There have been several vehicles that I had quite a history with. One of them is the Volkswagen Passat.
The North America-only NMS-platform B7 Passat arrived on the scene at the 2011 North American International Auto Show. The Chattanooga, Tennessee-produced mid-sized sedan caused quite a stir, even though Volkswagen had been known to produce localized products for specific segments.
Since then, I have written about five of them with various different engines underneath its hood. That included a TDI diesel, a 2.5-liter five-cylinder, the V6, and a couple of turbocharged TSI engines. Every Passat I have driven arrived with a single conclusion – I thoroughly enjoyed each one.
I often remarked at the smooth ride, ease of performance, and great fuel economy. The rear seat room is among the best in the mid-sized family sedan class. While it has been enlarged for the North American market, the Volkswagen Passat still offers an attainable Germanic experience that we expect from the brand.
For the 2020 model year, Volkswagen made more than a few changes to its North American mid-sized sedan. That is putting it mildly, mind you…
The biggest visual change is he body shell. Volkswagen went with a sleeker and softer profile than the outgoing model. The front end emulates the one seen on the current Jetta with a larger, deeper grille going into the bumper. The roofline has been softened and given a faster profile retaining the three side glass design. Even those window panes have changed from prior models.
The rear end also emulates the Jetta, with a deeper license plate area and sleeker taillights. Add new wheel designs to the mix and you have a transformed Volkswagen Passat. I really like this design. It is contemporary without going overboard on the details.
Volkswagen continued its transformation of the Passat inside with a modification to the top of the dashboard. The climate vents are now more horizontal and linear. A touch of plastic wood trim was added to my SEL tester for that extra touch across the fascia. Instrumentation and the center stack remain the same, as does the steering wheel and all controls and switches.
There are a few nitpicking points here. While most of the Volkswagen lineup have gone to a larger Car-Net-driven MIB II infotainment – 8-9 inches on some models – the Passat can only go to 6.5-inches with side switches. I was hoping for that leap in transformation, as the Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport, and Jetta offer a cleaner infotainment screen format in their SEL models. I also wished that Volkswagen would integrate their Digital Cockpit in this Passat. That would be a great match against its competition using a full digital instrument binnacle.
However, that does not detract from what I have in this Passat SEL. Volkswagen does a good job with analog instrumentation. They are clear and easy to read. Plus, the touchscreen works equally fine, thanks to smartphone integration through App-Connect. Newer Passat models will receive more connectivity and telematics features through Car-Net with active buttons to reach the service, along with a connection to the remote app.
The Passat is designed to seat five people, offering supportive comfort at all corners. The front seats offer some bolstering while upholstered with durable leather. Both front seats get power eight-way adjustments, including lumbar support. They also retained the best part of a Volkswagen – the short-throw shifter for the automatic transmission.
Rear seat room is absolutely the best in class. Leg room is limousine like, but the headroom sort of shrunk a tad from the previous version. Still, I feel rather comfortable in the back, as I do up front.
As for the trunk, you get a sizeable 15.9 cubic feet of space, that expands with the rear seats folded down. The trunk lid is of a good size, but bulk items need to negotiate the "drop down" in the opening off the bumper.
There is lot of love underneath the hood. The 174-horsepower 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged engine has solid cruising performance. It is where you put the pedal down where you feel the difference between the Passat and the rest of its rivals. You have 206 pound-feet of torque at your right foot giving you great acceleration and passing power.
The driveline of the Passat includes a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which is as smooth as ever. Combined with this TSI engine, I observed a fuel economy average of 33.4 MPG.
The one I loved about my previous runs in this North American-market Passat is the ride quality. It is unexpected from a Volkswagen, but you do not buy a Passat as you would a Golf GTI. I like its comfortable highway cruising ride. It makes long drives – such as the one I did out to the Chippewa Valley for a night’s stay away from the insanity back in the Twin Cities – relaxing and easy.
Overall handling and cornering is well controlled. You can feel a lot of that control through the maneuvers. It helps to have a really good steering system with a nice turning radius and sharp response to help keep the Passat under control. The on-center feel is a bit on the soft side and the wheel feel is just fine. The brakes are very sold overall with a good pedal feel. Stops in both normal and panic situations are shot and linear.
The one that keeps the 2020 Passat relevant is its offerings of driver assistance features. With the Lane Keeping System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Control with Autonomous Emergency Braking, the Passat is designed to be one of the safest vehicles in its class. And, yes, these features work extremely well. Volkswagen should get more credit on how they execute these systems across their range.
There are four Passat trim levels to choose from. For an S model, base pricing starts at $22,995. My SEL tester came with a sticker price of $32,015. You do get a lot of standard features for that price, however.
Or, do you? This is where I start nitpicking again…sorry, Volkswagen.
Aside from the mentions of the infotainment screen and the lack of the Digital Cockpit, the 2020 Passat needed the new steering wheel design seen on the Atlas Cross Sport and the 2021 Atlas, the new "digital" Volkswagen logo, and a few more advanced driver assistance features seen on its competitors. Would it be great if Volkswagen would develop its own version of the Blind Spot View Monitor seen on Hyundai, Kia, and Honda models? Oh, that would require having the Digital Cockpit to incorporate that feature…
On the other hand, my SEL tester were equipped with a set of tires from a manufacturer I have never heard of. Based in Singapore, Giti is a relatively new tire company that opened up a plant in South Carolina to be a source for original manufacturer equipment. The surprise was how well these tires performed on the 2020 Passat SEL. They were whisper quiet on smooth surfaces. On rougher tarmac, they actually were quieter than some other OEM tires I experienced on other vehicles – including the Passat.
All of this points to one thing: You cannot ignore the Volkswagen Passat as a great family sedan or a car that will take you places in your life and career. The spacious interior, powerful engine, and smooth driving quality are all reasons to consider this. They are also the exact reasons why I love driving the Volkswagen Passat.
Sometimes you need a car that you can get away from the insanity and stress of life. May I suggest the 2020 Volkswagen Passat?
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America
All photos by Randy Stern