The 2021 VW Arteon Is A Good Sedan You Probably Didn't Know Existed
VW's middle child sedan is actually the one you should want.
Volkswagen is making some good cars these past few years, even if they don't leap off the page like some of the competition. I enjoyed the updated--and often overlooked--Atlas SUV I tested last summer, and still think the Mk7 GTI is one of the best affordable fun cars you can buy. As an upgrade over and replacement of the sporty coupe-like VW CC, the Arteon slips into its halo spot above both the compact Jetta sedan and the midsized Passat. The Arteon competes with the Acura TLX (which I reviewed not long ago), Infiniti's Q50, and the Kia Stinger.
The trouble for most people--even among those in the car enthusiast community--is that they haven't even heard of the Volkswagen Arteon. This is unfortunate as, even at a quick glance, you can tell there's something a bit cooler about the Arteon than its beige VW sedan siblings. The lines are sharper, it looks more upmarket, and the sportback rear end makes for more flexible storage space. To find out what VW's halo sedan was all about, I gave it a thorough test.
The Useful Numbers
Like nearly every other Volkswagen on sale, the tried and true 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gets stuffed under the Arteon's hood, but in this case it pumps out a healthy 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque. The Arteon is offered in three trim levels--SE, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line--and for my review, I had the well-equipped base model SE. VW offers the Arteon SE with front-wheel-drive, SEL trims are FWD with 4Motion all-wheel-drive available, and the only transmission is an 8-speed auto.
Exterior dimensions for the Arteon include an overall length of 191 inches, a 73-inch width, and a height of 57. Wheelbase is 112 inches, track front and rear are 62 inches, and the Arteon's curb weight starts at 3,696 pounds (1,672 kilos) for the front-drive model and the 4Motion AWD is 3,955 pounds (or 1,794 in the Queen's English). Arteon's measurements are nearly the same as a VW Passat, but it weighs in nearly 300 pounds heavier.
For 2021, Volkswagen gave the exterior a refresh, and added more tech and safety features to the Arteon. There's also more refinement inside the cabin, to help justify the bump in price. Pricing for the SE trim Arteon starts at $36,995, with the SEL R-Line at $41,595 for the FWD model and an $1,800 upgrade for 4Motion, and the top-level 4Motion-only SEL Premium R-Line asks for $46,995 of your hard-earned money. These figures all are without VW's $1,195 destination charge.
No branding on the engine cover. That's odd.
A Reasonably Fun Daily Driver
Volkswagen provides a good driving experience in the Arteon, even in the base FWD form. Ride quality is just responsive enough and avoids any dullness, with a hint of sharpness through a somewhat light steering setup. The turbo boost has imperceptible lag, and the peak torque hits at just 1,950 RPM, so you can always bolt the Arteon ahead with ease. Gearshifts are quick and smooth, and even though it has front-wheel-drive, VW throws in its dynamic chassis control to make the Arteon handle like a sport sedan. Whether you're scooting around the city or sprinted off to a good twisty route, you'll enjoy your time behind the Arteon's wheel.
Cabin appointments in the Arteon are just above what you get in the lesser VW models. Some may see it as basic without taking a deeper look, but the overall interior theme is tidy yet cool. Space is plentiful in the Arteon too. The sportback rear hatch gives what looks like a midsized sedan some massive storage space too. Outside the 18-inch base wheels look good, and the upper trim levels go with stylish 19s or 20s.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 22/32/25 (city/highway/combined) for the front-drive Arteon, and you only give up one tick for opting for 4Motion. Paired with a massive 18-gallon tank, you can easily cover over 500 miles on a tank, and could get closer to 600 if you're gentle with the go pedal.
Volkswagen's infotainment system is a bit simple in look and feel, but the apps are decent, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed. 2021 Arteon models get Volkswagen's Digital Cockpit, enhanced voice recognition, USB-C charging, an upgraded navigation system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and SiriusXM standard. If you want a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, and extra safety systems, you'll need to bump up your trim level.
The High Points
Where the Arteon holds an advantage over its VW sedan siblings is in the looks department, as the sportier grille, lower swept roof, and high belt line match up nicely with the long wheelbase. That extra long wheelbase lends itself to some great rear seat legroom too. The flatter Urano Gray paint didn't do many favors for the Arteon, but the shape will probably look even sharper with a good metallic shade.
Crossovers beg for the sort of cargo volume the Arteon offers. Popping open the hatch allowed me to stash a good dose of luggage, including a bag that is way bigger than a carryon, with plenty of room to spare. The back seats fold down too, should you need to tuck even more stuff inside the Arteon.
The Arteon's updated interior flows with sharp, stylized pieces, and Climatronic Touch--which is VW's name for cooler sliders and haptic controls rather than buttons to adjust the climate control--is clean and gives the Arteon a couple extra functional style points. I like the two-tone gray and black seating colors too. Volkswagen's digital cockpit makes for comprehensive data in the instrument cluster, with a bunch of layout options and the ability to have your navigation system dominate the cluster.
Look at all that space.
Not As Wonderful Things
For all the features I praise in the Volkswagen Arteon, there are a couple tiny gripes. I get that I tested the base model, but in any halo model, leatherette shouldn't look as cheap as it does in the Arteon. The little perforations look quite basic, and could benefit from some cooler stitching or hole pattern. Those seats just don't cut it in a car that starts at $37,000.
Because of the more spartan infotainment theme, the native app buttons all sport the same color and appearance, so you have to take your eyes off the road to make sure you select the correct one. A little dose of haptic feedback would be nice when using the physical buttons along the sides of the touchscreen too.
The glovebox must have been an afterthought, as the normally-sized manuals and folio don't fit inside it. You either have to toss the folio in the door pocket--where it still doesn't really fit--or leave the books at home. There isn't a place in the trunk for them.
Give this VW Sedan Some Respect
Volkswagen did a good job in packaging the Arteon as a premium sedan that's appealing to drivers in a time when hardly any buyers are putting them in their driveway. Not everyone wants to avoid a crossover by getting a hot hatch that's a ton of fun for the money, like you get in the GTI, nor do they want a basic and bland midsized sedan that gets lost in the crowd. I'm glad this German marque is still making good sedans, and the Arteon should get more attention.
The Arteon hits a sweet spot as a smart-sized sportback sedan, but sadly VW didn't do a great job marketing it. Everyone outside of my car reviewing colleagues had no clue what this was when I shared shots of it during my test, and that's a damn shame. If you're looking for a well-equipped, not boring, and enjoyable sedan, the Arteon is a good buy.