind the wheel. Their relationship with boredom has more to do with looks.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

The Passat just feels like a misread of the market. We know there are different versions for America and Europe, and it feels like VW just dismissed any American buyer who isn’t an enthusiast as some dull automaton who is content to drive a boring car, as long as it has the ride features and a cabin that can accommodate the derrieres of families that are a little too familiar with the value menu at the local fried-food shack.

To be fair, maybe that is true. Maybe the average American is blissfully gliding towards a future of self-driving autonomous pods. Maybe those of us who get paid to write about cars, and those of us who spend some of their time reading our musings, are in more of a minority than we realize. We might not see that reality because of our own blind spots. Maybe buyers are fine with boredom, because driving isn’t fun to them — it’s a chore.

If that’s the case, the Passat will work just fine. But, and this could be the car-guy bias speaking, I don’t think it is. There’s no reason why this car can’t be comfortable AND interesting.

And it is comfortable. There’s no argument there. It feels roomy, and while my own freeway stints were short, I’m sure it would make a good companion for road-trip vacation, at least in terms of eating miles without fatiguing driver and passengers. But the previous car managed that without bringing about the doldrums.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

The refreshed exterior styling, which only carries over the roof panel, doesn’t help. A more “dominant” grille, a roofline that’s meant to be more coupe-like, slimmed-down headlamps, and the R-Line’s specific touches (vertical chrome in the front bumper, gloss black C-shaped air intakes, rear spoiler and diffuser) don’t quite do enough to boost the car’s panache.

It’s an all-around conservative look that appears to be what a designer might conjure up if ask to draw a generic car. By contrast, the Jetta takes a similar approach, but it has little touches that enliven the appearance. Meanwhile, the Passat just blends in, anonymously.

That’s not to say it’s ugly. I personally typically like cars that are handsome in a plain way, and the Passat fits that bill. The problem is that if the car isn’t going to be entertaining to drive, it should at least be interesting to look at.

And as usual, Volkswagen offers up a mostly-black interior that’s great for function, not so much for form. It’s refreshed, sure, with an emphasis on a horizontal styling element and a trapezoid infotainment screen, but it’s familiar. At least there’s a consistency across the brand, and at least the interior materials feel more or less nice enough for the price point.

The features list is par for the course. Nineteen-inch wheels, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, USB, ambient interior lighting, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep system, adaptive cruise control, remote start, keyless entry and starting, satellite radio, and smartphone mirroring. There were no charged options, so the sticker rang in just under $30K.

The Passat is a nice, spacious, comfortable car. It’s attractive, though plain. It’s functional. It has a decent feature list and it’s priced right.

Normally, that would add up to a winner. Unfortunately, this version of the Passat is just not memorable enough to stick.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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33 Comments on “2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T R-Line Review – Sleepy Time...”

  • avatar

    This car’s a dud. For the same money, you get a more powerful Accord or Camry or Mazda6(!). This car may be bigger than the Mazda but about the same size as the other 2.

    With the VR6 gone, why would anyone pick this over the competition?

    • 0 avatar

      And if you are looking for your cars by the pound (which the VW targeted for this Passat America), the Jetta is now almost as big for very little money.

      • 0 avatar

        To me, the Jetta has two insurmountable things against it. One, is the Made in Mexico part and the other one is the lack of AC vents in the back even in the top of the line GLI. That’s a good size car and it needs AC vents in the back for those of us living in the South. No AC vents, no sale

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So in short, VW is marketing a vehicle that should entice all of those who previously drove/purchased Buick sedans?

    I personally do not have any problem with that.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what I was thinking. Swap out the piano black for woodgrain plastic, give it the GM 2.5L and call it the Buick Special. Offer a 3.6L for a Century.

    • 0 avatar

      The average Buick driver in the market for a big cruiser like this probably has a bad taste in their mouth having fought the Germans in the war and all.

      “Heck, Last time I was this close to a Volkwagon I was throwing a grenade into it!”

  • avatar

    I think you were too hard on it. IMO this lands some decent punches:

    0. The styling is a little “boring”, but at least it doesn’t look stupid, which in 2020 is something of a win.
    1. It seems like visibility and rear seat head room is still decent even after the “coupe” reskin.
    2. Comfortable and quiet are major virtues for most FWD sedan buyers.
    3. The interior layout is “traditional” and I love it. You get analog gauges, a screen that’s integrated into the dashboard, a shift lever, and knobs/buttons for climate & radio functions.
    4. It looks like rear AC vents are standard.
    5. Traditional automatic.

    The bad to me really comes under the hood. This version of the 2.0T just doesn’t seem to do anything well. The fuel economy and acceleration aren’t only worse than the current competition but also worse than the old 1.8T. Really it’s only on par with the even older 2.5L inline-5 but at least that engine proved to have un-VWlike reliability.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    “There’s no reason why this car can’t be comfortable AND interesting.”

