Volkswagen may be a “people’s car,” but sometimes Germany’s biggest automaker tries to go upscale.
The same is the case with the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon. VW’s flagship car aims to offer a bit more luxury without breaking the bank. VW tries to elevate the Arteon from its lesser models primarily through styling, more luxurious interiors and a long list of technical features.
The Arteon competes with the Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon and Kia Stinger in a dwindling space for prestige cars from mainstream brands. However, VW trusts Arteon so much that it has named the Acura TLX and Infiniti Q50 luxury sedan as competitors. As we’ll see, though, Arteon is missing a key component that they offer the luxury brand.
VW launched the Arteon for the 2019 model year, but the 2021 Arteon got a substantial update. It gets the latest MIB3 infotainment system and Travel Assist and Emergency Assist driver aids, plus updated styling and a shuffled equipment lineup. The base front-wheel drive Arteon SE starts at $38,190, but our test car was a range-topping SEL premium R-Line model with 4Motion all-wheel drive and a $48,190 base price.
design and interior
The Arteon’s main selling point is the styling. It’s still recognizably a VW, but not quite as stable as the automaker’s other models. To achieve that look, VW’s designers applied the old Detroit formula of “longer, lower, wider”, giving the Ayrton a wider stance, shorter front and rear overhangs, and lower ceilings than the luxury brands “four-“. Unlike the doors coupe”. Like Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. The larger wheels (18 inches, 19 inches and 20 inches for the SE, SEL and SEL Premium, respectively) fill the wells of the wheels.
VW gave the Arteon some plastic surgery for the 2021 model year, but you’ll have to look closely to see the differences. The grille’s chrome bar was reshaped, as were the front air intakes. The SEL and SEL Premium models also get the optional R-Line Presence package from earlier as standard equipment. It adds sportier styling elements like a rear spoiler, as well as an LED light bar across the grille (all trim levels get LED headlights and taillights as standard equipment).
The Arteon’s sleek styling comes at the cost of passenger space. Due to its lower roofline, the Arteon has less front and rear headroom than the traditionally styled Volkswagen Passat. That sedan also has more front legroom, but thanks to the longer wheelbase, the Arteon has slightly more rear legroom.
It’s still recognizably a VW, but not quite as stable as the automaker’s other models.
Front headroom and legroom are also among the worst in the Artion’s competing set. At the rear, the VW offers more rear headroom and legroom than the Nissan Maxima or the Kia Stinger, and is just behind the Toyota Avalon in those metrics.
Like the Stinger, the Arteon has a rear hatch instead of the traditional trunk. With the rear seats at 27.2 cubic feet, the VW offers significantly more cargo space than a Kia, Nissan or Toyota. You can also fold down the rear seats for up to 56.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
Typical of VW, the interior features a minimalist design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The designers avoided visual clutter of the interior of the Toyota Avalon, and the controls are placed exactly where you need them. While the quality of materials is somewhat inconsistent in VW’s lineup, the interior materials of our SEL Premium test car seemed appropriate for the car’s price. The base SE model gets V-Tex leatherette upholstery, while the SEL and SEL Premium trim levels get standard Nappa leather – a higher grade commonly seen in the segment.
Tech, infotainment and driver assist
The Arteon gets some notable tech upgrades for the 2021 model year, including VW’s latest MIB3 infotainment system. It adds wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, multiple device pairing, and a USB-C port. Two ports are standard for front seat occupants, while the SEL Premium model gets a third port for the second row. A built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, Amazon Alexa compatibility, and a SiriusXM satellite radio receiver are also standard. Wireless phone charging is also standard on the SEL and SEL Premium trim levels, while the SEL Premium gets a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
While the operating system is different, the 2021 Arteon still gets the same 8.0-inch touchscreen as last year’s model. It also sports a 10.0-inch digital cockpit instrument-cluster screen, but is now standard on all models. Sporting the same graphics and menu layout, the screen doesn’t feel dramatically different to use, compared to the older MIB2 system. That’s not a bad thing – the interface was still easy to use – but it looks like the main advantage of the MIB3 is the updated smartphone connectivity, not the display. We also weren’t fans of the new VW haptic controls installed on the dashboard and steering wheel. They deliberately needed to be pushed like regular buttons, but lacked the tactile feel of true analog controls.
