2020 Volkswagen Passat gets a conservative redesign, but brings lots of value to a tough sedan market

The eroded car market is partially to blame. But it’s also a result of relentless competition. Midsize sedan heavy hitters Honda and Toyota have been busy. The archrivals completely remade their cars for 2018. As a result, both the Accord and Camry went from simply good machines to great ones. The very next year Nissan launched a new Altima. And for 2020, Hyundai has redesigned the Sonata. Both are excellent.
After eight years on the market, it was time for the Passat to get a refresh, too. But instead of launching a completely new car, VW decided to restyle the old one. The wheelbase, as well as most of the major dimensions, stays the same. Only the length grows slightly, by less than 2 inches, thanks to the new bumpers. The company says every piece of metal on the outside is new except for the A-pillar and roof.
The chassis remains exactly the same as the outgoing Passat, as does the powertrain. Raise that new hood and you’ll find the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that’s been in place since 2018. It generates the same 174 hp at 5,200 rpm, but torque rises from 184 lb-ft to 206 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm—a solid 12 percent increase. That 2.0-liter is paired once again to a six-speed automatic. And the sportiest R-Line models receive steering-wheel paddle shifters. In a world where automakers in this class are offering eight-, nine- and 10-speed transmissions, the Passat’s gearbox seems antiquated. And that might be a factor in the car’s mediocre fuel economy: The 2020 Passat is estimated to deliver 23 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway. Compared to the Toyota Camry four-cylinder (29 mpg city, 41 mpg highway) and the 1.5-liter Honda Accord CVT (30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway), and the Passat is clearly coming up a little short.