In a world full of spiffy new Honda Accords, Hyundai Sonatas and Toyota Camrys, the 2020 Volkswagen Passat kind of seems like a dud. It's got super old bones and that comes through in every part of the experience. But spin it another way and there's one way in which the Passat really, truly excels.
The 2020 Passat is the perfect car for ride-hailing drivers. It's got tons of room for passengers and a massive trunk for airport runs. It has hard-wearing leatherette seats and not especially luxurious carpets, so it'll be easy to keep clean. It gets decent gas mileage and also has a giant fuel tank, so its cruising range is epic. Imagine for a moment you're a driver for Uber or Lyft -- all of these qualities are desirable, right?
Let's break these qualities down in a bit more detail, beginning with the drivetrain. The 2020 Passat is only available with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is good for 174 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. You're not going to blow anyone's doors off with those numbers, but they move the midsize sedan around with sufficient confidence. The 2.0T is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which works well enough, though it's a little jerky at slow speeds.
Together, the engine and transmission help the Passat return 23 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The 34-mpg figure isn't all that impressive on its own, but combine it with an 18.5-gallon fuel tank and you can travel more than 600 miles between fill-ups; even factoring in some city driving, 500 miles per tank isn't too bad.
On the road, the Passat is kind of bouncy and not exceptionally forgiving of road bumps, though I'll chalk some of that up to the relatively large 19-inch wheels of this R-Line tester and the lowish profile 235/40-series tires. Overall, this isn't exactly a sporty car, but it's easy to drive, with easy-to-modulate brakes and light steering.
Inside, the Passat borders on massive. The back seats have 39.1 inches of legroom and 37.8 inches of headroom. The rear seats also have dual USB charging ports, which add to that ride-hailing appeal. Unfortunately, the interior isn't exceptionally quiet and there are a lot of cheap-feeling plastics used throughout the cabin. But again, at least it'll be easy to clean.
The leatherette seats in my tester are heated but not cooled and while they're comfortable enough on short drives, the lack of support doesn't really make me want to pile on the miles. I'm an outlier when it comes to size -- I'm 6-feet, 4-inches tall -- so your mileage may vary. Weirdly, though, on my R-Line tester, only the driver's seat is operated by power.
From an infotainment standpoint, the 2020 Passat isn't terrible. It's got a small, 6.3-inch screen and includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. My R-Line tester lacks the generally great Fender audio system found in other Passat models, but the base stereo will likely be fine for most buyers.
The instrument cluster isn't fancy and sadly lacks VW's digital cockpit technology, found in the Atlas, Jetta and Tiguan. There's a playing card-sized multifunction display between the analog gauges, which offers basic info like tire pressures, mileage, a digital speedometer and so on.
The Passat's roster of safety tech is competitive, but only on higher trims. The base car comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, but if you want adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, parking assist, park distance control or automatic high-beams, you have to step up to higher trims. In fact, those last three are only available on the range-topping SEL.
The 2020 Passat is relatively affordable at $23,915 to start, including $920 for destination. All loaded up, an SEL will set you back $32,015, which undercuts the price of other, similarly equipped sedans. But those other sedans offer better interiors, better driving dynamics and better standard safety tech, making them a far better value, even if they're more expensive.
If you want a car with great cruising range and a big back seat for your ride-hailing work, the 2020 Passat is for you. But if you're looking for a well-rounded midsize sedan with comfort, style and great on-road manners, you'll be much better served by one of this VW's fresher rivals.