2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Review by David Colman + VIDEO
Sluggish but nice
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Ten years ago, the future of the Passat looked bright and promising. VW had just started production of their premium sedan in Tennessee. The top model available at the time was the SEL Premium powered by a 3.6 liter V6 good for 280hp. Fast forward to 2020, and the top Passat is still called an SEL, but instead of that sparkling V6 under the hood, today's SEL makes do with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine producing a comparatively meager 174hp. Since the latest Passat weighs 3,325lbs - 140lbs. more than the decade old model - you don't have to be a mathematical whiz to determine that the newest SEL is way off the performance mark set by this same model a decade ago. In fact, the 2020 SEL posts an uninspiring power-to-weight ratio of 19.1 lbs/hp compared to the 2011 model's scintillating 11.3lbs/hp.
The lethargy manifests itself in the current Passat's reluctance to accelerate with real authority. Today's SEL labors to reach freeway speed from an on-ramp unless you play games with the gearbox. VW has not made that chore any easier since the Passat is not equipped with paddles at the steering wheel. So here's the alternate sequence available to you when maximum acceleration in required: slide the floor shift stick to the far right to engage the manual mode gate and bump the stick towards you for a lower gear and away from you for a higher gear. VW's Tiptronic provides 6 of them. You will discover that even though you have selected a gear with the intent of remaining there, the Passat will automatically upshift to a higher gear whenever the tachometer reaches 5500rpm. But at least you can depend on retaining your gearing choice if you keep the revolutions below 5500rpm. It's not a perfect workaround, but it beats the alternative of leaving the selector in Drive and accepting the transmission's tepid upshift choices.
Ensconced in the cabin of this Passat, you will instantly notice that VW has upped their game in this sedan. The leather seats up front are notably supportive and comfortable, while the 60/40 folding back bench seat offers commodious leg room as well as good support. Expanses of pliant vinyl door and dash covering are visually elevated by insertions of wood grained material that looks elegant and subtle. In fact, VW seems to have transplanted the simple beauty of the new Arteon without resorting to the more garish finish level of that model. The Passat SEL cockpit is well developed for long stays. We learned that lesson when we took a new Passat cross country some years back and found it to be a reliable and comfortable long distance chaperon. The newest SEL version builds on those inherent strengths with a long list of improvements, including heated front and rear seats, dual front and rear reading lights, ambient interior lighting, and USB charging ports for second row passengers as well as front seat occupants.
Unfortunately, just as our week with the Passat began, the "limited time trial subscription" to SiriusXM Satellite Radio expired, so we were never able to explore the Fender Premium Audio System with Subwoofer that is standard on the SEL. However, we did experience VW's Climatronic Dual Zone automatic climate control, which worked expeditiously on 90 degree days, and was operable with clear cut, free standing control buttons that obviate the need to get into menu acrobatics on the color multi-function display screen. We were also impressed with the accuracy and smoothness of the cruise control system and noted with some surprise that VW offers you 5 rather than the usual 3 options for distance spacing from traffic ahead of you.
The top SEL model we drove supplies 18 inch alloy rims as opposed to the 17 inch wheels fitted to SE and SEL models of the Passat. If you select the sportiest Passat, the R-Line, VW fits 19 inch alloys. Our test SEL was fitted with 235/45R19 Giti Comfort tires carrying a wear rating of TW 700. Since Giti tires were new to me I discovered that they came from a Singapore based company which supports an all-female VW GTI race team in European sedan contests. But the race connection is just incidental, because the TW 700 tires fitted to our test Passat were the hardest rated street tires I have yet encountered. They tended to squeal at the slightest provocation.
In addition to the $31,095 SEL, VW offers several less expensive variants of this sedan, including the S ($22,995) and the SE ($25,845), while the R-Line retails for $28,645. No matter which model you choose, you're stuck with that 174hp motor which is standard across the model line. If you need more propulsive excitement than this package provides, look to the Golf or Arteon instead of the current Passat.
2020 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 2.0T SEL
ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline 4, 16 valve, DOHC, intercooled and turbocharged, direct injection
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 23MPG City/34MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $32,015
HYPES: Well Organized Interior
GRIPES: Down On Power
STAR RATING: 7 Stars out of 10