In a year when some automakers see little reason to even offer sedans, or offer a handful of aging perfunctory models at best, Volkswagen has given its premium sedan, the Arteon, a design freshening one year after its introduction.
Given the fact Volkswagen doesn’t sell many — a mere 3,602 last year on these shores — you have to wonder why they bothered. Even the Passat outsells it by a factor of 7 to 1 despite being far less fetching.
The answer lies in Europe, where this sexy four-door premium hatchback has been on sale since 2017. So America benefits from Europe’s marketing needs adding some much-needed class to the top of VW’s mass market lineup.
The 2021 Volkswagen Arteon is offered in three trims: SE, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line, all powered by the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front wheel-drive is standard on the SE and SEL R-Line; the latter can also be fitted with 4Motion all-wheel drive for an additional $1,800. SEL Premium R-Lines get all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
When it comes to driver assistance systems, all Arteons come well-equipped. But it’s the R-Line that nets you VW’s new Travel Assist feature, which provides partially automated driving up to 95 mph. It also gets you Emergency Assist, which brings the vehicle to a stop if the driver is incapacitated.
But that could describe any number of Volkswagen products. What separates the Arteon from its plebian siblings is its appearance. Just gaze at it and it’s hard not to be drawn in by its sporty appearance, with Audi-like allure and crisp, handsome lines. It’s far more enticing than the Passat, which was styled with the same level of passion as a breadbox, or a crossover for that matter, which is little more than an aerodynamic breadbox.
When it comes to tech, an 8-inch touch screen is standard, and comes with navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, VW's App Connect smartphone integration and Bluetooth for two phones. In addition, there’s a 10-inch screen in front of the drive that can be adjusted to fill the screen with the navigation map, similar to an Audi. There are two USB-C ports, one in the center console, the other on the instrument panel. SEL Premium R-Line models add a third charge-only port in the rear console, as well as wireless charging on the center console.
Plop yourself into the Arteon, and you’ll find a cabin that’s positively posh compared with the usual VW fare, although some detailing remains classically VW in terms of cost, such as the infotainment system knobs and turn lever stalk. Seat comfort is long-term comfy, and head and leg room are impressive front and rear. In fact, given the availability of all-wheel drive, you have to wonder why someone would choose a VW compact crossover instead.
Once up to speed, you’ll find the Arteon more entertaining than most automotive bread boxes. It’s a fairly quiet place, with little road or tire noise intruding into the cabin. Thanks to the suspension dampers, this premium hatch beautifully balances ride comfort and handling ability. But compared with its chief rival, the Kia Stinger GT, it has nowhere near enough horsepower or handling chops to compete as a sports sedan. Instead, consider this a cushy grand tourer.
So even though the Arteon doesn’t seem intensely sporty, deferring in part to the comfort side of the equation, it’s an interesting alternative and a remarkably special Volkswagen. It’s a great substitute for the myriad crossovers clogging our byways, and far more beautiful to behold.
2021 Volkswagen Arteon SEL
Base price: $43,495
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Power: 268/ hp., 258 pound-feet of torque
EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 mpg city, 31 highway
Bottom line: Cushy tourer