a sedan by any other name

2019 VW Arteon First Drive Review: A 4-Door Flagship Worthy Of the Term


May 16, 2019 Cars By Photo by Eric Adams
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While many carmakers are kicking conventional four-door passenger cars to the curb like yesterday’s garbage in favor of SUVs, see some brands are staying the sedan course. Count Volkswagen among them; as the company notes, conventional cars still comprise 25 percent of the U.S. market, to the tune of a not-insignificant 4.25 million sedans sold in 2018. Intent on capturing that sedan-loving subset of the public’s attention, VW dug deep for its new flagship, the Arteon.  The car is technically a replacement for the CC, which never quite rose to the challenge of being a true range-topper due to middling performance and marginally interesting looks. The Arteon, on the other hand…

The Good: First and foremost, the Arteon’s fastback design is top-notch; it earns a place among the best-looking four-door coupes on the market, perhaps even bettering its corporate sibling, the highly-regarded Audi A7. It also has nimble handling, and an engine powerful enough to move it off the line briskly. And the complement of standard and optional technology features, along with an intuitive infotainment system, give the car mainstream appeal.

Who It’s For: The Arteon is a stylish ride, available in a bold range of colors—most notably, a striking yellow hue. It’s not a fuddy-duddy Passat or an anonymous Jetta; rather, the Arteon is a grown-up car for drivers who care about what they’re seen in, and what appeals to them both aesthetically and practically. 

Watch Out For: Rather disappointing—by which I mean, generally nonexistent—engine sounds. There’s a hint of strain under hard acceleration, but certainly nothing close to a growl. Other times, you can barely tell there’s anything happening under the hood. Of course, it’s not that surprising, as 2019 is the era of ultra-quiet EVs and bank vault-silent luxury cars; still, it’s nice to have some auditory affirmation that your car is excited by the curves.

Alternatives: The Kia Stinger GT is brought up often as a direct competitor to the Arteon, and it has the advantage of a second, more powerful engine option and pricing that undercuts the VW. The Acura TLX also has similar specs, as well as a second engine option. The Infiniti Q50 and the Nissan Maxima are also in the mix. None, though, have quite the visual panache of the Arteon, especially in its chic R-Line trim.

Review: The best flagship models possess two largely undefinable qualities: presence and aura. The former emerges from the vehicle’s stature and dimensions: tall cars don’t usually have a strong presence; low, wide ones generally do. Aura, that je ne sais quoi that renders some cars above the rest, is harder to pin down. A car with a good aura has to look a bit distinct from its underlings. The ultra-premium Volkswagen Phaeton of yore—sold here from just 2004 to 2006—had both qualities. The CC did not. The Arteon? Thankfully, it does.

The new VW has a confident posture and excellent proportions, including standard 18-inch wheels (upgradable to 19- or 20-inchers) and multiple deftly-cut character lines and creases along the flanks and hood. Coupled with the sleek LED lighting and abundant chrome, it presents a strong look from the outside. The R-Line trim throws in a host of black detailing that looks particularly good when paired with the bold Kurkuma Yellow Metallic paint.

The interior feels cohesive and comfortable, with both front and rear passengers enjoying plenty of room and support. The Arteon’s wheelbase stretches five inches longer the CC’s, with most of that room given to the rear-seat passengers. (It’s also only two inches longer than the CC, so the front and rear overhangs are shorter—a staple of aggressive vehicle design.) The dashboard has a narrow, horizontal aesthetic, and all the controls are readily accessible and smartly located. The infotainment system is also well-organized and appealingly designed; it can detect your fingers’ proximity and reveal strips of touchscreen controls, thus keeping the display uncluttered when not being actively used. 

On a drive around Santa Barbara, California, the Arteon proved its flagship qualities are more than skin deep. The engine lets the driver power cleanly out of turns, while the car’s version of the VW Group’s MQB chassis keeps the ride poised and balanced. The car isn’t really a sport sedan; it’s not meant to be caned through canyon roads, but even so, it handles them with admirable composure. The adaptive suspension’s 15 settings help keep things under control, while the all-wheel-drive ably applies power as needed to enhance cornering and maintain traction. It will soak up most of what you can throw it, but it reaches its limits well ahead of the likes of a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class—as one would reasonably expect, given the price difference.

The available technology also places the Arteon in solid standing amongst similarly-priced four-doors. The 700-watt Dynaudio sound system has 12 speakers and enough juice to comfortably and clearly play above wind and road noise. The infotainment system includes a customizable digital cockpit; that said, it offers limited distinctions between drive modes and display options, which can become frustrating. (For instance, you can display the map on the instrument cluster, but not the main display at the same time.) The Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces, though, are easy to engage and work seamlessly.

The tech extends to driver aids as well: The park assist functionality will assess parking spots to determine if there’s enough room then steer in as you control the brake and throttle, and the increasingly familiar gamut of adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and overhead-view cameras, among other features, are available as well. Owners can also opt for VW’s Car-Net security and service app suite for remote access, vehicle monitoring, and remote-start functionality via smartphone.

Verdict: The Arteon is a sporty ride that doesn’t quite qualify as a sport sedan—but its other qualities more than make up for that. It has an edgy roster of colors that help it stand out more than any other VW at the moment; technology and features sure to endear it to owners; and a design that feels like it will age well, an achievement not many cars can claim. Overall, the Arteon is more than worthy of the term flagship.

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2019 Volkswagen Arteon Specs

Base Price: $35,845
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four; eight-speed automatic; front- or all-wheel-drive
Power: 268 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque
Curb Weight: 3,655 pounds (FWD), 3,854 pounds (AWD)
EPA Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway (FWD), 20/27 (AWD)

Volkswagen provided this product for review.

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