Car of the Year Car Reviews

Volkswagen Arteon Pros and Cons Review: More Style Than Substance

VW’s fastback sedan is a 2020 Car of the Year contender

VW’s fastback sedan is a 2020 Car of the Year contender

Pros:

  • Audi looks; VW price
  • Comfortable ride
  • Huge back seat

Cons:

  • Options add up fast
  • Switchgear from Jetta
  • Performance underwhelms

Oh, the sorrow of unrequited love. Volkswagen wants America to adore its flagships, and Americans couldn’t care less. Witness the fantastic Phaeton luxo-barge shared with Bentley, which Americans avoided in droves, and as a result it’s now one of the great used-car bargains.

Now VW wants us to embrace the Arteon fastback sedan. “Arteon” in French means “budget Audi.” No, it doesn’t. I kid. But it should.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Its svelte, sleek style mimics the Audi A7’s design with similar panache. Subtract the four-circles logo and about 30 grand, and you have an Arteon. What’s wrong with that?

Not much, as it turns out.

If you have a family of long-legged teens who can’t abide being seen in a Mom-mobile SUV, the Volkswagen Arteon may be the solution for your carpooling dilemma. With a back seat that might be roomier than the front (with its own climate control), a 6-foot passenger can easily fit behind a 6-foot driver. Plus the hatch area, while shallow top to bottom, is immense in its square footage.

Worried that the sloping rake of the roofline will crimp headroom? VW designers have creatively packaged the back seat so there’s still room for Billy Porter, a couple of his Pose posse, his Emmy, and that fierce asymmetrical hat.

And Porter would make quite the entrance, as well. The Arteon carries “wonderfully elegant yet tautly tailored sheetmetal—Audi-lite with a soupçon of Latin flair,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said.

But the Arteon’s interior fitments and switchgear do leave something to be desired. Those who have elevated to the Arteon from a Passat (or, heck, a Jetta) will recognize the look and feel of the knobs, buttons, and switches. Very familiar, in a discouraging way.

So although associate online editor Stefan Ogbac found the Arteon’s instrument panel and center stack (with integrated infotainment screen) to be “minimalist and not overwhelming,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle described the view from the driver’s seat as “a horrible horizon of cheapness.”

See the updated 2020 Volkswagen Passat right here.

As for ride comfort for your crew, the Arteon won praise from Car of the Year judges as one of the most comfortable, quiet, and stable when going over the myriad lumps, bumps, and jolts of the Hyundai Proving Ground’s “special surfaces” roads. It simply absorbs road crud with aplomb.

But ride and performance are two very different beasts, and the Arteon falls short in the latter category.

Let’s start with the 268-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. Or, let’s don’t. Maybe it’s just the incredible interior insulation from the chaos of the outside world, but the Arteon’s 0–60 acceleration run was the longest 7.4 seconds of everyone’s day. More than a couple judges described the Arteon as underpowered in passing maneuvers—despite testing numbers to the contrary—saying it was quick only because the eight-speed automatic came to the rescue with decisive, quick, and responsive shifts.

“This car could do with a lot more power than it has,” technical director Frank Markus said.

Then there’s getting it to corner, where the Arteon was riddled with understeer, body roll, and tire squeal (as to be expected from a big sedan with a 57/43 weight bias). “This is no sport sedan,” Markus said. “It feels like it’s begging the driver to ‘Lighten up, already.’” Road test editor Chris Walton left the driver’s seat unimpressed: “Handsome styling and forgettable driving experience—even in 4Motion and R-Line trims. ’Nuff said.”

But the Arteon deserves more than such summary dismissal. With a starting price near $37,000 USD, it delivers a stylish presence, great roominess, and an excellent ride. Maybe, just maybe, Americans could fall for it.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon 4Motion R-Line
Base Price/As Tested $38,640/$48,175
Power (SAE net) 268 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 258 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 7.4 sec
Quarter Mile 15.6 sec @ 91.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 121 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.84 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 26.9 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 20/27/23 mpg