- The Volkswagen Arteon is a flagship sedan that replaces the slow-selling CC.
- My test car was priced at an appealing $46,000, with numerous standard options.
- I liked the VW Arteon and think it’s a good deal with near-luxury four doors, but VW might find that getting US buyers interested could be challenging.
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Volkswagen is seriously getting its act together in the US market. After struggling for years with low market share and, more recently, dealing with the Dieselgate scandal that took out what was its only truly strong suit in America – peppy little oil-burners – the brand now has a spate of appealing vehicles.
The new Atlas SUV, a solid three-row offering, is at the top of the pile, the stalwart Jetta has been redesigned, and while small cars aren’t exactly all the rage in the US, the Golf lineup still offers fine options for anyone who wants performance and versatility in a modest, hatchback configuration.
The freshest Vee-Dub on the block is the 2019 Arteon, a fastback sedan that lives above the Passat in the German automaker’s hierarchy. VW flipped me the keys to this new flagship four-door, and I drove it around the New York-New Jersey are for a week, exposing it to a mix of suburban, urban, and highway driving.
The Arteon, which debuted in 2018, replaced the Volkswagen CC, an oddly obscure car that was in the stable for nearly a decade but that sold in notably low volumes. The problem for VW is that in the US, the company is known for small vehicles and has been since the glory days of the Beetle. The Atlas SUV has started to change that perception. But the business challenge for VW is to sell a large sedan in a market that isn’t interested in big four-doors.
We’ll have to see how it goes. Short-term, however, the key question is, “How good is the Arteon?”
$46,000 worth of well-optioned German engineering
It’s quite good. Obviously, you look at a $46,000 sedan (my as-tested price) from the VW Group, wearing the VW badge, and you wonder if it’s as good as a comparably-scaled Audi – say, the A5 or A6, perhaps even the A7 at a stretch.
My test car was a well-equipped Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium trim, with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, coming in a $45,000 before a destination charge added about a grand. That’s Audi-level pricing, so is the flagship VW worth it?
Honestly, I’d say the Audis are a better choice, but the truth is that the Arteon is aiming for a slightly different customer. The best analogy I could come up with was with Buick, GM’s near-luxury brand. That might sound like a diss of the VW’s aspirations, but it isn’t. If there’s a buyership for large sedans, this is what it expects. Sportiness and styling are less important that legroom, overall comfort, and ease-of-use. One winds up, invariably, in the less-well-known cul-de-sac of the near-luxe market, where you’ll also find vehicles such as the Toyota Avalon.
This segment is just kind of there. Unlike the plutocratic offerings from Mercedes-Benz – quasi-limos, really – this realm traditionally looks to capture old-school value buyers. Beyond that pitch, the cars themselves tend to have subtle flavorings, with the European marques offering sportiness and styling and, at the most American extreme, vehicles from Lincoln selling a nice, relaxing experience and a big trunk.
True, that sounds snoozy. But it’s actually hard to get this type of car right. Overdo the sportiness and you alienate the core customer. But sacrifice too much pep and you consign yourself as an automaker to selling the cars to an aging demographic.
The Arteon, to its credit, splits the difference perfectly. In my time behind the wheel, I didn’t think the Arteon did any one thing particularly well, but I looked forward to driving it, as I usually do these days with larger sedans that promise decent power and relatively gentle handling, alongside a smooth ride. The Arteon is, in a word, easy. To live with, to load up, and to take on a road trip.
Style and technology
My tester arrived in what has become a signature color for the lastest wave of VWs: “Kurkuma Yellow Metallic,” a shimmery mustard. The interior was a severe “Titan Black,” but the leather was primo and only the generally minimalist design prevented the Arteon from exuding a more plush vibe. The tech was prevalent but not showy. Infotainment runs off an eight-inch touchscreen, while the 700-watt Dynaudio premium audio system brings a subwoofer to the party and performs as well as any setup I’ve tested in a VW (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available).
The driver-assist features on my tester’s trim level were the usual mix of adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and so on. This feature set is becoming common on most luxury and near-luxury vehicles, depending on trim, so buyers have come to expect it. In my sampling, the VW meets expectations on this front. The presentation of info, both through the center touchscreen and on the digital instrument cluster, was excellent.
Under the hatch, I found about 23 cubic feet of cargo space, more than sufficient to handle grocery runs, shopping excursions, and luggage-hauling for weekend family getaways. Rear legroom was ample, and the curving, fastback roof didn’t create too many headroom issues, although taller adults might disagree.
The Arteon’s powertrain is a 2.o-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine yoked to an eight-speed automatic. The motor cranks out 268 horsepower, with power piped to the all-wheel-drive system. The engine is brisk, without much apparent turbo lag, zipping the Arteon to 60mph in around six seconds. Of the multiple drive modes, I spent the majority of my time with Normal, Comfort, and Eco. Sport jazzed everything up, but not enough to make it a fixation. If I owned the Arteon, I’d likely choose Comfort and Eco most of the time – the latter to capture as much of a 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined fuel economy as possible.
Like every VW, the made-in-Germany Arteon errs on the bracing side when it comes to driving; the suspension, steering, brakes, and throttle response have all be tuned to reward a swift spirit behind the wheel. Combined with the Arteon’s conservative yet sleek design – starting with a bold grille made up of aggressive vertical slashes and extending to a fastback rear that culminates in a dashing decklid spoiler – this makes for a compelling motoring experience that doesn’t have that butt-kicking quality so common now in cars that deliver horsepower numbers north of 350.
So what’s the verdict?
I genuinely enjoyed the Arteon. But would I buy one?
I would consider it. If you go Audi, you’ll get better driving dynamics, but less passenger and cargo space for the price. With Audi, you’ll also get more upmarket technology. As for build quality, I’d have to say it was about a dead heat in my evaluation; the Arteon is nicely crafted set of wheels.
The Buick Regal, to name a competitor, is also roomy and fun to drive, and I relished my time with it last year. It beats the Arteon on styling and infotainment tech, but the Arteon is a tad more luxurious. Other vehicles in the near-luxe, sorta-sporty segment are either too soft of a ride or too skimpy on the premium appointments to catch my eye, although the Kia Stinger is an interesting alternative if you want more of a full-on sport sedan.
The bottom line is that I’m glad we still have cars like the Arteon on the SUV-heavy US market. And I’m glad VW remains committed to the four-door platform. Ultimately, it’s now up to buyers to determine whether the Arteon can be an impressive flagship or suffer the same fate as the CC and fail to light up the sedan imagination.
On that score, there’s no question that the Arteon offers significant bang for the buck.