2021 Volkswagen Passat Review

2021 Volkswagen Passat - A simple sedan that offers comfort, affordability, and no-nonsense tech.


Volkswagen has been building the Passat sedan in various forms that date back to 1973. Now in it's eight generation, it's looking like this may be the final version of the Passat before production is expected to cease in 2023. The Passat is a four-door, five-passenger mid-size sedan that is offered with one engine option amidst three trim levels. New for 2021 is a simplified lineup that consists of the S, SE, and R-Line models. Also new is the addition of Adaptive Cruise Control as a standard feature. Prices start at $23,995 for the base S model and can climb to starting price of $31,385 for the top R-Line trim.  

The Passat was most recently re-freshed for the 2020 model year with updated exterior and interiors. Up front, the Passat features a large horizontal grille flanked by LED headlights. The updated grille and fascia have been softened from the previous model. The Passat's hood is also sculpted to include four prominent character lines that give the car some dimension. The side profile features a more coupe-like roofline with a more curvaceous b-pillar. Proportions remain good with a wide stance and even overhangs both in front and back of the wheel arches. Around back, Passat is spelled out across the decklid and LED taillights provide a very Volkswagen-esque lighting signature.

The Passat comes with a variety of wheel options that all look good on the sedan, but I have to give a special credit to the 19" R-Line wheels. The 5-spoke two-toned machined alloys really give this vehicle some needed spice and remind me of ones available on various Audi models. In addition to the wheels, R-Line models add a more aggressive front-end treatment with C-signature air intakes in gloss black and chrome badging on the front fenders. Now sitting at the top of the model lineup, the R-Line offers more features and infotainment than the 2020 R-Line. The aforementioned wheels along with other features such as a unique front bumper, black window surrounds, power sliding sunroof, heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, R-line door sill protectors, V-tex leatherette seating surfaces and more are all standard on the R-line models. Passat R-Line models start at $31,385 (with destination charge) and there are only a few options you can add such as remote start, a rear lip spoiler, a higher end red metallic paint and some misc accessories. Fully equipped and then some, the Passat is a good value in the low $30k range.

Also improved in 2020 was the Passat's powertrain. All models come with a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that generates 174 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque. The engine is powered by a 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic shifting and steering-wheel mounted paddles on R-Line models. The numbers here are somewhat disappointing when compared to sister models such as the Jetta GLI (228 HP) and the Arteon (268 HP). That said, even without some of the oomph that most VWs offer off the line, the Passat still handles like most other VWs which is very well.

The ride is a bit firmer than some competitors and steering is pretty nimble for a larger sedan. Most notably, the Passat is quiet which means you better pay attention to the speedometer because you might wind up going faster than you think. The suspension is smooth and absorbs bumps on the road and the body remains stable during quick turns. The Passat lacks the excitement found in competitors like the Mazda6 but still performs well enough to have a decent ride quality.

EPA-estimated fuel economy for the Passat is 24 MPG in city driving, 36 MPG on the highway and 28 MPG combined. With a full 18.6-gallon tank of gas, drivers can expect a range of around 500 miles or more.  During my time with the Passat R-Line, I averaged 30 MPG in routine suburban driving.

Hopping inside, you'll immediately notice how roomy the Passat feels. The dashboard has a horizontal design with air vents stretched across the top of the dash above the infotainment screen. This design enhances the width of the car and gives it a very clean look. Drivers will face a traditional twin-dial set-up with a small information screen. This set-up has been used by Volkswagen for several years with minimal updates... I recall an almost identical one in my 2013 GLI.  

At the center of the dash and below the air vents is a standard 6.3-inch infotainment screen (an 8-inch screen is available on the R-Line).  The infotainment system includes one USB-A port, Bluetooth technology, and interfaces with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto. While not the most technically advanced amongst its competition, the system is easy to use. Traditional buttons for volume, tuning, and climate controls continue on across the lineup. This system is great for someone that desires an updated, but not overly technical digital system. The Passat offers all of your basic needs in a well-assembled utilitarian package. The materials continue to be a step above standard plastics and Volkswagen does a nice job maintaining a clean and conservative design.

Base model Passats come standard with cloth seats while SE and R-Line models upgrade to Volkswagen's V-Tex leatherette in a variety of colors. The seats were more on the firm side but still offered ample support and comfort. Heated front seats are standard on SE and R-Line models. Visibility is good from all angles and the adjustable seats should accommodate drivers of all sizes. Rear passengers have a lot of space and is one of the most spacious in the class. All three of my kids fit comfortably with one in a car seat.  The rear seatbacks also fold down to increase the overall cargo space. The trunk opens up to offer nearly 16 cubic feet of cargo space and seems to offer more room than some crossovers.

The Passat offers a variety of safety features standard that include six airbags, electronic stability control, automatic post-collision braking system, and an intelligent crash response system that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights if the car is involved in a collision. Standard driver assist features include forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and high beam control.  Passat has always done well in safety ratings and the 2020 model received a 5-star rating from NHTSA (2021 models have not been rated yet).

New Passat owners will also have the chance to utilize Volkswagen Car-Net which is a paid $99 annual subscription service that includes a variety of mobile features. Car-net includes information assistance, emergency assistance, automatic crash notification, ant-theft alert, and stolen vehicle locators which can add up to some additional insurance savings for owners. Other features include remote commands (remote start and lock/unlock doors), family guardian alerts (keep track of teen drivers), DriveView, and parking info (find available parking in urban areas). It also allows passengers to access the internet with up to four connected devices at 4G LTE enabled speed. Unlimited plans can be added to Verizon & T-Mobile customers for a $20/month fee.

With a respected history in the Volkswagen lineup, the Passat continues on a contender in the diminishing mid-size sedan segment. It offers a good value from its base trim up to the top-level R-Line. The overall package of safety, simple design, roomy interior, and good fuel economy make this a great option to consider. Current competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry.  The Passat seems to ride in the middle of the pack offering shoppers a no-nonsense, functional type of sedan at an affordable price.

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.