    How can I accept such an assertion when “interesting” remains undefined, uncategorized? How is “fun to drive” qualified?

    Sir Jeremius Clarksonius Maximus, interviewed by Steve Kroft for 60 Minutes long ago, posited that what makes a car memorable is the “X-Factor”….which is essentially a unique set of faults–the noisiness, the vibration, the pucker-factor road holding, or the over-wrought styling. If this is true, and I believe it is, the “boring” element Healey describes is actually an acute lack of faults. In this market segment, such profeciency should be a mark of distinction–proof that design objectives have been met!

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      What a fantastic line of reasoning! Although I greatly enjoy Clarkson, I agree with your conclusion. After all Clarkson’s favourite cars are Lancias, Alfas and Aston-Martins.

  • avatar

    The NMS Passat was rated fairly well when it was first released. FWIW, it even won C&D’s Car of the Year award in 2012.

    My first impressions of the car after having driven a few versions over the past few years, is that it’s a VW Impala. A lot of space for the price but overall not particularly exciting. It’s not uniquely a Passat, like the old ones were.

    Seeing as the “new” 2020 version is really just a refreshed version on the old chassis, it’s no surprise that it’s feeling dated.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Agreed aja8888-
    The World War Two argument is rather mute at this point…….

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Midsize sedans aren’t selling, so Volkswagen didn’t redesign the Passat. But it’s going to continue not to sell in its current form, especially against more-exciting and better-value entries, like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.

    Which means it will probably just fade quietly away (as will the Arteon), leaving the Jetta as Volkswagen’s only “car” in the United States.

    From the moment the NMS Passat arrived for MY2012, I knew it would be the new W-body Impala. Reasonably reliable and large, but cheap-feeling, unsophisticated and utterly unlikely to set anyone’s soul on fire. It even *looked* like one. It had a bright spot between 2016 and 2019, when it was zhuzhed up and given nicer materials and features. The 1.8T, which was pre-2018, was particularly good, as opposed to the later 2.0T Budack. Still, the killer app was the TDI, with its 800 miles of range, and that went bye-bye after 2015. The 2020 facelift looks arguably worse than either of the previous looks.

    • 0 avatar

      Kyree, the new LED lights front and back really give the 2020 an elegant look. I know the body is the same as the 2012 but the new lights makes the 2020 the best looking Passat of this generation .

    • 0 avatar

      They engineered all the “fun” out of it to appease a US market just in time to find out that market has disappeared. Few wanted a sporty sedan, now nobody wants one. The Passat is the result of what happens when you give people what they want. You want predictable and grey? Well here you go! Its like when people complain about cheap airlines, yet the first thing they do when searching for a flight is pick the cheapest Chicken and egg? Well… more like predictable result to me. I fully expect no more Passat when the next refresh is due.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        True. All the other sedans introduced around that period were also boring and not-fun. Yet, they all have recently introduced replacements that are vast improvements, and that try much harder to get you to say “yes” to a sedan, in a crossover world.

        Volkswagen chose not to do that. Instead, they put their efforts into the Jetta. Apart from the GLI, it too has had most of the fun squeezed out of it, but it’s also a better value proposition than it ever was. I can’t even say I blame Volkswagen for not updating the Passat too much…but I can say it’s unlikely to see a sudden sales increase, either. It, and the Arteon (which has the opposite issue), will likely be gone by 2023.

  • avatar

    As it happens, a few days ago, on my way home, a dark gray 2020 Passat R line really got my attention. It looked understated yet elegant and in a sea of bulbous, elongated, low to the ground family sedans built for contortionists it really stood out in a good way.
    I’ve been looking around some dealerships in my area and found out that a well equipped R line sells for a bit over $24,000. The lower SE which has most of the goodies R line has minus 19 inch wheels, badges and sunroof is about $22000. So let’s see…comfortable, elegant looking ( to me), inexpensive, great warranty ( 4/50,000) what’s not to like?
    The engine is very easily tunable with an APR tune. Adds about 50-60 hp for about 499.
    Coincidentally, yesterday I went on a short ride in one of my friends 2019 Camry. It was nearly impossible to get in without bending my neck. I am only 5’10” but the passenger seat was a bit raised off the floor. Because of that I had to contort my body to get in. Much easier to get into my Corolla.
    So, I don’t get the hate for this VW. Cars like the Accord, Sad Catfish Hyundai Sonata, and Camry are whats making us jump into crossovers. Who wants to be a contortionist just to get in every day? Not me. If I have to contort, I will, but for a Corvette or a Lambo, not a Camry. And before I am accused of being a fan boy, no I’ve never owned a VW product. Mostly Honda’s and Toyotas.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, and I forgot to add. It doesn’t have a massive iPad growing out of the dashboard. When I see a vehicle with the screen tacked on the dashboard and not nicely integrated, I feel like riping it out. I won’t consider any vehicle with sprouting screens out of dashboards. They better be motorized and retract because that’s where it will stay. Retracted.

