2019 Volkswagen Arteon Review

Liz Kim | Oct 18, 2019

Introduction

Americans are enthralled with the SUV, dropping traditional sedans from consideration for a variety of reasons, ranging from their lack of utility to their lack of imagination.

Meanwhile, the useful hatchback, an underdog in the United States since it became synonymous with cheap economy vehicles in the 1970s, has made a small comeback. This body style offers plenty of utility, often rivaling that of smaller crossovers, in combination with superior driving dynamics and better fuel economy.

The svelte and sexy 2019 Volkswagen Arteon neatly splits the difference between SUVs and traditional hatchbacks, providing utility, all-wheel drive, style, and driving dynamism in a single, 5-door fastback package.

You can choose between SE, SEL, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line trim, each equipped with Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system as standard or optional equipment. Prices start where traditional midsize sedans leave off, at about $37,000. Fully loaded, the Arteon closes in on $50,000, which is why J.D. Power considers it to be a premium model rather than a mainstream competitor.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Blue FrontFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Arteon SEL 4Motion. Volkswagen offers dealer accessories for the Arteon, but none were included with our test vehicle. The price came to $42,790, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Volkswagen Arteon, it is helpful to understand who buys cars like it, and what they like most and least about their vehicles. J.D. Power classifies the Arteon as a compact premium vehicle, but this is primarily because of its price rather than its size. Similar competitors would include the Lexus ES and Lincoln MKZ.

In this segment, 65% of owners are men, with a median age of 57 years, and a median annual household income of $150,146.

Owners in this segment most strongly agree in the three following areas. According to J.D. Power data, 95% agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is quality of workmanship, 95% agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration, and 93% agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is reliability.

The most strongly disagree in the three following areas: 75% disagree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place, 71% disagree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company, and 55% disagree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy.

Owners say their favorite things about these types of cars are (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, driving dynamics, interior design, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about them are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, the climate control system, the infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Volkswagen Arteon measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Volkswagen did an exceptional job with the Arteon’s design, giving it a sleek, coupe-like profile that draws the eye from the assertive grille, along the chiseled flanks, and into its rakish tail. There are few, if any, styling missteps with the Arteon.

The machined-finish 18-inch wheels are handsome, and the car wore its Atlantic Blue paint like a custom-tailored suit. For 2020, the SEL gets standard 19-inch wheels for an even more upscale look.

Interior

The grille’s defining horizontal slats carry into the cabin, with similar cues running across the width of the dashboard and incorporating the air vents. This deft design approach visually couples the Arteon’s interior to the exterior.

Dressed in lovely two-tone taupe and grey perforated leather with white contrast stitching, and equipped with fabric roof pillar covers, the Arteon SEL’s cabin looked upscale and sophisticated. However, flimsy feeling plastic door panel materials marred the overall ambience. Also, Volkswagen’s definition of a panoramic sunroof appears to include any portal to the sun that’s just barely bigger than a regular sunroof.

Seats

My test vehicle had 12-way power adjustable front seats, making it easy to find an ideal driving or riding position. The front seats were heated, too, and if you choose the top-level SEL Premium trim, the car includes a massaging function for the driver, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.

Speaking of rear accommodations, the Arteon is extraordinarily roomy in terms of legroom, and even full-size adults will be satisfied with the amount of shoulder space. The seat cushions are mounted a bit low, though, and could use more thigh support.

Climate Control System

Every Arteon includes a triple-zone automatic climate control system, but only the SEL Premium R-Line includes a rear control panel for passengers to use. In SE, SEL, and SEL R-Line trim, you adjust rear climate functions using the touchscreen display on the dashboard.

While this is an admirable inclusion as standard equipment, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And during testing, my children requested multiple changes to their climate settings, which is aggravating. Every trim should include the rear climate control panel, giving passengers decision-making power about their comfort level.

Up front, three knobs and a row of buttons that are somewhat quixotically marked control the climate settings. For example, multiple buttons appeared to operate the window defrosters, requiring a bit of futzing to figure out which achieved the objective.

