Fashion is a fickle thing.
For most, the perception of being fashionable stems from copying the admired styles of others. But real fashionistas appreciate originality – something that stands apart from the masses, celebrating uniqueness. Fashion matters in the automotive realm, too. If it didn’t we’d all be happy driving around in sensible, beige, hybrid minivans. [What about brown ones, Jeff? – Ed.]
Instead, a lot of folks spend a lot of money on high-powered cars, then do nothing with them but sit in traffic, polish them in the garage, or drop them off at the valet station. The 2021 Volkswagen Arteon stands out as an extremely original choice in the automotive landscape thanks its remarkable rarity on the roads. Even Porsche sells 911s at nearly three times the rate as VW sells Arteons, making this machine a stronger fashion statement than most cars costing twice as much.
A decent case could be made to declare the Arteon the best-looking Volkswagen of all time. The brand has offered its fair share of practical designs, and a few quirky ones (Golf Harlequin, anyone?); but this midsize sedan combines the imposing road presence of the ill-fated Phaeton with the lithe sportiness of the now-departed CC to portray both poshness and power in equal measure.
As Volkswagen’s current range-topping car, the Arteon embodies the scale and proportions expected of a premium European sedan. It’s long, wide, and sleek, appearing squat on the road, and looking like it’s capable of serious driving business – particularly from the front end.
The interior is equally striking with a very clean, linear design that eschews frivolous trends, and provides a style that should remain fresh and appealing for several years.
It’s the collection of small details that make the Arteon’s cabin a triumph, though, like the way the HVAC vents appear as subtle carved recesses from the dash trim, the contemporary delicate treatment of the dark-tinted VW logo on the steering wheel, or the elaborate LED lighting in the door panels.
The Arteon doesn’t only look the part of a proper luxury car – its feature count backs it up, too. All Canadian models come one way: the fully spec’d Execline trim with panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, three-zone climate control, on-board navigation, remote start, power trunk, and premium sound system as standard equipment. Short of choosing pearl white paint or maybe some splash guards, there’s not really much that can be added to the Arteon. It also features VW’s best tech, including a configurable digital gauge pod complementing the touchscreen infotainment system.
User Friendliness: 7/10
For the most part, the system works well, offering sensible menu routing, a knob for both volume and tuning, and buttons for key menu functions. Still, at eight inches, the screen is small by luxury car standards, and the steering wheel controls have a tedious, haptic feel when the switches are actuated.
Volkswagen also includes a wireless phone charge pad and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, which is good since the only data plug points are USB-C, leaving this old-fashioned iPhone user in need of an adapter – or a new cable – to hardwire into the car. Unfortunately the wireless CarPlay proved finicky at times, glitching and being incapable of managing incoming messages, music, and/or a call if also running a mapping app. Beyond that, the Arteon’s ergonomics are quite good, with an excellent seating position and good sightlines around the car, aided further by a surround camera view.
The heated and ventilated front seats are covered in durable yet rich-feeling leather hides, and the driver’s seat offers 12-way adjustability, plus a massage feature. However, its action is pretty mild and feels more like a pest is manipulating the lumbar button to annoy the driver than it does offer any true massaging function.
The rear seat offers decent headroom, which is especially impressive given how raked the Arteon’s design is, and even under its space-consuming panoramic sunroof. But it’s the rear-seat legroom that is most impressive at more than 1,000 mm (39.4 in), enabling even long-legged passengers to stretch out.
The Arteon is hushed enough from wind, road, and engine noise to feel properly luxurious and maximize enjoyment of the 11-speaker sound system.
The five-passenger seating doesn’t measure up against a similarly priced three-row SUV, nor does the traditional car-like ride height enable the Arteon to be off-road ready, but with a good set of winter tires and standard all-wheel drive, it’s still a great and highly practical year-round daily driver.
