2020 Volkswagen Passat prototype first drive: New sedans are still coming

While other companies are abandoning cars altogether in favor of sales-stomping trucks and SUVs, Volkswagen is giving an industrial-strength makeover to its sedan-flagship Passat. It won’t be a completely new car — the platform and the drivetrain will remain the same — but the exterior and interior are redesigned and all-new.

Why do this, you ask? Why not dump massive R&D dollars into something that will become a really all-new Passat from the wheels up? For one thing, even at VW, sedan sales are shrinking. The Passat is down 33 percent this year and dropped 6 percent the year before. Sales went from 73,002 in 2016 to 60,722 last year and just 38,285 year-to-date as of the end of November. But cars are still capable of profitability.

“The B sedan segment is still quite a large segment,” said Kai Oltmanns, manager of product marketing for the Passat. “It’s not as big as it was three or four years ago, but it’s still quite large. We think we can still get quite a large chunk out of the segment, especially with Ford leaving and maybe GM leaving.”

So to get that large chunk, VW redid almost “everything the customer sees,” from the exterior to the dashboard design. Only the roof remains of the previous model, at least on the outside.

What does it look like? Hard to say. That schizophrenic black and white exterior camo sent my eyeballs reeling. It looks like there’s a sort of raised hood and decklid, suggesting a roomy interior and plenty of trunk space. The wheels look quite interesting — have you seen the Isle of Man logo, the wheel with three legs each bent at the knee? This pattern looks like that but with five legs sticking out, like it’s kicking your keister all day long. Have a look at the photos and see if you can determine whether you like the new exterior.

Inside, the proto-Passat was covered with more camo, but I raised some of it to reveal a dash-wide vent-looking pattern that was only real vents for portions of it, so this is not like a Model 3. I couldn’t see much more and maybe VW wasn’t ready to show it. I’m sure it’ll look fine inside.

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