You’ve heard of gateway drugs and gateway tech. Get ready for the gateway luxury car.
Volkswagen has dabbled in the luxury sandbox in the past, with only a smattering of success. Now they’re back with a vengeance, proudly showing off a car that’s a little bit sedan, a little bit hatchback, and a good dose of fun.
When they first began to arrive at American dealerships this past April, most people were probably hesitant. “What’s an Arteon?” was likely uttered to salespeople for months. In fact, it probably still is.
But that’s cool. After spending a week behind the wheel, I hope VW is prepared for a long game, because they’re off to a good start. Perfect? Nope. But I was pleasantly surprised, and look forward to watching things progress with subtle alterations.
The Arteon tiptoes up to the starter luxury category. If you’re looking for a comparison, it might be the Audi A4.
You get three trim levels with this new VW four-door sedan/hatchback. The base SE, the SEL, and the SEL Premium (which is what I drove). All of them come with a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder that puts out 268 horsepower.
The SE comes standard with front-wheel drive, but the other trims step up VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive, which will further help its introduction in snowy climates. In fact, during my week there were a couple of snow days, and the car handled like a champ.
The first thing that caught my eye was the exterior styling. I think most of us would be hard-pressed to name a sexy Volkswagen, at any time in its history.
But the Arteon has (for a hatchback) pretty cool lines. I especially like the clamshell hood and the defining lines around the doors. Perhaps the best-looking VW ever, although – again – that’s not saying much.
You knew the company was open to change when they based the car’s name on the Latin word for art. I mean, you gotta take your game up a notch when you start with that.
It’s worth noting up front that this sedan doesn’t scrimp on interior space. Plenty of room to roam for both front seat and rear seat passengers, and that gives the Arteon a little bit of a boost against its competitors.
That spacious interior is compromised by a confusing mixture of quality materials with not-so-quality materials. It’s as if VW couldn’t quite commit to going all-out to create an entry-level luxury car, so they’re hoping to sneak a few cheaper parts in.
We’ll forgive them. For the most part it’s a comfortable, classy ride.
Things are laid out well for the driver, with easy-to-understand controls. You get a good amount of knobs and buttons, versus the ham-handed tech approach from some rivals.
Cargo space is huge, and you should be able to fit a bunch of stuff inside that rear hatch. Up front it’s a slightly-less-rosy picture. Not bad, but not tons of room for personal stuff, either.
I liked the car’s pep. It may not be the most powerful engine in the segment, but the Arteon doesn’t seem to lag at all.
The acceleration was smooth and confident, and the overall handling was superb. I liked the steering quite a bit.
On the nicer days I took the car out to experience some twists and turns, and it held the road well. Volkswagen was counting a sporty feel, and while it may not hit a home run, let’s call it a solid double.
Probably middle of the pack, but for their first time out of the chute that’s not bad.
A decent array of driver safety and assist features are standard, such as adaptive cruise control and forward collision warnings.
As for your toys and gadgets, I’ll give it a B. At least it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and I experienced only one hiccup with that in my test week. That’s a good sign because, as I’ve found over the last two years, that’s not a given.
The Bottom Line
It’s good to see VW sneaking back into the pre-luxury game, especially with a car that starts with an impressive appearance. We’ve grown tired of their boring sedans, so it’s nice that they’ve sexed up the Arteon at least a little bit.
Granted, you’ll be paying in the 40s and won’t necessarily be showered with luxury. But they’ve made a nice effort.
Throw in the fact that it’s a smooth, comfortable ride, and you have a good option if you’re shopping things like Audi or Infiniti.
2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
8-speed automatic transmission
Front-wheel drive standard, all-wheel drive available
Fuel economy: 20/27/23 combined
As tested: $46,175
Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer