SOLVANG, California—Volkswagen finds itself in a bit of a situation with its new Arteon, as it’s launching the premium-priced sedan into the teeth of a market with a waning appetite for four-doors. The company points out that the U.S. sedan market is still quite large—2.5 million units in 2018, or more than Germany buys of all vehicle types—which is a fair point. But the fact remains that the demand for crossovers and SUVs is fierce, and while both a five-seat Atlas and a sub-Tiguan model are on the way, Volkswagen currently only offers two nameplates in that space. And did we mention the Arteon comes at a premium price?
Those who opt in will find themselves behind the wheel of a feature-laden, dynamically capable, and drop-dead gorgeous car, however. The lineup is simple, maybe to ensure comprehension among those shocked by the possibility of paying as much as $47,705 for a Volkswagen sedan.
The SE is the opening gambit, at $36,840; for that amount, you get adaptive dampers, full LED exterior lighting with projector headlamps, 12-way heated power front seats, three-zone auto climate control, satellite radio, proximity entry and start, and a few other goodies. Next up is the $40,990 SEL, which adds swiveling headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, a fully digital gauge cluster, power folding mirrors, Nappa leather upholstery, navigation, and active cruise control. The alpha Arteon is the $45,940 SEL Premium; it goes whole hog with 19-inch wheels, a power trunk with hands-free opening, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, a massaging driver’s seat, ventilated front and heated outboard rear seats, 700-watt audio, a 360-degree camera, and additional active safety tech.
The only options are $1,800 all-wheel drive for the SE and SEL—AWD is standard on the SEL Premium—and the R-Line package. The R-Line bundle brings unique front and rear bumpers, gloss-black exterior elements, a rear lip spoiler, paddle shifters on the SE and SEL, special interior trim, and a black headliner, plus 19-inch wheels on the lower two trims and 20s on the Premium. Budget an extra $1,265 with the 19s or $1,765 with the 20s.
We first drove the Arteon in Europe nearly two years ago, ahead of an anticipated launch in 2018, but a backlog in emissions certification delayed the car’s American arrival. Now that it’s headed to dealerships, we drove SEL and SEL Premium examples in and around California’s Santa Ynez Valley, both with all-wheel drive and the R-Line kit. Each offered plenty of comfort, technology, and visual wattage, but there was a perceptible difference in ride quality and handling between the two.
The Arteon offers Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings for its dampers, steering, and powertrain, and the dampers also adjust themselves automatically depending on your driving style and the situation. Additionally, you can make finer tweaks to the dampers along 12 steps via the Custom menu. The other chassis elements and even the lighting can be customized there, too, albeit with far less granularity, to offer the precise setup you prefer. The Arteon maintains the last setting when the ignition is cycled, which is nice.
Brake-based torque vectoring keeps handling tidy, while body lean is well controlled in Sport mode; the car lists a bit more when cornering in Comfort and Normal, as one would expect. The ride quality on the SEL’s 19-inch wheels goes busy in Sport, with heaves, broken pavement, or high-frequency lumps inducing noticeable wheel patter. That sensation is omnipresent in all settings with the SEL Premium 20-inch package’s slightly shorter sidewalls—245/35 versus 245/40; both cars wore Continental ProContact TX all-seasons—but we’ll note that we’re talking relatively minor disturbances. The Arteon is never uncomfortable, and it doesn’t lose its sense of cool when driven hard. This isn’t a car for going full aggro, but we did note the SEL Premium was more eager to turn-in and seemed to offer a slightly more neutral cornering attitude.
The Arteon is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder like the old CC sedan it more or less replaces, but unlike that car, it’s the only option—so don’t go hunting for a V-6. The turbocharged four makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and works through an Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Europeans get a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG with this engine—or a six-speed manual with a diesel!—but VW America believes the smoothness of the torque-converter automatic better suits the touring character of the Arteon, and we can’t disagree, even if we’d welcome the DSG’s quicker gearswaps to mitigate downshift delays. The powertrain feels stout enough and smooth overall, and it does its work mostly in the background.
Following the lead of the stunning exterior, the interior is crisply designed and features lots of horizontal lines to emphasize space and width; overall, it’s a handsome but not particularly distinctive cabin. Unlike the four-place CC, the Arteon accommodates five aboard. The front seats are comfortable for long hauls and reasonably well-bolstered for back-road blasts, while rear passengers are treated to positively palatial levels of legroom. Headroom back there is good, too, for six-footers and below, as the roofline doesn’t begin aggressively diving toward the trailing edge of the trunk until just ahead of the rear glass.
The center stack is dominated by a large, high-resolution 9.2-inch touchscreen that seemed quick to respond in our limited use and which combines with the Digital Cockpit gauge cluster on SEL and SEL Premium models to offer myriad informational displays. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Arteons, and the new car ditches the CC’s small trunklid in favor of a gaping hatch that opens to a wide, deep cargo area that can accommodate 23 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seats raised.
More than ever before, people are seeking options that precisely fit their particular tastes in music, television, news, food, and more, and they’re often willing to pay a premium to get exactly what they want. If that carries over to the automotive world, the German-built Arteon is well placed for steady success. Distinctively styled, possessed of no aspirations for high-volume sales, assembled to a high standard, and carefully curated for its target audience, think of it as the artisanal sedan.
2019 Volkswagen Arteon Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0 turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 268 hp, 258 lb-ft|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||20–22/27–31 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.4 x 73.7 x 56.5 in|
|WEIGHT||3,655–3,854 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||5.9–6.0 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|