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2019 Volkswagen Arteon Test Drive Review
The excellent 2019 Volkswagen Arteon is for drivers who need a roomy and practical vehicle with added foul-weather traction, but who don’t want to drive one of the same SUVs as everyone else.
The modern crossover SUV is ubiquitous on American roads. They're bought for their roomy interiors, tall seating positions, flexible utility, and all-wheel-drive systems that add traction when the snow flies. For the most part, though, they all look alike, and that’s boring. Enter the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon, a delightfully stylish alternative to what has become the status quo.
Look and Feel
Buy a new Volkswagen Arteon and you’ll feel like an independent thinker who sets rather than follows the trend. That’s how the car made me feel while driving it. During a week on the road in suburban Los Angeles, where wailing Lamborghinis and rumbling Mercedes G-Classes are as common as jelly beans at Easter, I didn’t see another Arteon.
This car turned heads, too. The boldly detailed grille grabs attention in a love-it-or-hate-it sort of way, but the rest of the car is perfectly proportioned and sculpted in that precise, German manner that guarantees it will age well and still look fresh a decade from now.
Inside, the Arteon adopts the clean, T-shaped dashboard design common to Volkswagens, detailed here with grille-mimicking horizontal bars running its width and deftly incorporating the air vents. They bleed into the door panel housings for the upper speakers and door handles in perfectly resolved fashion. Aside from inexpensive looking plastic and the creaks and buzzes that seem common in Volkswagens, nothing about the Arteon looks or feels cheap.
The entire car has an architectural look and feel, every line with purpose, and every seam tight and smooth. Artful and elegant, there is nothing extraneous about the Volkswagen Arteon—aside from that grille.
What is the Arteon, exactly? Think of it as a Nordstrom Rack version of an Audi A7; you won’t be too far off of the mark. This is a full-size, 5-door hatchback. If the “H” word makes you think of the cheap little crap-box you drove in college, feel free to call the Arteon a fastback, or a sportback, or a liftback, or whatever won’t dent your ego.
It is absolutely cavernous inside, and the trunk is huge. Like with an SUV, you can remove the cargo cover, fold the back seats down, and haul larger items that simply won’t fit in a typical sedan. Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is available.
Prices start at $35,845 for the Arteon SE and rise to $46,210 for the Arteon SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion. The test car discussed here is the mid-grade Arteon SEL 4Motion, wearing a window sticker of $42,790, including its destination fee.
Volkswagen equips the Arteon with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It requires premium gas to hit those numbers, but the car exceeded its EPA rating of 23 mpg in combined driving by posting a 23.9-mpg average on my official test loop. That helps to take some of the sting out of the fuel bill.
An 8-speed automatic transmission with Sport and manual shift modes delivers power to the Arteon’s front wheels. My test car had the optional 4Motion AWD system, which splits power 90% to the front wheels and 10% to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. As traction and driving style requires, more power gets sent to the rear wheels in order to maximize grip and performance.
Additionally, the Arteon employs Volkswagen’s front electronic differential lock. It automatically brakes an inside front wheel to help the car remain on the driver’s intended trajectory around a corner, working like torque vectoring technology to reduce or eliminate understeer when you’re driving with enthusiasm.
An adaptive damping suspension comes standard, along with variable-ratio steering that makes the car feel nimble and responsive at all times. Comfort, Normal, and Sport driving modes adjust the Arteon’s ride and handling accordingly.
I picked the Arteon up at Los Angeles International Airport following a packed, cross-country flight. It was like slipping into a sanctuary, and because the previous driver had left the car in Comfort mode, it wafted down the 405 and 101 freeways toward home like a 1972 Buick Electra, soaking up the irregular concrete like a sponge.
Unfortunately, in Comfort mode, the sleepy 8-speed automatic was sometimes poorly behaved, shifting harshly on occasion. After a good night’s sleep and a switch over to Normal mode, this unbecoming trait vanished, never to be noticed again.
For most of my week behind the Arteon’s wheel, I kept the car in Normal mode. While the big VW doesn’t qualify as sporty in the German tradition, it is nevertheless commendably athletic and enjoyable in Normal.
People who love to drive will want to use Sport mode, especially for romps down favorite roads. With this mode engaged, the Arteon responds quickly to throttle input, shifts with urgency, and adds plenty of feel for the road's surface, combined with reduced body movement. It's as though the car’s senses are on high alert, ready to act the moment a driver issues a command.
I used Sport mode while driving across the Santa Monica Mountains on a gorgeous early-fall morning. The Arteon hustled down the writhing roads with that calm, cool, and collected demeanor common to German cars, as if to continually reassure the driver that all is well, so carry on.
Paddle shifters certainly would’ve been nice to have, as well as a meatier set of wheels and tires, but aside from the howling from the 18-inch all-seasons and some grumbling from the brakes as they heated up, the Arteon’s mechanical components proved commendable.
This is the kind of car that you never tire of driving. While some people might wish for more power and torque, the Arteon is quick enough to satisfy your need for speed in real-world driving situations. And on highways, this Autobahn-tuned family car effortlessly cruises at extra-legal velocities.
