A sexy sedan for a very specific customer.
Go to the Volkswagen Arteon page on the German automaker’s website and you’ll see that it’s “the premium sport sedan.” On the surface, we'd buy that. The stunning shape is low and wide and exciting to look at, with fresh styling front and rear, so of course you'd think it'll be very good to drive.
And it is. The Arteon has smooth on-road manners and a refined engine. But it exists in a segment with genuinely performance-oriented competitors. The BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe and Kia Stinger both feature rear-drive platforms, and offer higher-performance six-cylinder engines to go with their base turbocharged four-cylinders. The Arteon, though, rides on Volkswagen's MQB modular architecture – not a bland or boring platform by any stretch, but certainly not as dynamic as a rear-drive setup – with standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive. There's just a single four-cylinder engine available. This VW is passably entertaining, but that's it.
At the same time, the Arteon has some shortcomings relative to traditional sedans to go with a very important advantage. And of course, it's quite expensive. This is an interesting car, but one built for a very specific kind of customer.
Pictures don't do this car justice – the Arteon is striking. And even if you don't care for the retina-scorching Kurkuma Yellow Metallic shade of our tester, it's hard to do anything but stare at VW's latest sedan. The fascia is particularly attractive – there's a depth to the grille that emphasizes the bright strakes of chrome trim, and the interaction between those elements and the headlights is lovely. It's hard to believe this car comes from the same company responsible for the dull-as-dirt Passat. The profile shape is familiar from the CC the Arteon replaces, although Volkswagen went with a more conventional tail design. It's attractive, but we wish the rear of the Arteon were as eye-catching as the front.
We'll never understand why liftbacks aren't more prevalent. Pairing the attractive style of an aggressively sloping roofline and a Kammback tail with a larger, easier-to-load cargo hold seems like a natural combination. How much larger you ask? The Arteon is 2.2 inches shorter but 1.5 inches wider than the Passat. Its 27.2-cubic-foot trunk easily exceeds the 15.9-cube hold in the Passat, though.
This was true of the CC and it's true of the Arteon: the front chairs are excellent. There's a lot of support in these seats – they remind us of what you'd find in a GTI or Golf R. There’s only a choice of snazzy two-tone upholstery or black leather, but the overall styling of these seats is commendable, too. The horizontal theme of the seams is somehow both modern and classic. Really, the Arteon is a great place to sit.
Okay, so the Arteon is a great place to sit if you're in the front row. The second row, as with the CC before it, is difficult to get into without bumping your head. The low roofline sacrifices nearly an inch of space compared to a Passat, although the Arteon has slightly more legroom, at 40.2 to 39.1. Still, the second row of this slinky sedan isn't a great place for grown adults. Even in front, there are compromises – the aggressive rake to the windshield means forward visibility is poor. Overall, the Arteon's shape reduces the cabin space from 102 cubic feet to 96.2, or just 1.5 cubes more than you get in a Jetta.
Unlike the CC, the Arteon is only available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. It's more potent than what you'll find in other VW products, like the Tiguan, GTI, and Jetta GLI, with 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. And on road, performance is brisk enough, with adequate low-end torque and a quiet, refined character while underway. And yet it comes up well short of the 320-hp BMW 440i Gran Coupe, let alone the 365-hp Kia Stinger GT. The Arteon isn't even especially light to make up for its power deficit. It tips the scales at 3,854 pounds, only 68 pounds less than the 440i and 169 pounds less than the Stinger GT.
The Arteon starts at $35,845, which doesn't seem crazy (especially now). That figure undercuts the 4-Series Gran Coupe by just under $10,000, while ringing up about $1,700 more than a base Kia Stinger. Our SEL R-Line tester, available exclusively with 4Motion all-wheel-drive, is a good bit dearer, starting at $43,560. There are no optional extras, although the destination charge does drive the price up to $44,055. That's $1,350 more than the all-wheel-drive-equipped, 365-horsepower Kia Stinger GT. Go with rear-drive and the Kia drops to $40,535. The VW is a bargain relative to the BMW – the 430i with all-wheel drive starts at $46,750 before options, while the inline-six-powered 440i demands at least $51,150. That's a significant difference, although it's hard to say whether the savings is worth giving up that BMW brand cachet or performance.