2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium Review - Gliding Under the Radar

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

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.
2019 volkswagen arteon sel premium review gliding under the radar

Have you seen a Volkswagen Arteon in traffic?

Odds are, you probably haven’t.

According to our friends at GoodCarBadCar, 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.)

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.

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.

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]

Join the conversation
2 of 29 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jul 10, 2020

    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.

  • RHD RHD on Jul 11, 2020

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

  • Analoggrotto The real question, how many years or months after the end of production will this vehicle be completely eliminated from the street? Neon lights, yellow spoiler covers, idiotic stripes, brazzers license plate frames, obnoxious exhausts and all.
  • Mike1041 Why buy a German car in the first place? You will get to know the service manager real well and you will be denied claims because “we make no mistakes in the Fatherland”.
  • Art Vandelay This thing has had a longer send off than The Rolling Stones
  • Kwik_Shift I wonder how friendly it would be as a daily driver in commuter traffic. At least Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is more docile and even comes in manual.
  • Carsofchaos I like it. But then again, I think the Aztek and Vehicross are cool, too.