By on July 8, 2020

Have you seen a Volkswagen Arteon in traffic?

Odds are, you probably haven’t.

According to our friends at GoodCarBadCar

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (268 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

20 city / 27 highway / 23 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

12.0 city, 8.6 highway, 10.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $44,495 (U.S) / $47,995 (Canada)

As Tested: $46,410 (U.S.) / $51,995 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,865 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

, Volkswagen sold less than 3,000 units in 2019, and 788 through March of this year. To date, there hasn’t been a month in which more than 400 units were sold.

To be fair, the car hasn’t had a full calendar year of sales yet – it went on sale in April of 2019. Still, it’s likely rare that you’d spot one in traffic, even before the pandemic killed a lot of people’s commutes.

(Get Volkswagen Arteon pricing here!)

Thing is, the Arteon isn’t a bad car. It just plays in a shrinking class, in a time of crossover mania. It also starts bumping up against Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury arm, in terms of price, at least at the high end of its price range.

(Ed. Note – The 2019 Arteon is virtually unchanged for 2020. The local press fleet loaned me a 2019 for review because that’s what it had available. I did drive it a few months ago, as the snow in the pics will show.)

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium

The Arteon plays above the Passat, and as the new flagship in the VW fleet, it has a certain role to play. It’s also sort of a replacement for the similarly well-done but unloved-by-buyers CC.

Volkswagen has positioned Arteon as not just a large, luxury hatchback, but a sporty one, too, and it’s quite good at that. While it’s a hatch, it plays in a sedan class.

Acceleration from the 2.0-liter turbo four is swift enough for the urban cut-and-thrust, if not mind-blowing. That’s true even for the heavier all-wheel-drive model I tested. There are 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque on tap, and it gets to ground via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Where the car shines is the ride/handling balance. While it has a bit of the light and artificial feel that is inherent to most VWs these days, it still feels dialed-in well enough, and the car is responsive. Yet ride isn’t sacrificed at the altar of sport. It’s not the cushiest car on the road, but it handles all but the worst pavement with aplomb. Adaptive damping no doubt helps with this.

Sport sedans, or in this case, hatchbacks (especially large ones), are meant to strike a balance between fun-to-drive and smooth commuter, and the Arteon mostly does so. I found myself warming up to it over the time I had it – silly name and weird place in the car-market universe aside.

It’s a looker, too, if not a head-turner. Smooth lines, including a sloping roofline, remind of the departed CC, but the Arteon’s styling is more cohesive. It’s Germanic, too – handsome in a conservative way. Not ostentatious at all, but sleek.

Inside, you get the standard VW experience: Black occasionally relieved by metallic accents, logically arranged controls, and form that follows well behind function. There’s room enough for taller drivers, although it’s not the most spacious cockpit (and the sloping roofline eats into rear headroom), and the seats are all-day comfy.

There are three trim levels available: SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. There’s also an R-Line package available. As is too often the case with press cars – seriously, OEMs, please send us journos the trims that people actually buy, instead of the fully-loaded ones – this one was a top-trim SEL Premium. Starting price: Just a tick under $45K.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium

Standard features included automatic engine start/stop, adaptive damping, 19-inch wheels, LED lighting, adaptive front lighting, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic sunroof, three-zone climate control in front and a separate zone for the rear, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seat, leather seats, ambient lighting, digital gauges, front and rear park assist, adaptive cruise control, active blind-spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-keep system, hill hold, push-button start, remote start, hands-free-open rear hatch, navigation, USB, Bluetooth, smartphone mirroring, and satellite radio.

Options were limited to heavier duty floor mats and trunk liner ($235), a protection plate for the rear bumper ($150), and a roadside assistance kit ($85).

With the $995 destination fee, that’s $46,410 for a well-rounded sport/luxury hatch.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium

Problem is, as I’ve said before, who’s going to buy it? A stretched checkbook is all it might take to get into a similar Audi, and the front-wheel/all-wheel-drive sedan/hatch category is being overlooked due to buyers’ infatuation with crossovers. Just ask Kia about the excellent Stinger and how well that car is selling. You’re not likely to get a polite response.

The Arteon is a better flagship for VW than the current Passat (review forthcoming, and it won’t be pretty for the folks in Herndon and Wolfsburg), but a car has to be more than good. It has to have a market.

