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Volkswagen Arteon: a forgotten 5-door fastback

Volkswagen’s attempts at going further upmarket than its mid-sized Passat sedan haven’t been particularly successful. The 8-cylinder W8 version of the 4th-generation Passat and its big brother Phaeton (closely related to the Audi A8) were early 21st-century flops. The later Volkswagen CC (inspired by the Mercedes-Benz CLS 4-door coupe) didn’t do much better. Its successor Volkswagen Arteon also got off to a rocky start. Although launched in Europe in March 2017, the U.S. version, delayed by unspecified emissions testing issues, finally went on sale in the U.S. in April 2019. For 2021, it receives a mild exterior facelift (revised front end and wheels) and interior updates (upgraded materials, revised steering wheel and climate controls plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto).

The competition

The upper-midsize 5-door fastback/hatchback segment is somewhat of a niche market. Its only mass-market rivals are the Kia Stinger and the recently discontinued Buick Regal Sportback. Among luxury brands, it competes against the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe.

Volkswagen Arteon

The powertrain

All of the Volkswagen Arteon’s rivals offer the option of a higher-powered V6 engine, but the VW only comes with a single 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine producing 268 hp and 250 lb/ft of torque. 

The sole transmission offered is an 8-speed automatic built by Japan’s Aisin. Front-wheel-drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive is available, depending on model.

EPA fuel economy ratings are 25 mpg combined city/highway for FWD models and 24 mpg combined for 4Motion models.

Safety ratings

The IIHS gives the VW Arteon a Top Safety Pick rating when equipped with the Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) included in middle and upper trim levels. NHTSA has yet to publish Arteon  crash-safety ratings.

Available variants

The Volkswagen Arteon is offered in 4 versions. The base SE (FWD) model starts at $36,995. Additional variants are SEL R-Line (available with FWD or 4Motion) and SEL Premium R-Line (standard 4Motion). Our test unit is an SEL R-Line 4Motion priced at $44,985. 

Volkswagen Arteon

Our impressions

In this era of tall, boxy SUVs, it is truly refreshing to see a low, sporty, flowing fastback such as the Volkswagen Arteon. Yet, as far as interior room and comfort, looks can be deceiving. Due primarily to its transverse (width-wise) engine placement, the Arteon’s interior and trunk space exceeds those of its rivals listed earlier. In fact, the EPA considers the Arteon a Large Car in spite of its mid-sized exterior dimensions.

Its adaptive suspension allows for Comfort, Normal or Sport modes, but even the latter provides a smooth, comfortable ride. Steering feel is precise, and handling is entertaining enough. Don’t expect a full-on sports sedan, however.

If you don’t own the latest and greatest in smartphones (like yours truly), you’ll be disappointed to find only the newer USB-C ports, and none of the older, larger USB ports. This is a common trait among German cars.

Will the Arteon be the upmarket VW sedan that finally breaks the curse and becomes a sales success? It certainly faces an uphill battle in a world gone mad for crossovers and SUVs. But for those that prefer sleek fastback sedans, the Arteon is definitely worth considering.

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