When the last mid-size sedan buyer exits the showroom in favor of a crossover SUV, Volkswagen will be there to turn out the lights.
That’s the overriding thought about the 2020 VW Passat I drove in lightly camouflaged guise at the automaker’s proving grounds south of Phoenix.
The Sonoran Desert is full of surprises. VW’s engineers talked of finding frozen rattlesnakes that snuck into massive chambers that simulate cold-weather testing before the cooling systems were switched on.
The 2020 Passat, however, doesn’t hold many surprises.
Unlike the slew of new VWs to hit American roads over the last few years, it doesn’t take advantage of the automaker’s modular structure called MQB. The new Passat really isn’t all that new. Its bones are shared with the outgoing model, which hit the market for the 2011 model year nearly a decade ago.
2020 Volkswagen Passat prototype first drive - December 2018
There’s good news, though. The outgoing Passat is light on personality, but not on refinement. It’s quiet, spacious, priced competitively, and has earned good scores in crash tests. The new model isn’t likely to change any of that.
In the dozen or so miles I drove on terrain ranging from loose gravel to a 114-mph sprint on a banked curve to an undulating paved surface inspired by the world’s worst roads, the 2020 Passat felt unphased. Its 2.0-liter turbo-4 elicited a mellow, distant thrum into the cabin even at triple-digit speeds. The 6-speed automatic shifted smoothly, a pleasant contrast against rivals that do less with more gears.
Last year, VW quietly snuck the latest version of its 2.0-liter turbo-4 under the Passat’s hood. A version of that engine returns as the sole option, boasting the same 174 horsepower as last year and 207 pound-feet of torque (up from 184 lb-ft). In my limited drive time in Arizona, the Passat seemed to accelerate briskly from a stop. VW estimated its curb weight won’t change much over last year’s roughly 3,300-pound figure, so the added torque is nothing to shrug at.
The Passat’s on-again, off-again relationship with VW’s V-6 engine is once again on hold, the automaker said.