Those who actually give this car a second thought will likely be impressed. Question is, will enough folks take notice?

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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29 Comments on “2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium Review – Gliding Under the Radar...”


  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Somebody’s gotta be the weirdo to say they like this car, so I’ll volunteer : I like this car.

    I’ve seen two of them in parking lots, and both times, I was impressed. Nice looking, great size for highway driving (if I ever get to do that again, post COVID-19). But what particularly intrigues me is the hatchback. I am a semi-pro pianist, and I need some space to haul my digital piano, compact PA system and other gear to gigs. If all my stuff would fit well in the hatch, I would have a genuine alternative to an Outback or SUV of some sort. Given that I prefer driving a sedan to an SUV, and with AWD, this would be a viable option. Especially in the lower trims, which would be fine with me and provide a greater cost savings over an Audi.

    But I’m likely the odd case and not representative of the public at large. At least, that’s what the sales figures would indicate.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I actually like this car quite a bit and would consider one provided I could get a well equipped one under $40k. That seems possible as I have heard there are a number of incentives on it.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I like it too…just not enough to drop 45 large on it.

      My first choice in this class would be an Avalon, weird front end and all – it has a six.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Yep, this is me as well. I like Swiss Army knife cars, and this is one of those. That hatch area is incredibly useful and this form of car looks great. It helps that it drives really well, too.

      Since I don’t trust GM (Regal Sportback), this or the Stinger are near the top of my list.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    A VW’s version of Toyota Avalon, even including the same gaping maw.

    As it has been said many times over, a little too pricey compared to the Camry and Accord of the world. Anyone willing to pay that price will stretch an extra few grand for the Audi A4 or Lexus ES.

    It’s in an odd no mans land of somewhat pricey but not too posh.
    As with the Avalon, set the starting price at 4-5K less, and I can see it. As is, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      amwhalbi

      Varezhka, you are correct. Compared to a Camry or Accord, this is pricey and not particularly competitive. However, the cargo capability is the wild card for this car. I’ve got a Sonata, and even with the seats folded down, loading my gear for a gig is next to impossible (so I use my Venza foe that). If cargo capability is high on your car checklist, then most buyers are looking SUV or an Outback-like wagon. The Arteon competes better against them, since it addresses the cargo issue. I really like my Sonata, but it would be great to have the cargo capability and the preferred sedan handling in one car.

      • 0 avatar
        Varezhka

        amwhalbi,

        I can totally see the appeal of a hatchback with a sedan proportion like this car (or the Buick Regal Sportback and the old Mazda6 hatchback). It’s definitely a nice balance of handling and practicality in a single car.

        It’s just too bad the shape is a bit of a niche, and you’ll have to pay for that.
        I suppose with the current sales number, you can hope for a good discount at the model year end.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I saw one in person, for the first time, doing taxicab duty on the streets of Paris, near the Gare du Nord.

    The problem is that the styling only goes so far. Features-wise, these aren’t all that impressive unless you go for the loaded versions. At that point, you are more or less in Audi A5 Sportback territory. While smaller, the A5 Sportback has two or three times the panache, is on a superior platform, and gives you a better dealership experience.

    Still, all that wouldn’t stop me from buying it. What would stop me is the depreciation, which will be positively cliff-like. There’s nothing that loses value as fast as a near-luxury sedan or liftback. Just ask the Kia K900, Kia Cadenza, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, and Buick LaCrosse.

    This really is a niche car, and I give it another year or two before VW gives up, sadly.

    • 0 avatar
      Whatnext

      Given that VW just announced the refreshed 2021 model, plus the sportbrake in Europe, it is unlikely they will give up on the car. Plus most of the cost of the platform is born by the Passat.

      They may give up selling in the USA, though if they gave it just a little bit of marketing their sales would increase. You can’t expect a high-style, aspirational model to just sell itself to those few who happen to walk into a VW dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The platform itself is the MQB platform that underpins almost every one of Volkswagen’s other transverse/FWD-based cars (Golf 7, Golf 8, 2018+ Tiguan, 2018+ Atlas, 2021+ Atlas Cross Sport, 2019+ Jetta). And, yes, the European Passat.

        It is not on the same platform as the “NMS” Passat that we get here and in China, which is a stretched version of the PQ35 platform used on the Mk.5 and Mk.6-based cars.

