When is a new car really new? That question might be on the minds of new-car buyers as they scope out the 2020 Volkswagen Passat.
The Passat could be called a second-tier midsize sedan, meaning it falls below the line in popularity compared with top-rung models such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and the Nissan Altima. But with increasing preferences for utility vehicles, few if any of these class members are experiencing upticks in sales.
For the Passat’s first redesign of any significance since the 2012 model year, VW has chosen to rework the car in subtle ways. Most body panels, including the hood, fenders and door-panel skins, are new, and the headlights and taillights are more elegantly shaped. But what’s most noticeable is the enlarged and aggressive-looking grille as well as the swept-back roofline that Volkswagen now considers “coupe-like.”
The net effect is a sedan that’s more attractive while still retaining its longstanding understated appearance.
Revisions to the Passat’s passenger compartment are a bit more obvious. There’s a new control panel that looks decidedly high style. Only the gauges and the driver-information screen interrupt the ventilation outlets, which extend ribbon-like across the full width of the dashboard. A new glass-covered 6.3-inch touch-screen (on the smallish side in this class) comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Beneath the sheetmetal, the Passat remains unaltered, unlike the versions sold in Europe and China that are built using VW’s latest MBQ platform. So it’s no surprise that all key measurements — length, width, trunk room and distance between the front and rear wheels — closely mirror those of the outgoing sedan.
Most sedans in the Passat’s class offer two or more powertrain options (including hybrid choices) and some even make all-wheel-drive available. The Passat offers only a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that makes 174 horsepower. For 2020, there’s a new torque converter for the transmission plus software updates for the engine’s electronic controls. Torque output increases to 206 pound-feet from 184.
Carrying over is the six-speed automatic transmission that directs power to the front wheels.
Fuel economy is rated at 10.2 l/100 km in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 8.7 combined.
The base Passat Comfortline starts at $29,000 in Canada, including destination charges. It comes with just the basics including air conditioning, heated front seats and a few power-operated items.
The Highline adds dual-zone climate control, leatherette upholstery (instead of cloth) and power trunk lid and 17-inch wheels (16-inch wheels are standard.
On the safety front, the Highline also gets automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection plus blind-spot monitoring that alerts when other vehicles are approaching from the rear in adjacent lanes.
The Execline ($38,400) tops out with power sunroof, power passenger seat and heated rear seats (all seats are leather covered), automatic high-beam headlights, navigation and premium six-speaker Fender-brand audio. In addition, 19-inch wheels are standard.
Execline buyers also get lane-keeping assist plus adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance to the vehicle in front and adaptive headlights that pivot as the Passat turns.
Paddle shifters and a rear spoiler are Execline options, along with an R Line package. It includes a unique grille, rear spoiler, brushed stainless steel pedals and aluminum door sills.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the Volkswagen Passat is considered entirely new or merely revised. As well, the lack of a hybrid or an all-wheel-drive option might not be of great concern.
What counts most is the sedan’s style, roominess, content, economy of operation and reasonable price point. With these virtues, the Passat stands a better chance of ending up in more driveways.
What you should know: 2020 Volkswagen Passat
Type: Front-wheel-drive midsize sedan
Engine (h.p.): 2.0-litre DOHC I-4, turbocharged (174)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Domestic automakers have curtailed the midsize-sedan class (Ford’s is abandoning it completely), but the remaining players continue to introduce significantly new or revised models as they battle for market share.
Points: Modest redesign departs only slightly from the previous model. • New interior styling adds more high-tech accessories. • Base turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes more torque than before, but falls short of most competitors’ outputs. • Lack of performance, hybrid options and AWD could limit buyer interest.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt); pedestrian detection (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 10.2/6.9; Base price (incl. destination) $29,000
Base price: $25,250
Top-selling sedan offers four-cylinder and V-6 options. AWD now available.
Base price: $23,000
One of only two remaining midsize domestic sedans. Hybrid is gone for 2020.
Base price: $25,000
New-for-2019 model comes with turbo and non-turbo I-4 engines. AWD is available.
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-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media