2019 Volkswagen Arteon First Drive - A Fine Car, but for Whom?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2019 volkswagen arteon first drive a fine car but for whom

The large-car class is a weird place these days. Not exactly a ghost town, but not exactly a hotly contested segment, either.

Rear-drive remains the purview of the Dodge/Chrysler bunch, while the rest of the segment consists of entry-luxury cruisers (Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES) and semi-sporty cars such as the Acura TLX, Nissan Maxima, Buick Regal GS, four-cylinder Kia Stinger – and now the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon.

Finally reaching our shores after a delay due to unspecified homologation hangups, the Arteon is positioned as the brand’s flagship, and it is in some ways a successor to the late CC.

Volkswagen gave us a crack at driving the Arteon, offering an opportunity to figure out exactly where it fits in the market.

(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to California, fed me, and put me up in a hotel so that I could drive the Arteon. The company shipped a bottle of wine to each journalist, as well.)

The CC comparison is natural, though differences are many. The Arteon has a five-inch longer wheelbase and stretches a couple inches longer, overall, while also being a bit taller and wider. There’s a bit more rear headroom and legroom, and significantly more cargo room. The hatchbacked Arteon rides on the MQB platform that underpins so many VW products these days.

Those with long-enough memories will recall a time when the CC offered a manual transmission. Three-pedal fans won’t find that option here – whether in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Arteon has an eight-speed automatic transmission. The sole engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Adaptive damping is standard.

The Arteon’s styling is handsome without being overly aggressive. It’s not as conservative as the Jetta’s duds, but Volkswagen clearly felt that flowing lines and gentle curvature was preferable to a more extreme approach. It works well enough that at least one SoCal tourist gave me a thumbs up as I hunted for a photo spot.

On-road, the Arteon feels better balanced than the GS and offers up less body roll than the last GT Stinger I drove, while feeling a bit more well-rounded than the Maxima. Understeer makes itself known if you overcook a corner, and the steering is well-weighted if not completely communicative.

Ride is smooth, but well, California roads aren’t exactly pockmarked. I reserve full judgment until I can get my mitts on an Arteon in the Midwest.

The biggest letdown is the engine. While there’s enough power for merging or passing, acceleration isn’t even close to head-snapping. At least the throttle and transmission are responsive. Still, a little more oomph would be appreciated. While Volkswagen’s new flagship is a pretty well-balanced machine, the experience would be more enjoyable if VW offered a tad more punch.

Inside, the cockpit is par for the VW course – black, functional, and with controls laid out logically and simply. Seats are all day comfy, rear-seat room is adequate for taller folk, and road/wind noise is well filtered.

My test vehicle was a top-trim SEL Premium R-Line with all-wheel drive, meaning it had digital gauges that were clear and easy to read. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, while nav and Volkwagen’s Car-Net system (remote unlocking, crash alerts, speed alerts, and other tech – it’s similar to OnStar) require you to step up to higher trims.

Speaking of, here’s how the trim levels break down. You can choose between SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. SE and SEL trims are priced at $35,845 and $39,995, respectively, with each adding $1,800 for all-wheel drive. The AWD-only SEL Premium checks in at $44,945.

Standard features include 18-inch wheels, adaptive damping, dual exhaust, LED headlamps and taillights, heated front seats, leatherette seating, tri-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and keyless entry and starting.

The SEL trim adds items such as adaptive front lights, panoramic sunroof, stop/start, leather seats, nav, digital gauges, remote start, and the most basic level of Car-Net.

Pick SEL Premium and select features include AWD, 19-inch wheels, power trunk, rear-seat climate control, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, massaging driver’s seat, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, premium audio, a more in-depth version of Car-Net, lane assist, park distance control, and area view.

The available R-Line package includes unique black bumper trim and spoilers, paddle shifters, different interior décor, R-line badging inside and out, a stainless steel kickplate with R-Line logo, a black headliner, and either 19- or 20-inch wheels. With 19s, the price tag is $1,265 for the package, while with the 20s the tab is $1,765. Destination fee is $995 across the board.

All told, the SEL Premium AWD/4Motion car I drove with the R-Line trim and 19-inch tires clocked in at $47,205 with destination. Fuel economy is listed at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined for front-drivers and 20/27/23 for all-wheel drive cars.

Volkswagen has cooked up a perfectly well-rounded sporty large hatchback that really only lacks in one area – acceleration. And even that flaw is relatively minor. As noted before, punch is plentiful for most maneuvers; it’s just not gonna push you back in your seat. Problem is, who is the Arteon buyer?

Is it someone looking for luxury on the cheap? Someone who sees the Arteon as a bargain Audi A7? Is it the Maxima buyer who wants just a bit more driving fun? The four-cylinder Stinger intender who still can’t wrap their head around a grand tourer from Kia? The ES 350 buyer who doesn’t find the (quite good) F Sport satisfying? The Avalon buyer who doesn’t want to be stereotyped as someone who eats dinner at 4 p.m.?

Another problem the Arteon faces is that the Honda Accord and Mazda 6 are about the same size and can be had for a lot less money, fully loaded. Sure, VW will position the Arteon as offering more luxury content and having the advantages of being a hatchback – size and price and performance aren’t all that matters – but for the buyer who doesn’t care about a car loaded with content, and just wants a sporty, large-ish car, this poses a problem for Volkswagen.

Still, should you find the content mix appealing, you won’t be disappointed. I don’t know who the Arteon buyer is, but he or she will be getting into a balanced sports/luxury vehicle that offers up plenty of entry-luxury features, particularly if you’re willing to shell out additional funds.

The Arteon wouldn’t be the first car, or even the first Volkswagen, to be a perfectly fine vehicle in search of a market. Building a solid product is one thing; finding the right buyer is another. If VW can do the latter as well as it’s done the former, perhaps the Arteon will be better remembered than what has gone before.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 71 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on May 09, 2019

    Should be very cheap used, out of lease. I wager new one will be sold with $10K cashback or cheap leases. Like CC did before it.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 11, 2019

    A great retirement cruiser when an eye-catching mustard one makes it to the used lot, I suppose.

  • Arthur Dailey What the heck is an 'influencer'?And who would buy or do something because somebody on a social media site told them to or recommended/flogged something?Maybe I am just too old and cynical to understand those who actually are 'influenced'? But then I also never trusted or was 'influenced' by celebrity endorsements or product placements.However I did know and coach a teenager who became extremely wealthy because he set up a Youtube channel where people paid to watch him and his friends play video games.
  • Dukeisduke $8,000 for this rustbucket? It's a '73, not a '74 ("Registered and titled as a 1973…it looks like a ‘74 to me"), and anyway, mid to late '60s Alfa Berlinas are much more desirable.Even if you kept it in a garage and didn't drive it in the rain, it wouldn't stop rusting, it might just progress more slowly. This looks more like a parts car than something you'd drive. It needs rear main seals all over the car, so that oil leaks can slow down the rust, like all the oil on the underbody.
  • Analoggrotto Only the truly influential , affluent, educated and elite drive TESLAs. This is a fake influencer.
  • Analoggrotto Looking forward to the comments.
  • Dukeisduke Where the hell did he get the money for all those? Likes on YouTube?