For cargo hauling, the big VW’s liftback design offers more cargo-carrying capability than a traditional sedan, opening up to a whopping 1,557 L of space with the rear seats folded flat. That figure betters similar sedans like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and the Kia Stinger by a significant margin. And while the overall cargo volume is slightly less than Volkswagen’s own Tiguan on paper, the length and width of the cargo hold are sure to prove more useful more often than the taller but shallower spaces found in most crossovers.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
Compared to most SUVs, the Arteon’s driving personality is far more engaging, too. Its low and wide stance collaborate with a remarkably rigid body structure to give the VW poise and great responsiveness, even when hustled through a series of successive backroad corners.
Volkswagen fits the Arteon with its dynamic chassis control that allows the driver to cycle between normal, comfort, or sporty presets for suspension stiffness, steering quickness, and throttle response, or mix-and-match the settings to taste. The differences between suspension settings were barely perceptible in terms of ride feel, and while even in its softest setting the Arteon is relatively firm though not punishing in any way, feeling on par with competitive sporty sedans. The tires wrapped around the standard 20-inch wheels offer little sidewall to absorb bumps, so drivers will want to keep a keen eye open for potholes.
The Arteon’s steering feel is quick and there’s decent feedback to the driver, at least by modern, electric-steering standards, encouraging sporty driving, but the braking is grabby with a non-linear feel that takes some getting used to.
At 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, the Arteon’s power output from its turbocharged 2.0L is competitive with its premium four-cylinder counterparts. Still, hauling around 1,750 kg (3,858 lb), the VW is quick-ish without being scintillating, making me pine for the 316 hp available in the overseas Arteon R – especially since the Kia Stinger’s twin-turbo V6 model dispenses with 365 ponies.
Aggravating the modest power output is a surprisingly uncooperative transmission. The eight-speed automatic is the only gearbox offered in the Arteon, and even when shifted manually via steering wheel paddles, the gear changes are not as quick as we’ve come to expect from Audi or BMW. Despite its relative laziness, the shifts are occasionally abrupt, especially when the Arteon is caught asleep at the switch in a gear too tall for the thrust requested.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
In the quest of improved fuel efficiency, the transmission has been programmed to seek the tallest gear possible, doing no favours for responsiveness, but it does help the Arteon achieve an overall combined consumption rate of 9.8 L/100 km. That’s not bad for a large all-wheel-drive car, and on the highway the VW is rated to cruise at a decent average of 7.7 L/100 km. A mix of city and highway commuting with the Arteon wearing winter tires still netted an average for the test week in the mid-8s. The Arteon prefers its fuel to be of the premium unleaded variety.
Being a premium car for Volkswagen, the Arteon comes equipped with the brand’s best safety suite including automated lane-keeping assist and emergency avoidance braking. Additionally, there’s adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts when backing up.
Parking the Arteon is made easier by 360-degree camera views plus distance control sensors, not to mention good outward visibility. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not published 2021 model crash results for the Arteon, but the nearly identical 2020 model was given a Top Safety Pick rating. The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not published safety ratings for the Arteon.
The one-model, one-trim strategy makes things easy for consumers interested in the Arteon, and while its $53,000 cost is well above the affordability one might expect from the People’s Car brand, it’s a well-equipped machine for the money. Savvy shoppers may wish to consider an Audi A5 or Kia Stinger, with the former starting just above the VW’s price, and the latter well below it.
Without a true high-performance variant here, the Arteon is relegated to a role of luxury car versus performance car, despite its aggressive looks. It’s a stunning machine to behold and offers surprising utility, but its most appealing aspect may just be its sheer rarity, giving fashion-forward owners the satisfaction of knowing they can truly stand out from the sea of SUVs and other sedans.
|Engine Cylinders||I4 turbocharged|
|Peak Horsepower||268 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||258 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.6 / 7.7 / 9.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||770 / 1,577 L with rear seats folded|
|Model Tested||2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T AWD|
|Price as Tested||$54,860|