Infotainment System

Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit instrumentation lets you choose the look of your instrument cluster from one of five settings. My favorite is the Navigation mode, which puts a live map of your location front and center between the gauges. Not only does it look upscale, it allows you to keep the radio display activated on the dashboard display and is especially useful for at-a-glance reference when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area.

The infotainment system’s 8-inch touchscreen looks modern and sophisticated, works similar to a smartphone, and is mostly intuitive. Using some functions does require quality time with the owner’s manual, and the voice command menu if fairly rigid. Don’t worry, though. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, helping to simplify your life.

Volkswagen’s Car-Net telematics system is a subscription-based service that free for the first six months of ownership. Among its many feature, you can use it to program certain alerts related to speed, curfew, and geographic boundaries for those times when your child is driving the car. The system is also smartwatch compatible, and offers remote access to multiple vehicle features in addition to vehicle location service.

Storage and Space

The whole point of a hatchback (or a liftback, or a sportback, or a fastback, or whatever you call it to make it more marketable) is to offer greater cargo flexibility than a sedan. The Arteon does not disappoint.

Open the hatch and you’ll find a remarkably generous 27.2 cu.-ft. of space behind the rear seats. Fold down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and the Arteon can carry 55 cu.-ft. of cargo. These figures make the Arteon more accommodating than some SUVs. Plus, Volkswagen offers a pass-through between the rear seats so that both people and long items can fit inside the car.

Around the cabin however, the Arteon is a little stingy with storage space. The center console bin is tiny, and the glove box isn’t terribly capacious, but there’s a useful bin tucked under the dashboard that is perfect for storing your phone. At least the storage areas, from the carpeted door panel bins and rubber-lined cup holders, reflect quality and attention to detail.

Visibility and Safety

The Arteon offers good visibility, with a flat hood and thin roof pillars all around. A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is standard, and the test car had adaptive LED headlights that helped to see around corners after dark.

In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Arteon earns top scores across the board, except for headlight performance, which rates Poor. The IIHS tested the Arteon SE, which does not include adaptive headlights or automatic high-beam operation.

The Arteon SEL I drove was fortified with a comprehensive array of active safety systems, such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Lane departure warning and lane keeping assist is exclusive to the SEL Premium R-Line trim level.

Engine/Transmission

A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is the only choice with the Arteon, making 268 horsepower and powering the car front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system is available, and the test car included it.

Some turbo lag is evident with this engine, and in spite of it’s peak torque arriving at 1,950 rpm, the car felt slow to respond to requests for more power such as when passing slower vehicles unless the transmission was in its separate Sport mode.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says you can expect to get about 23 mpg in combined driving with an Arteon 4Motion, based on rating of 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. On my test loop, in mixed driving conditions, the test Arteon exceeded expectations, returning 23.6 mpg.

Driving Dynamics

Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system should appeal to all drivers, not just those who live in areas with frequent inclement weather. Plus, every Arteon includes the automaker’s XDS electronic cross-differential technology, which helps to improve the car’s traction and handling in corners and turns.

Every Arteon also comes with an adaptive suspension, adjustable through the car’s different drive modes. Mostly, I used Comfort, Normal, and Sport, each making quite a difference in terms of the driving experience.

For example, putting the car into Comfort mode softens the suspension to the point where it bottoms out on relatively minor dips and makes the car wallow around corners, but it does soften the ride over imperfect city roads. In Sport mode, the Arteon exhibits much more spirit, with a tauter dynamic that makes pitching the Arteon down a twisty road much more enjoyable.

Regardless of driving mode setting, I thought the steering was too light in terms of effort levels, but the brakes were predictable and true no matter the driving situation.

Final Impressions

Offering just as much utility and foul-weather traction as an SUV, the style of an upscale premium-brand car, and the driving dynamics of a sporty sedan, the Volkswagen Arteon is a multi-talented automobile that does just about everything well.

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