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2021 Volkswagen Passat Trim Levels with Comparisons & Configurations.

2021 Volkswagen Passat Trim Levels, Configurations & Comparisons: S vs SE & R-Line
Reviewed & fact checked by
James Murdoch

What 2021 Volkswagen Passat Trim Level Should you Buy? What is the Difference Between Trims?

The 2021 Volkswagen Passat might not be your first choice for a new sedan, but if you can look past its slightly outdated appearances, then you might find that you can appreciate a lot of things about the Passat. Quiet, comfortable, and well-cushioned throughout, the Passat caters to the everyday driver who just wants to relax while they get from Point A to Point B. Really, who needs the extra stress while driving anyway?

If you like the idea of a worry-free ride, then the Passat's plethora of driver aids should suit your needs. The Passat comes with all sorts of driver aids, ranging from blind spot monitoring to adaptive cruise control. Volkswagen has been working at hammering out some tech issues with these features, so 2021's line-up will hopefully be as hassle-free as possible.

The list of standard infotainment features might be appealing to you too. Smartphone app integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes equipped, so you can easily sync up your favorite apps and use them while you drive. There are plenty of music options, and you even get a CD player built into the car! That's a rarity among new vehicles, so if you still like popping CDs in and rockin' out, you can do that in the Passat. Of course, you can still use the audio system or your smartphone too. The only real drawback to the system are the voice controls, which come off as being a bit finicky. You will also have to deal with a touchscreen that is smaller than what you find in many of the Passat's competitors.

All three of the Passat's trim levels (the base S, the SE, and the R-Line) are powered by a 2.0-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates a power output of 174 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes equipped. There are independent front MacPherson struts as well as an independent rear 4-link suspension, plus you get variable assistance with the electromechanical power steering on each trim.

The one thing that we have to warn you about with this powertrain is that the driving performance is not that enthralling, nor is it meant to be. It is practical in some ways, but with an EPA estimate of 27 mpg combined (based on 23 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway), the Passat still lags behind quite a few of its rivals. However, real-world tests have shown that the Passat can average about 30 mpg combined based on your driving style, which is better than some of the similarly-equipped vehicles in this segment. So, realistically, the Passat is kind of a toss-up. Do you want power or practicality? You can't have both here.

That being said, there are three trim levels to choose from, and each one has different features to offer. Let's go through them and see which one might have the right features to meet your unique needs. In the end, we will let you know which 2021 Volkswagen Passat trim level we think offers the average buyer the best deal.

Compare the 2021 Volkswagen Passat S vs SE Trims. What is the difference?

As we already mentioned above, the VW Passat gives you a standard 2.0L TSI, 16-valve, DOHC, inline 4-cylinder turbo engine across the line-up. We want to add that this engine comes with an intercooler and direct fuel injection. Also, the 6-speed automatic transmission comes with Sport mode and Tiptronic. Performance-wise, though, there isn't a whole lot else worth mentioning.

On the outside, the S trim level comes equipped with 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels. It also has a Coming/Leaving Home feature that accompanies the automatic LED projector headlights. There are also LED daytime running lights and LED taillights equipped for clear visibility while driving in the dark. The side mirrors are power-operated, heated, and come with a built-in memory function.

The S's interior comes complete with 6-way manually adjustable front comfort seats, and the upholstery is done in a cozy cloth material. The gear shift knob and steering wheel are wrapped in leather, and the steering wheel is multi-functional with controls for audio and cruise control settings mounted on top of it for easy access. A manual air conditioning system and premium color Multifunction Display (MFD) come equipped.

With regard to passive and active safety features, those compose a fairly standard list. VW gives you an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD), and Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA) for starters. You also have anti-slip regulation, electronic stability control, traction control, an electronic differential lock, and engine brake assist. Add to that the Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS), a rear-view camera system, front and rear Side Curtain Protection head air bags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Tech-wise, the S has a respectable list of standard features. This base trim starts its buyers off with adaptive cruise control, App-Connect, a blind spot monitoring system with a rear cross traffic alert, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, and a CD player that accompanies the Composition Media touchscreen sound system (with an included AM/FM/HD radio system, proximity sensor, and SD memory card reader). Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (which VW labels Front Assist) comes standard, as does Pedestrian Monitoring (which is included in the Front Assist bundle). One USB port can be found up front. A 3-month trial subscription to SiriusXM All Access comes standard, as does Volkswagen Car-Net.

