The Volkswagen Passat tends to be forgotten about compared to some of the other mid-sized sedans on the market, such as the Toyota Camry. The Camry is one of the best-selling cars in the segment, and there’s even a TRD trim and all-wheel drive available now. But the VW Passat got an update for the 2020 model year. Although, is that enough for it stay competitive?
VW Passat: specs and features
For 2020, the VW Passat is available in 4 trims: $22,995 S; $25,845 SE; $26,845 R-Line; and $31,095 SEL. The only engine available is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which puts out 174 hp and 206 lb-ft, and is linked to a 6-speed automatic. However, unlike the Toyota Camry, the Passat doesn’t offer AWD.
As Car and Driver explains, the 2020 VW Passat is essentially a majorly-refreshed version of the 2019 model. The sedan’s platform hasn’t actually changed since 2012. Instead, VW opted to improve the car’s design and standard features.
For 2020, the VW Passat receives LED headlights and taillights, and higher trims can spec Nappa leather and heated rear seats. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard across the board, though, as is blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and emergency braking.
Car and Driver recommends the Passat SE trim. This adds heated front seats, automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Picking the SEL, though, also gives you a larger 8” touchscreen (standard is 6.3”), as well as an upgraded audio system and the previously-mentioned leather and heated rear seats.
Toyota Camry: specs and features
The Toyota Camry, meanwhile, has 6 trims: $24,425 L; $24,970 LE; $26,170 SE; $29,455 XLE; $30,005 XSE; and $31,170 TRD. There is a Nightshade edition based on the SE, but it’s mostly just a cosmetics package. Also, the Camry offers more powertrain options than the Passat.
The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 203 hp and 184 lb-ft. However, the XLE and XSE can also be equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 301 hp and 267 lb-ft. The TRD is only available with the V6. Both engines are paired with an 8-speed automatic. AWD is an option for LE, SE, XLE, and XSE models, but only with the four-cylinder engine.
Finally, the LE, SE, and XLE can instead be ordered as hybrids, which combine the 2.5-liter engine with an electric motor to make a combined 208 hp. The hybrid models use a CVT.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board. So is Toyota’s advanced driver-assistance feature suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and forward-collision warning with emergency braking.
For those interested in some measure of spirited driving, the Toyota Camry TRD genuinely has something to offer, Car and Driver reports. And it’s better than in that respect than the larger Avalon TRD. However, a better match for the VW Passat SE is the Camry XLE, which offers quilted leather, heated front seats, and a larger 8” touchscreen.
Passat vs. Camry: pros and cons
In terms of design, Carfax reports the 2020 update has given the VW Passat styling, inside and outside, on-par with lower-trim Audis. In contrast, Car and Driver notes the Toyota Camry’s exterior can be somewhat polarizing. And in terms of cost, the Passat also has the edge on the Camry. However, those cost-savings come, ironically, at a price.
Motor Trend called the 2020 VW Passat “a missed opportunity.” That’s because, elsewhere, the 2020 Passat rides on a completely updated platform. US customers, Throttle House muses, are interested more in value, especially in the shrinking sedan market. As such, the Passat is hampered in certain areas.
The Car Connection reports the Passat’s 6-speed transmission feels clunky in its shifts. And although there are some nice materials in the fairly spacious cabin, there are also significantly more hard plastics than in the Camry. In addition, to get an 8” touchscreen in the Passat requires stepping up to the SEL. You could get a Toyota Camry XLE with AWD for about the same price, and it would have a better interior. Also, a larger trunk; Car and Driver reports VW removed trunk space to add backseat room.
The Toyota Camry is no less comfortable than the Passat, although Car and Driver reports even the hybrid models are actually somewhat fun to drive. In addition, both The Car Connection and Consumer Reports ranked the VW Passat below the Camry in their tests. CR also reports the Camry is more reliable than the Passat.
Which should you buy?
To be sure, the VW Passat is not a bad sedan. And if you need a comfortable, quiet, inexpensive sedan, the Passat has a lot to offer.
However, between the Toyota and VW, the Camry is overall the better vehicle.
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