        Specifically, I meant that they might give up selling it in the US, especially as it’s imported from Germany, and not the Puebla factory or the Chattanooga one.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo2

      How are you calculating depreciation? Off MSRP or off the 10-15k discounted actual selling price?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yep, this is a niche car, and it’s a niche VW doesn’t seem to have a good answer for.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    We know how much I love unintentionally rare cars. (Unintentionally rare because if VW could sell 2 or 3 times what they are now they would gladly do so.)

    I honestly would throw a tune at it (seems like those hp torque numbers should be flipped on a turbo 2.0T) but thinking about how by 2021 you’ll be able to get a Mazda 3 with far more hp and torque – or can get a Mazda 6 with far more hp and torque (for far cheaper) – there seems to be little reason to buy this. I say these things as someone who is unashamed by his love for turbo motors.

    To Kyree’s point – no options A5 vs loaded VW I’m picking the “People’s Car”. I could give to shakes what badge is on the hood. I’ve stopped worrying about depreciation, if I can get a good deal on the initial purchase, keep it long enough to pay it off, the rest is gravy.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The A5’s main advantage over this is performance – it’s considerably quicker, and the Audi’s chassis is better set up for handling. I have had two Sportbacks as service loaners, and they’re excellent to drive.

      Then again, equipped as this Arteon is, a Sportback is a $55,000 car.

      YMMV

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Mike, I’m not sure the A5 is the Arteon’s competition – small SUVs are. The base A5 is a great looking car, but it’s a small car all around. The Arteon seems Q5 in size and practicality where the A5 seems more like a Q3.

  • avatar

    The answer to “why buy this over an Audi?” would be that 6/72k warranty VW is slapping on everything, but it seems for 20MY, they’re backing down to 4/50k.

    No, thanks.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Does this have the frameless door glass like the CC did?

    Why VW cheaped-out on our Passat and didn’t bring the Euro-platform car over here is mystifying!

  • avatar
    6250Claimer

    “Inside, you get the standard VW experience”. And at $46k, this is a serious problem. VW has made mistakes like this before, and they never seen to learn from them. They get away with it on the $41k Golf R, but barely. Here? Not gonna cut it. And clearly hasn’t.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Yeah, I don’t understand why automakers make cars like this and then totally ignore them in their advertising/promotions. How do you expect to sell them if all you show them is benign neglect? It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

    2 friends in my allotment went out and bought Buicks (a Regal Sportback and a Regal TourX wagon) when Buick pulled the plug on them. Admittedly they are new purchases, but both friends are ecstatic with them so far, in part because of the terrific deals they got. But they had to research them and seek out a dealer who had them. Buick sure didn’t “sell” them.

    I guess automakers put their ad dollars into the big lines (SUV’s, trucks) because of the payoff of those ad dollars. But products that start as “niche vehicles” might actually become attractive to a broader customer base if more buyers at least become aware of the product’s existence.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      In the case of the Regal the production of the 2018 to 2020 generation began just as GM was completing the sale of Opel. So it went from an in house project to a project that involved contracts with a global competitor and obligations to take a certain number of cars every year… There was a lot of speculation as to whether GM was getting a profit margin on each one sold that made them give a damn about the car.

      The Arteon on the other hand… I think VAG is suffering from the diseases that GM had in the 1960s/1970s. There are so many competing marques within the company they’re trying not to step on each other’s toes. Can’t make the Arteon too nice or sell too many or you’re hurting Audi with their SportBack models. That’s the only explanation I can think of.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    It is interesting (puzzling?) to compare this vehicle to my current daily driver:
    https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbs&id=41271&id=21597

    HP, torque and curb weights are strikingly similar.

    EPA has adjusted the ratings on my old car [ironically, all three ‘old’ measurements on the old car exactly match the new car], skewing my initial perception, but still:
    • The modern turbo with eight-speed gets better fuel economy, but requires premium fuel (sad trombone).
    • My experience is that I can equal or better the updated EPA ratings on my old car.
    • My gut feel based on anecdotal stories from this site says that I may not achieve the EPA ratings with the new turbo (depending on driving style).
    • I know which I’d rather service and maintain.

