Caraganza First Drive Review 2020 VW Passat: Doing the right thing

Imagine if you will, a world where we can’t drive, nor are there any places to drive to even if you could.  That has been life for many of us since the middle of March.  Yes, it sucks, but the quarantines many of us have had to endure are necessary according to most.

I’m lucky in that I normally work from home, and I still have a job.  Many don’t.  A large part of those unemployed include autoworkers.  And auto sales have suffered at historic levels.  Can’t buy something you can’t go out and actually get.  Sure, there are ways to still buy a car, but that isn’t even on the minds of many.

I have a weird sort of mindset when it comes to any sort of national emergency. Back when all the real estate was going bust, I was still employed and went out and bought a house.  Yes, I got a great deal and still live there, but I wanted to try and do my part to contribute to the economy.

Fast forward to now.

During normal times I get a brand-new car each week (sometimes two), to test and review. But these aren’t normal times. Those companies that deliver press fleets aren’t doing so on a regular basis right now.  That meant I had no new car for most of March and all of April.  No big deal, with the restrictions in place and with my preexisting conditions there was nowhere I actually wanted to drive.  Not that I could.

When my wife mentioned that it was perhaps time to replace our 2010 Mazda, the one with paint fading and over 130,000 miles on it, I knew she was right.  Not only because we need something, but since we are both still employed, we want to try and do the right thing.

What do get?

Well of course since I test and review cars for a living, the pressure fell on me.  I knew we weren’t going to get something that takes advantage of the insane finance offers that stretch out to the length of a mortgage.  Sure, those types of offers are nice at first glance.  But if you buy a car you couldn’t otherwise afford, when this all over, you’ll be stuck with a car you can’t afford. For a long time.

Many years ago, my wife taught me a valuable lesson.  Before I got married, I would buy a new car off the lot. She, on the other hand always bought something a year or two older, with just a few miles on it (less then 20,000). This saved a good chunk of money and got a car that was still in very good shape.

Good lesson there.

So, for the most recent search I started looking for cars that fit that criteria.  Saw a 2019 Mazda 3, good; a 2018 Camry, okay.

Then a week ago the phone rang.  VW was delivering me a 2020 Passat for a week as some of the car companies are starting to slowly open up.  Not only was I glad to have a new car to test, but I remembered that the last time I had a Passat (2018), I really liked it.


For 2020 VW did a bit of refresh on the exterior and did some updates on the interior.  They added a bit of torque under the hood and added some driving assistants and luxury features.

The 2020 is part of the same generation that debuted in 2012. For 2020 there are our trims levels: S, SE, R-Line and SEL.  Every level uses the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

My tester for the week was the top of the line SEL which has, among other things, leather upholstery, heated outboard rear seats, a memory function for the driver’s seat, an integrated navigation system, and a premium nine-speaker Fender sound system, among other things.

All trims are nicely appointed with standard features like a 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and standard safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

Now the Passat made for the American markets still rides on an old platform—unlike the Passat made for the Chinese and European markets, which are now built on VW’s much newer MQB architecture that shares a frame with the Golf.  But unless you are a performance enthusiast, you’ll never notice a difference.

The new exterior styling is subtle with new LED headlights, a more swooped line (VW calls it a “tornado line”) with a sleeker front grill.  The interior size is the same as it ever was (that’s a good thing), and with the revised front and rear bumpers the overall length is only 1.7 inches longer.  The SEL has 19-inch wheels, up from 17 on the base trims, and some new wheel designs for this year.

Speaking of the interior, one of the things I’ve always liked about the VW is the lack of clutter inside. That remains the same as the center stack remains untouched while the dash gets air vents that look a little like those in the higher end Arteon and the infotainment display is new.  It has a nice unassuming utilitarian look, that’s not overstated.

I did, of course, break quarantine to drive the Passat a bit. Okay, it wasn’t really an illegal defiance, more like a I-need-to-get-out-of-the-house-before-I-go-insane sort of thing. The 2.0-liter turbo-four makes the same 174 hp as last year but is up to 206 lb-ft of torque and on the road the Passat still has plenty of power, and the ride is smooth. The interior is quiet, easy to navigate, and a nice place to be.

The bottom line: the Passat is a definite player in the midsized sedan market.  Not the most expensive either. In fact, VW proudly trumpets that prices for the 2020 are actually down from 2019.

Thanks to VW we now have another car on our shopping list. In fact, after a week with it it’s now at the top. No, ours probably won’t a 2020, but seeing how the current generation has been around since 2012 and there seem to be no hints of a new generation, I think we’ll be okay.

And as a message to the rest of the world: we will be okay, again, some day.  Some day we’ll be able to drive, go back to work, and school and wherever.  For now, just hunker down, and try to do the right thing wherever you can.  For me, for us, that’s finding a new car for the driveway, not one for just a week, but forever.  Will it be a Passat? Who knows, but stay tuned that question will be answered very soon I suspect.

The 2020 VW Passat SEL
MSRP: $31,995
MSRP (as tested): 32,015
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 174 horsepower @5200 rpm. 206 lb-ft torque @1700 rpm
Transmission: 6 speed automatic w/overdrive
Fuel Mileage (EPA): 23 city, 34 highway, 27 combined
Fuel Mileage (mixed conditions): 26 mpg
Base curb weight: 3325 lbs.

Exterior Dimensions
Wheelbase (inches): 110.4
Length (inches): 193.6
Width, without mirrors (inches): 72.2
Height (inches): 58
Minimum Ground Clearance (inches): 5.4

Interior Dimensions
Passenger / Seating Capacity: 5
Total Passenger Volume (cubic feet): 102
Front Head Room (inches): 38.3
Front Leg Room (inches): 42.4
Front Shoulder Room (inches): 56.9
Second Row Head Room (inches): 37.8
Second Row Leg Room (inches): 39.1
Second Row Shoulder Room (inches): 57
Trunk Space (cubic feet): 15.9

4 Basic Years / 50,000 Basic Miles
4 Drivetrain Years / 50,000 Drivetrain Miles
7 Corrosion Years / 100,000 Corrosion Miles
3 Roadside Assistance Years / 36,000 Roadside Assistance Miles
2 Maintenance Years / 20,000 Maintenance Miles

Greg Engle