Virtuous: The 2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL

The current unfashionability of the four-door family sedan is a sad thing. First, because its replacement, the SUV, is often larger and thirstier than necessary and not as much fun to drive, and second, because a sedan must be such a standout in order to simply justify attention. Quiet competence and value for money are seemingly not enough anymore. And let's face it---those were the benchmarks for family sedans.

Volkswagen was late to that party---a few model cycles behind Toyota Camry and Honda Accord---and now that they're taking down the streamers, with Camry and Accord having eaten most of the cake, the Passat hits its peak, delivering streamlined good looks, competitive performance and solid fuel economy, even tasteful Teutonic luxury of the type Mercedes-Benz made its reputation on in the early part of this century, at a price below that of the Japanese standard-bearers.

Under the hood is a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 174 horsepower and 206 pounds-per-foot of torque (up 22 from last year). The Passat is front-wheel drive and the only available transmission is a six-speed automatic, but with a new torque converter for 2020. Zero to 60 happens in 7.8 seconds, which is in the ballpark with Camry and Accord. The EPA fuel economy estimate is a bit weaker than Toyota and Honda, at 23 city/34 highway.

Passats start as low as $22,995, but our test vehicle was the top-of the-line SEL. Base price is $31,095. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see the full list, but among the things that extra $8,100 buys adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, remote start, a sunroof, leather seating surfaces, a Fender premium audio system and park distance control.

And because the 2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL is a one-price deal, that's it. Apart from $920 destination charge, there's no additional cost. So the as-tested price comes to $32,015.

In this trim, with Tourmaline Blue Metallic paint and Shetland Beige Vienna leather interior, the 2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL does a convincing impression of a much more expensive car---evoking the restrained luxury of, say an early 2000s Mercedes E-Class. At $32,015, that's what makes the Passat a standout.

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