The Volkswagen Arteon has only been on sale in the United States for about a year – the first units hit American dealers in April 2019 – but it’s already getting an update for 2021. Featuring a very subtle exterior restyling, the 2021 VW Arteon will actually get a rather attractively facelifted interior, a move that the company says aligns it more with its flagship status.

In Europe, the Arteon has been on sale since the 2018 model year, which is why it’s being updated seemingly early in its US lifecycle. In addition to the mid-cycle styling and technology changes, our European friends will also get a crack at the achingly stylish Arteon Shooting Brake, an unusual long-roof variant of hatchback sedan. What’s more, European customers will now have the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain boasting 215 horsepower (160 kilowatts) and an Arteon R variant with 315 hp (235 kW).

Sadly, Americans will be bereft of the Shooting Brake, plug-in hybrid, and Arteon R, leaving us only with the SE, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line. A carryover 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four powers each of our trims, routing 268 hp and 258 pound-feet (200 kW and 350 newton-meters) through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels on the SE and SEL, with 4Motion all-wheel drive optional on the SEL and standard on the SEL Premium.

Body Building

Luckily, the updated 2021 Arteon five-door is still a lovely consolation prize. Volkswagen went out of its way to distinguish the sportier R-Line from the base trim, giving the former a front bumper with enlarged lower grilles contained within a C-shaped frame. Unusual body-color blades rise from the bottom of the front bumper to slash through the outer grille openings, giving the 2021 Arteon R-Line a slightly more sinister appearance. Also unique to the R-Line relative to other Arteons is a full-width LED strip that extends down from the headlights’ hockey stick–shaped DRLs onto the grille’s second accent bar.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon
2021 Volkswagen Arteon

An Arteon without R-Line styling (which for Americans includes only the base SE trim level) gets some front-end revisions as well. The grille has been reshaped with a wider shield motif, a move we think recalls the Ferrari Portofino ever so slightly. The restyled front bumper also features a full-width chrome strip above the front spoiler, giving the SE a more premium appearance.

Around the rear, changes are slight. The taillights have a more technical, futuristic appearance thanks to new LEDs, and the R-Line gets a distinct rear bumper design with integrated, quad-trapezoidal exhaust outlets. Finally, the sedan gets Volkswagen’s recently updated, minimalistic corporate logo all over the vehicle, and the “ARTEON” script on the rear hatch has been revised as well.

Gallery: 2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Flagship Luxury

In Europe, Volkswagen’s proper flagship is the Touareg, and the company looked to that luxury SUV in redesigning the Arteon’s interior. Improved interior materials include embossed imitation leather for the dashboard and door panels, and a redesigned steering wheel with capacitive controls looks lovely.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

The air conditioning unit is also new, ditching the old Arteon’s intuitive rotary dials with touch controls – we’ll admit we’re worried about that. European models get VW’s modern MIB3 infotainment that makes use of a touch-only interface, but luckily, American-market cars will pair the new system with ergonomically friendly volume and tuning knobs.

Even the base Arteon SE will be comprehensively equipped. A 10.3-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit gauge cluster comes standard, as does wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, four-door keyless entry, and 8.0-inch MIB3 infotainment display. It also gets standard safety features like automated emergency braking and blind spot monitoring, as well as stylish 18-inch wheels with a new design.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

The Arteon SEL adds standard R-Line styling, a wireless inductive charging pad, traffic sign recognition, and lane-keeping assistance. Finally, the SEL Premium R-Line will get 20-inch wheels and Harman/Kardon premium audio – a new stereo system developed for VW featuring 12 speakers, 700 watts of power, and a 16-channel Ethernet amplifier. Both the SEL and SEL Premium also get shock-and-awe translucent aluminum trim that pairs with ambient interior lighting, bathing the entire cabin in one of 30 different colors.

Forbidden Fruit

The Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake is the latest automotive slap in the face for America, taunting Yankees with yet another wagon we can’t have. The five-door hatchback’s styling translates well to a long-roof design, thanks in part to strong rear haunches that stand out even more from the wagon’s roofline than the hatch’s. The design of the side window openings pair with a slick roof spoiler to draw attention to the rear – “looking fast while standing still” applies here. Unfortunately, a new body style means a new round of US crash and emissions tests, something VW can ill afford given the wagon’s likely low take rate here.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake
2021 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake
2021 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake

Also on offer to our friends across the pond will be a plug-in hybrid variant of the Arteon hatchback. If it uses the same powertrain as the overseas-only Passat GTE, then it pairs a 156hp (115-kW), turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four with a 13-kilowatt battery powering a 115hp (85-kW) electric motor. Total system output on the Arteon plug-in, as on the Passat GTE, is 215 hp (160 kW) and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm). The GTE can drive about 35 miles (56 kilometers) in EV mode before the engine fires up, more than enough for most Europeans’ daily commutes – we’d expect similar from the Arteon plug-in.

The other Volkswagen of which Americans will be deprived is the Arteon R. Volkswagen was mum on details except to say that the performance model will boast 315 ponies, as mentioned above. It’s possible that the Arteon R will be a plug-in hybrid, possibly pairing the Golf R’s 292hp (218-kW) 2.0-liter turbo four with a small-capacity, lightweight battery. 4Motion all-wheel drive is all but guaranteed on the Arteon R.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Style In Spades

Here in the US, the Arteon’s primary calling card is its style. Going up against rivals like the Kia Stinger and Nissan Maxima, both of which offer more power, the Arteon sells mainly on its ability to make onlookers gaze longingly as it passes by. With a subtle exterior restyling that spoils none of that appeal – and a modernized, luxurious interior that should impress the people inside the vehicle, too – the Arteon serves as a worthy US-market flagship for the VW brand.


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