So, what does the next level up (the SE) add? Quite a bit, actually. The exterior upgrades you to larger 18-inch five-spoke, duo-tone alloy wheels with a machined finish, windshield wipers that can automatically sense rain, and a sunroof that is both power sliding and tilting.

Inside, the driver's seat gets upgraded to 8-way power adjustability with power lumbar support built in for extra comfort. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror gets added, and the Climatronic dual-zone automatic climate control gets swapped in over the manual A/C system. The front seats receive standard heating, and the upholstery gets upgraded to V-Tex leatherette instead of cloth.

The standard tech features list gets beefed up a bit too. It sees the addition of two rear USB charging ports, a push button start with the remote keyless entry system, Lane Keeping System (which VW simply calls Lane Assist), and remote start.

Compare the 2021 Volkswagen Passat SE vs R-Line Trim. What is the difference?

The R-Line kicks things up a notch with even bigger wheels - to be more precise, the R-Line gets 19-inch five-spoke, duo-tone machined wheels made in alloy metal to ride around on. A corner illuminating feature accompanies the adaptive lighting system, and there is a sport valance for the rear. Of course, this is VW's sporty R-Line trim, so it gets the R-Line badging and unique design on the front bumper.

Inside of its cabin, the R-Line gets some changes as well. Ambient lighting sets the mood throughout the cabin, and there are special door sill protectors with the R-Line logo emblazoned on them. The infotainment system gets upgraded to the Discover Media touchscreen navigation system, and High Beam Control (which VW refers to as Light Assist) gets added into the mix.

The R-Line is now the line-topping trim level for the Volkswagen Passat. If you have bought a Passat in the past, you might be wondering whatever happened to the formerly line-topping SEL trim. Well, VW said "good riddance" to it for 2021. This explains why some of its former features have been swapped around. The Discover Media infotainment system used to be exclusive to the SEL, but now it comes exclusively on the R-Line. The Fender Sound System seems to have been obliterated from the list of standard features offered on the Passat. It was standard on the SEL and was a stand-out in terms of its superb sound quality.

The truth of the matter is that the R-Line is now the line-topping trim level since the SEL was considered to be such a flop. For its price, the amount of features and powertrain performance just didn't make it attractive. And the outdated-looking cabin did not help matters. So, yes, now buyers are left with the still-outdated R-Line trim level as the line-topper for the Passat.

 Which Trim to Choose?

If we had to make an educated guess, we would say that the Passat will be gone from the United States market within the next few years, In fact, reports are now estimating that, by 2023, the Passat will be a sedan of the past. Sales from SUVs like the Atlas indicate that buyers are trending more toward those segments. With Volkswagen aiming to replace the Passat with the all-electric ID.4 crossover in 2023, it's now-or-never for buying a Passat.

Since Passats are being phased out on the US market, we do not suspect that too many people will be interested in buying them. The demand just is not there anymore, and VW has struggled to keep up with the times despite some generous offerings of standard infotainment features and driver aids. The demand trends toward SUVs and more eco-friendly crossovers.

However, if you do have your heart set on buying a 2021 Volkswagen Passat, we would like to suggest going middle-of-the-road on this one and buying the SE trim level. The base S trim level is fairly typical for a base trim, but it is really too bare-bones for most buyers. For just a few thousand dollars above its MSRP, buyers can get the SE's multiple upgrades and additions. The power-adjustable driver's seat is definitely something we recommend having since it makes finding the right driving position all the easier to do. The V-Tex simulated leather upholstery is also an exceptional upgrade over the standard cloth that comes inside of the S.

The SE strikes the right balance of features for the cost. The S has too few to really justify its price tag, and the R-Line is more about trying to craft a sporty design but does not go far enough in doing so for us to safely call it a 'sporty' trim level. The engine is about as far from sporty as it gets, and the feature upgrades are mainly cosmetic.

Be on the lookout for changes to come for Volkswagen in general - and the Passat in particular - within the next few years. There are large shifts in supply and demand happening right now, and the Passat is up on the chopping block. The 2021 Volkswagen Passat does have some good things going for it. It is comfortable to ride around in, and sticking with the SE trim level gets you a fair amount of standard features for the cost. Its fuel economy is decent enough too, although we suspect that buyers might look at other sedan that put out higher EPA estimates than the Passat.

Used 2021 Volkswagen Passat:
Previous Volkswagen Passat Trim Configurations:

Compare the 2020 Volkswagen Passat Trim Levels