Form and Function
The new VW Arteon looks terrific and drives like a proper German car, but its real talent resides in carrying people and cargo.
Up front, it boasts wide, supportive, power-adjustable front seats, affording an expansive view forward past thin windshield pillars and over a flat hood. If you prefer sitting up high (as I do), you’ll need to duck your head a little more than normal in order to clear the roof—the price to be paid for the Arteon’s rakish roofline and frameless door glass.
If there is a good reason to pay extra for the SEL Premium trim, it’s to obtain ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a massaging driver’s seat. Every Arteon includes triple-zone climate control, but only the SEL Premium provides rear passengers with their own control panel. Otherwise, rear adjustments are made through the infotainment system’s touchscreen display.
In any case, this Volkswagen boasts a huge backseat with a comfortable and supportive bottom cushion and a perfectly positioned backrest. Tall adults can literally cross their legs in comfort, and children can’t kick the front seatbacks. A center pass-through allows you to carry long and narrow items while retaining 4-seat accommodations.
Open the Arteon’s gaping maw of a hatch, and you’ll find 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space (as long as you remove the cargo cover and pack the car flush to the glass). That’s crossover territory, folks. And if you fold the rear seats down, the Arteon will swallow 55 cubic feet of cargo. That’s not as much as a midsize SUV, of course, but it’s still mighty impressive. And the Arteon doesn’t look or drive like a box on wheels while doing it.
Upgrading to SEL Premium trim improves the car’s comfort and its infotainment system. A Dynaudio premium sound system is exclusive to the top-of-the-line version, which is something you can live without. But, inexplicably, Volkswagen Car-Net subscription services are also reserved for the most expensive version of the Arteon.
Car-Net App Connect, however, is standard equipment. This is Volkswagen’s smartphone integration technology, and it supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirror Link platforms. The standard infotainment system features a flush-glass, proximity-sensing 8-inch touchscreen display, flanked by stereo volume, power, and tuning knobs, and main-menu-shortcut buttons. When the available navigation map is on screen, the tuning knob zooms in and out on the map.
Navigation is standard with SEL trim, and it comes with voice control that is not particularly rewarding to use. Most likely, you’ll want to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead.
Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit instrumentation is also standard with SEL trim, and it's one of the better examples of the technology. My favorite view shows minimized gauges with the navigation map in the middle of the display, allowing me to keep the radio on the center screen.
Another technology that some people might find useful is Parking Steering Assistant. It’s a semi-autonomous parking assist system, and it steers the big Arteon into both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces. To get it, you need to choose an SEL Premium trim, which also includes a top-down surround-view camera system.
If there’s anything missing here, it’s a head-up display. They’re increasingly common, and the best of them offer a wide range of information while remaining visible when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.
Car-Net subscription services should be available with SEL trim in addition to SEL Premium trim. That’s because the Security & Service plan includes important safety features such as Family Guardian, which allows parents of young drivers to set speed, curfew, and boundary alerts. It also equips the Arteon with automatic crash notification and SOS manual emergency calling.
While Car-Net’s exclusivity is a misstep, Volkswagen does equip every Arteon with important safety technologies, including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring. Upgrade to SEL trim for adaptive headlights, and to SEL Premium trim for automatic high-beam headlights, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist.
In use, I found the driving assistance technologies helpful. The adaptive cruise has trouble quickly recognizing when a vehicle enters or departs the gap in front of the Arteon, but the car responds smoothly after the sensors identify a change in traffic. The blind-spot monitoring system is especially helpful, flashing brightly if you attempt an unsafe lane change. You can’t miss it.
Volkswagen does need to install a better set of headlights, though. While LED lights are standard, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ranks their performance as Poor, ruining the Arteon’s chances at earning a Top Safety Pick rating. Otherwise, the car is a crash-test rock star.
All things considered, the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon is one of the best cars I’ve driven all year. It is stylish inside and out, enjoyable to drive, comfortable for all, and undeniably practical. Volkswagen could take a more thoughtful approach to packaging when it comes to Car-Net availability, and the voice recognition system isn’t up to snuff, but any other complaints amount to minor details.
The question, then, is this: Is the Volkswagen Arteon a cost-effective solution to your needs? Aside from its impressive People First warranty coverage, which changes in 2020 to reduce coverage by two years while adding two years of free scheduled maintenance, that all depends on the context.
If you’re looking for an alternative to a 5-passenger crossover SUV and you have no intention of driving farther off the pavement than a roadside avocado stand, the Arteon is a cost-effective car that gets better gas mileage than a typical SUV while providing AWD for foul-weather driving situations.
If you’re looking for an affordable and upscale alternative to an Audi A5 Sportback, an Audi A7 Sportback, or BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, the Arteon is worthy of investigation. Just keep in mind that its quality and overall sophistication can’t match those luxury models.
And if you're looking for a full-size car supplying greater utility than the current crop of big sedans, the Volkswagen Arteon is a no-brainer. Unless you want V8 muscle (Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger) or a thrifty hybrid (Toyota Avalon), there’s no reason to consider anything else.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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