  • avatar

    “The engine is very easily tunable with an APR tune. ”

    They have plenty available for the nontrash VW turbo engines, but I don’t see anything available for the Budack-cycle engine family.

    I checked the Beetle too because it briefly used this 2.0T and I didn’t see anything there either.

  • avatar

    This car is a resounding Meh. Why ditch the V6 when nothing mechanically was changed? Even if the take rate was low, leave it available to give some credibility. As it stands now this Passat makes a decent Uber vehicle but not much to inspire others.

    How can it be cost efficient for VW to offer three versions of the Passat around the world (Euro, US and China)? With sedans becoming niche vehicles, just offer the Euro Passat everywhere.

    • 0 avatar

      They ditched the VR6 because it is bad on fuel consumption. Also keep in mind that VW fleet average consumption after the TDIs demise went up a lot. They can’t afford too many models with VR6s. Also the VR6 made the car too pricy.

  • avatar

    America is over dumbed down Volkswagens

    too bad the Germans don’t get it

    there is no more cachet to owning an overpriced German repair machine

    • 0 avatar

      They had to dumb it down Thornmark. VW had their followers yes but they needed to attract more people. The Japanese and Koreans were killing them both on reliability and price. I had a coworker who bought a brand new 2001 Passat VR6 SEL for about $32,000. That was crazy money back then. An Audi A4 was $35-36,000 and a loaded V6 Accord EXL was about $25,000. That’s why VW was a niche vehicle and while loved by its fans, it was a low volume seller. When VW dumbed it down in 2012 and lowered the price, it sold in great numbers. Yes, the VW connoisseurs were upset and migrated to Audi or others but VW sold a lot more Passats. Also VW started to sell to fleets as well which before they could not. Fast forward 8 years and Passat isn’t selling that great. A big part of it is the lack of the TDI. They were selling whatever they could build. I was very close to buying a 2015 Passat TDi before the scandal broke and I remember the dealers were not in a dealing mood with the TDIs. They were selling very close to MSRP and that gave me pause. Also at that time, a good size dealership would stock 4-5 TDIs and 35 gassers. Out of the 5 TDIs, 3-4 were the most expensive SEL model and may be 1 was the cheaper SE. Also I was trying to get a manual..which was not easy but relatively doable with a special order. Unlike other manufacturers who only built 2% manuals, VW used to build 20% of their TDI as manuals.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I rented (and mentioned several times before) a previous gen R-Line Passat for a road trip to New Hampshire a few summers ago. It was the newest car I drove in a while and got me into the market for new cars because of a lot of the modern conveniences that my other cars don’t have.

    I really really liked it. It did pretty much everything well with a few exceptions I’ll mention in a bit. I thought it was very handsome and accelerated well. I was astounded when I opened the hood and saw the 1.8t under there. For such a large car and small engine I was impressed.

    The negatives I mentioned were how easily the broke traction when driving on the highway in wet conditions. I was white knuckling on several occasions during a sudden summer thunderstorm. And again during a simple shower. I assume it was the tires, which I would want to replace ASAP if I owned it.
    The other was that, for the lack of a better description, was too roomy. I’m an average sized man and I felt like it was built for someone twice my size. I struggled to reach the armrest on the door and just felt small.

    I don’t like the updates made for the new version. I think they made a very attractive car fairly ungainly.

    • 0 avatar

      Land Ark, the updates are mainly to the LED lights, front grille and engine. The body is exactly the same as the one you rented. To me, it looks more streamlined. I do like the fact that it is very roomy. Back seat room is on par with the Accord but egress and ingress is infinitely easier in the Passat than Accord/Camry/Sonata. Also while I like the Mazda 6 a lot, I have a hard time having my 6 foot and growing 14 year old son back there. Back seat room is not Mazda 6’s forte.

  • avatar

    Good Lord why not use the 2.0T from the GTI/GLI? The weight difference between those and the Passat means that the Passat wouldn’t be a threat to their sales but the extra power would make up for lots of the negatives.

    Every fleet that is trying to decide what to do about their aging W-body Impalas should just call up VW and see how big of a Passat order they can place.

  • avatar

    Nice looking ride. Why not GLI the suspension? How much can that cost, put a little starch in the steering and add a little more sound deadening. Is VW scared it might then feel too much like a discount Audi? BTW, those fake exhaust vents are not fooling anyone. Are Americans that gullible? I would buy this if it felt like a discounted Audi. No interest in buying a VW Buick.

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