The debut of the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon has been a long time coming. We first saw Volkswagen’s new flagship vehicle teased in 2016, and it arrived in the flesh at a North American auto show in early 2018, but certification problems in Europe meant that the car was delayed around the world. Now, Volkswagen’s new flagship vehicle is finally here. I headed to the area around Santa Barbara, Calif., to see if the Arteon was worth the wait (per company policy, Cars.com pays for its own transportation and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events).
What I discovered was something that felt like a return to form for Volkswagen, which has been criticized in recent years for taking its vehicles down a notch in terms of materials and, simply, how nice they felt to be in. The Arteon takes things in the opposite direction, and I found it gives a very good premium, if not luxury, impression.
Tuned for Comfort
When it was announced, the Arteon had multiple potential powertrain configurations, but as is common for these globally sold vehicles, those options got condensed into one for the U.S. market. Here we’ll get only a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 268 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. It comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive costs an additional $1,800 on all of the Arteon’s trim levels except the top SEL Premium R-Line, which I tested, where AWD is standard.
The powertrain might be the part of the Arteon that feels the least luxurious, in part due to that transmission. Volkswagen has a superb dual-clutch seven-speed automatic, but the company chose to use the eight-speed instead and it isn’t as good. There’s noticeable off-the-line acceleration lag, and shifts aren’t quite as crisp as they could be. Once the engine gets up into its power band (around 3,000-4,000 rpm is when it really kicks), it’s up to the task of hauling the Arteon around, but keeping the engine in that range can be challenging.
What does feel luxurious, however, is the ride. The Arteon comes standard with an adaptive suspension, and it puts it to excellent use. There was also a unique feature that I found in the Arteon that I haven’t seen in another vehicle before: Instead of just a few different firmness settings for the shock absorbers, there’s a slider that allows the driver to select within a range from Comfort to Sport. I counted the tick marks: There are 42 different settings you can pick from.
The suspension, in combination with the excellent MQB platform that Volkswagen uses under the Arteon (and many of its other vehicles), make for a pleasant cruising experience. The car rides buttery smoothly but without feeling vague. At both low and highway speeds, there are no bobbles, and it rumbles over even imperfect roads with nary a care. Overall, the setup is tuned for comfort — even in Sport you’ll feel some body roll in corners, especially on entry. But by the time you get through the corner, the suspension has worked out what the car is doing and it stays surprisingly level on exit. The Arteon isn’t a blast to drive like the Kia Stinger, but it feels solid and competent in its own right.
A Flagship-Worthy Interior
Hop inside the Arteon and a few things are immediately apparent: There’s no skimping on materials, and man does it have a lot of space. The accents that appear to be metal throughout the cabin actually are, higher trim levels get Nappa leather seating surfaces, and the whole front setup appeared familiar to me. It reminded me of several Audi products, except the Arteon keeps its physical climate controls. You can even get the same 12.3-inch instrument panel display, but here it’s called Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instead of Audi Virtual Cockpit.
There’s also a ton of space, especially in the backseat. The Arteon is the “spiritual successor” of the CC, says Volkswagen, and the Arteon has a 5-inch-longer wheelbase than the CC while being only 2.3 inches longer overall. This allowed the interior to expand — nearly all of that added wheelbase went into a backseat that offers 40.2 inches of legroom. One thing to watch out for is that the roofline does start to dip as it moves to the rear of the car; if you’re taller, you may run into some slight headroom limitations the farther back you lean. There’s enough legroom, however, that you can settle back into the seat nicely and avoid the roof.
The interior isn’t perfect — the only charging option in the backseat is a 12-volt outlet, but otherwise there are no USB ports or wireless charging mats to help out with that. I was disappointed to see touch-sensitive buttons flanking the multimedia screen, and Volkswagen’s digital display doesn’t offer the same Google Earth satellite navigation view or the same level of customization as the Audi system. But on the whole, it’s an impressive cabin that’s comfortable for four occupants over long trips.
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Competes With What?
Given its size and price, where the Arteon fits in the competitive landscape is open to interpretation. It starts at $36,840 and tops out right around where my test vehicle was at $47,705 — that’s with all of the bells and whistles plus the sportier looks of the SEL Premium R-Line (all prices include destination charges). Against other large sedans, it fits right between the sporty Kia Stinger and the frumpy Toyota Avalon. It can also fight upward; I think the Arteon makes a strong case against premium vehicles like the Acura TLX and the Buick Regal, against which its mix of impressive cabin materials, roominess and ride quality give it an edge.
But what was most interesting to me was comparing it against closer relatives than that: the Audi A5 and A7, which are also fastbacks. The A5 has a starting price ($45,195) that’s close to where the Arteon is at the top — and I think I’d rather take the Arteon over the A5 in that scenario, especially considering that the Arteon has much more interior room and the two both have turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Arteon’s luxury trappings aren’t enough to best an A7 in a straight-up match, but the A7 starts at $68,995, which puts quite a gulf between the two. And if you carry folks often, though the A7 is just over 4 inches longer, it has 3.2 inches less backseat legroom.
I came away from my time in the Arteon impressed. Its ride and interior quality, good use of space and value give it strong appeal — but we’ll see if that translates to sales. The 2019 Arteon arrives at dealerships this month.
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