The 2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line falls short of sporty

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The Volkswagen R badge stands for top-of-the-line performance. The brand’s R-Line models also sport R badges, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the real thing.

The 2020 Volkswagen Passat received a nip and tuck with an updated design and a streamlined lineup of powertrains, but it’s still the white bread of mid-size sedans.

The R-Line model spices things up with a sharper front end and 19-inch wheels, but it fails to be sporty in any meaningful way.

I spent a week with the 2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line getting groceries, hauling kids’ scooters, and social distancing. The following are the hits and misses I noted in my time with the car.

Hit: Look at those wheels

Most Passats ride on 17- or 18-inch aluminum wheels. The R-Line ditches those in favor of 5-spoke 19-inch aluminum wheels, which are the sportiest looking feature of the entire car. The larger wheels look terrific, don’t spoil the Passat’s ride, and aren’t too harsh on broken Midwest pavement. Thank you, Volkswagen, for not making these 20s.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Miss: Cheap tires

The upsized 19-inch wheels are wrapped in cheap Falken Sincera SN250A A/S 235/40R19 tires that give up grip quickly around a clover leaf. Falken isn’t a Tier 1 tire brand, and it’s disappointing to see Volkswagen cut costs where the rubber meets the road on a nearly $30,000 family sedan.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Hit: Sharp exterior

The exterior updates for 2020 do the Passat a few favors. It’s more crisply detailed with a clean overall look. The R-Line gets gaping intakes on either side of the front bumper, but it’s all fake and filled in with black plastic. The upright chrome grille is more blunt and the hood has some shunt lines that grab the eyes. R-line fender badges cap things off with a jewelry-like look.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Miss: Cheap interior

Don’t expect to find Volkswagen’s 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system or digital gauge cluster here. The interior of the 2020 Passat suffers from some cheap, hard plastics and a small 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Thankfully, real buttons and knobs handle the climate control system. Still, the Passat’s cabin has the feel of a rental car from 2015.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Hit: Huge back seat

The rear seat of the 2020 Passat is perfect for Uber and Lyft duty. With 39.1 inches of rear leg room, it has plenty of space for a 6-footer to sit behind a 6-footer. Two kids can also ride comfortably in car seats, and they sit back far enough that they can’t kick the back of the front seat. Thank goodness.

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line

Miss: Lazy transmission

The 2020 Passat is down a few gears compared to the competition. While other mid-size sedans have 7-10-speeds, the Volkswagen makes do with just a 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s lazy, tuned for fuel efficiency, and requires deep stabs of the throttle to coerce downshifts. Putting the transmission into Sport mode makes the power easier to access. I recommend using Sport mode for city driving and the standard mode for the highway.

With a price of $29,565, the 2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line is well equipped with leatherette upholstery, 19-inch alloy wheels, forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. However, its touchscreen infotainment system screen is small, its tires are cheap, and it’s not sporty in the slightest despite that R-Line badge.

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2020 Volkswagen Passat R-Line
Base price: $23,915
Price as tested: $29,565
EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined
The good: Sharp exterior, sporty R-Line wheels, huge back seat, real buttons and knobs
The bad: Budget Tires, cheap interior plastics, lazy transmission

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Saurabh Shukla

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