    EPA says my fuel cost is lower on the old car. Progress? Other thoughts welcome…

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      My GTI doesn’t “require” premium fuel, and I doubt this does either. It’s “premium fuel suggested for maximum performance”, like most VWs. It’s perfectly happy on regular, and I see no difference in fuel economy either way.

      I have no problem exceeding the EPA ratings with my car, but it’s a stick. I think that is harder to do with automatics. I find it astoundingly efficient for a car of it’s performance, actually.

      I don’t care for either one, but gun to my head I would take the VW. I’ve had your car as a rental. It’s a boat. The VW will at least drive like a German car.

  • avatar

    May be I am a weirdo, I know, but I like this car as long as it is under bumper-to-bumper warranty.

  • avatar
    karonetwentyc

    My wife recently received one of these as a service loaner. I didn’t get to drive it as I wasn’t listed on the insurance, but did get to be ferried around in it. As a result, take my impressions for what they’re worth.

    Overall, I like the car and it gives VW something it has needed for some time: a true range-topper. Yes, it is butting up against the Audi range, but it’s a logical-progession vehicle in the sense that it gives someone who owns a Jetta or Passat a vehicle to jump to that isn’t the Atlas without having to move into Audi territory just quite yet.

    Having said that, it’s difficult to see it ever being a high-volume seller. As a halo model, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: for VW, there’s likely a balance that needs to be struck between keeping volumes low enough that public perception isn’t one of it just being a more expensive, somewhat rebodied Passat – but also high enough to keep it in the public eye to attract buyers and ultimately turn a profit.

    There are three problems with the car, though, and ultimately they all come back to its price tag.

    1) The interior isn’t nice enough – and by this I mean the plastics. Everything else is acceptable, but there’s too much in the way of hard-touch / hollow-knock going on with some of the surfaces.

    2) Related to 1) above, there also needs to be something to set the interior apart more from the Passat. I don’t blame VW (or any other manufacturer, for that matter) parts-binning it in this department, and I truly do appreciate the fact that VW is very good about having a consistent feel to their vehicles’ controls between models throughout the range. But there should be just a bit more distance between the Arteon and its platform sibling in this regard, particularly as far as styling goes.

    3) The 2.0-turbo-all-the-things approach is fine for the Golf, Jetta, and lower-to-mid-spec Passats, but on the upper Passat trims as well as the Atlas and Arteon that engine shouldn’t even be an option. I realise that everyone wants to get their CAFE numbers up and that diesel is (sadly) no longer an option for doing so, but no matter how good of an engine the 2.0 may be (and it is), it’s at least two cylinders short of what’s expected under the hood of a car in this segment.

    Overall, though, I’m inclined to agree with everyone else’s assessment that this is a fine car that will end up being overlooked by the vast majority of buyers due to a lack of advertising and a body type that traditionally hasn’t been hugely-popular in this part of the world. Which is a pity, because there’s a lot there to recommend it – it just needs a few tweaks to really get it to where it needs to be in relation to its price tag.

    • 0 avatar
      blppt

      I agree with a lot of that, but since Mercedes and BMW are also putting turbo 4s in cars more expensive than this (and of course Audi), it would seem that it fits right in.

      My problem with the Arteon is that despite adding 60+ hp and 50+ lb/ft of peak torque, and adding 2 more ratios to the automatic, it has been tested as slower than the old 2.0T CC. And apparently not as fun to drive.

      They couldn’t sell the CC much, so I’m not sure why they even bothered making the Arteon over here.

      And looks are subjective, but I liked the CC styling much better.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    My wife’s 2018 Audi Q5 has yet another version of this turbo-4, but installed lengthwise. It has virtually the same power output, but a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

    The question is, why is our Q5 EPA rated at 23/27/25 mpg, while the Arteon is 20/27/23 mpg? The VW is surely more aerodynamically efficient than our brick-like SUV, has a smaller frontal area, weighs a couple of hundred pounds less, and has an extra speed in the gearbox. It should get at least a couple of mpg better on the highway. And what about its city rating shortfall?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The Europeans don’t understand the Arteon either, from my reading. This thing was a worldwide lot lizard from the get go. 3700 sales Europe wide in 2019, 2000 so far this year. It’s one hot seller at #149 in the Euro sales charts.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Picture: Expensive, unpopular Volkswagen sedan slides backwards off road into a two-inch high snowbank.

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