The interior features a minimalist design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
On the driver-assistance front, the 2021 Arteon gets two new features – Travel Assist and Emergency Assist – but only on the higher-end SEL and SEL Premium models. Travel Assist combines adaptive cruise control with automatic lane centering, allowing the car to steer, accelerate, and brake on highways with clear lane markings (though, you’ll still have to keep your hands on the wheel at all times) ). Designed for situations where the driver is disabled, Emergency Assistance monitors driver alertness, and will automatically slow the car to a stop if no activity is detected. Standard blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are also available on all Arteon models.
No direct competitor of Arteon is the equivalent of Travel Assist or Emergency Assist. Thankfully we didn’t have to test Emergency Assist, while Travel Assist showed that such technology still has a long way to go. When we changed the set cruising speed, the system was a bit slow, and while it was able to keep Ayrton in its lane, it tended to be late, causing the car to get close enough to the yellow or white lines. This is a mistake that a novice human driver usually makes. Shouldn’t the machine be better?
The Arteon delivers an impressively refined driving experience, but its rivals are missing one thing: sportiness.
VW only offers a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available on the SEL trim level, and standard on the SEL Premium, but not available on the base SE model.
The Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon offer more power than the 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque the Arteon muster. The larger V6 engines that come standard in Japanese sedans both make about 300 hp, with roughly the same torque as the Arteon’s turbo-fours. The Kia Stinger’s base four-cylinder engine has less horsepower than the Arteon’s engine, but is also available with the Kia 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 making 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. Both the Stinger and Avalon are available with all-wheel drive, but Toyota only offers it with the less-powerful four-cylinder engine.
Ride quality was impressive even on winter-ravaged roads with pothole-shaped potholes.
Big cars like the Arteon have traditionally placed an emphasis on comfort over performance, but the Maxima and Stinger were designed to be sporty, and even the Avalon now has a TRD performance model. Arteon has nothing to counter it. It’s not slow, but the acceleration doesn’t exactly push you back in your seat. Steering is precise, and while the Arteon doesn’t have the floaty feel typically associated with larger cars, there’s also no sense of urgency.
At a more quiet pace, the Arteon is excellent. The standard adaptive suspension did a great job of balancing handling and comfort. Ride quality was impressive even on winter-ravaged roads with pothole-shaped potholes. Our only complaint was a rough-shifting transmission and what we felt was an excessive amount of tire noise.
Arteon will make a long-range cruiser or commuter car, but it also has a good driver’s car. We’d love to see a taut, vibrant version (like Arteon R Sold in Europe) with the standard edition.
gas mileage and safety
Fuel-economy ratings for the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon are 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway) with front-wheel drive and 24 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 31 mpg highway) with all-wheel drive. It’s not bad, but only because these types of cars are generally not designed with gas mileage in mind. The one exception is the Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which is rated at 43 mpg combined.
The 2020 Volkswagen Arteon was “named after”top safety pickWith the top “good” score in all crash tests, by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Arteon missed out on the highest “Top Safety Pick+” rating due to a low score for its standard headlights. Those ratings should carry over to the 2021 model. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not published crash-test ratings for the 2021 Arteon.
VW offers a four-year, 50,000-mile new-vehicle warranty as well as two years of free scheduled maintenance, both of which are transferable to subsequent owners. Nissan and Toyota both offer a three-year, 36,000-mile new vehicle warranty, but also a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The Kia tops out with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile limited warranty. VW also lacks a stellar reputation for the reliability of Japanese and Korean brands.
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