2021 Volkswagen Arteon Review
An Audi in disguise
SAN DIEGO — I’m a big “buy-it-for-life” proponent, also known as “buy once, cry once.”
For example, the other day, I dropped off a years-old and somewhat beat up Briggs & Riley suitcase at a luggage shop to be repaired. One zipper pull was entirely ripped off, and another was severely damaged. If it were any other brand of luggage, I might be thinking about replacing it.
But it cost many hundreds of dollars and, in addition to being a well-designed suitcase, includes a lifetime warranty that covers damage from airline handling. The luggage store happily took my bag and promised it would be all back together within a few weeks. This experience is part of why I have several other Briggs & Riley bags and will continue to add to the collection even though the bags are pretty pricey.
Now, there’s no lifetime warranty in the car world, and there’s no “buy once, cry once.” But there are still solid deals to be had on products that punch above their weight. I’m a particular fan of vehicles from consumer carmakers that feel like one from their more luxury-focused brands.
The Toyota Avalon is a good example. Aside from the interior touchpoints (an industry term that encompasses all the stuff you can touch in the car: leather seats or window switches or the shift knob, for example) being from the Toyota parts bin, the Avalon looks and feels almost entirely like a pricier Lexus.
The Avalon is an excellent choice if you aren’t focused on buying a logo and want an almost-luxury car for a solid price. And so it is with the Volkswagen Arteon, which happens to be my test car this week.
The Arteon has a weird name, which Volkswagen loves, but it has sleek four-door coupe lines. It reminds me of an Audi A5 a bit, and when I saw one pass me on the highway the other day, at first glance, I thought it was an Audi.
It has lovely LED lighting front and rear and something called Poor Weather Lights, which I think everyone else calls fog lights. But the slippery design is fantastic if you’re into the sports-sedan four-door coupe aesthetic, which you should be.
It feels like an Audi on the inside too. The dash cluster is an all-digital unit that would be familiar to many an Audi driver, and the leather and other touchpoints feel very premium.
Of course, the Arteon isn’t cheap. My top-trim SEL Premium R-Line priced at $48,595, but it feels competitive with other cars in the mid-$40k price range. It doesn’t have a lifetime warranty like my suitcase, but it comes with 4-year/50k of bumper-to-bumper coverage.
And all the luxury features you’d expect are here. Automatic wipers and headlights, a separate climate zone for the roomy backseats, all the safety features including adaptive cruise and 360 camera, and even driver seat massaging, which isn’t technically a safety feature, but I’ll pretend it is. It also has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There’s also something called Emergency Assist which can detect if you’re not paying attention to the road, either because of a medical emergency or simple inattentiveness. It will slow the car within the lane and use heavy and sudden braking to try and jerk you to attention. It’ll activate the hazard lights and finally bring the car to a stop if you still don’t respond.
Somewhat predictably, under the hood is a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 268 hp and 258 torque, mated to an excellent 8-speed transmission and all-wheel drive. For 2022, a new engine boosts things to 300 hp and 295 torque, by the way.
The ride is what I’ve come to expect from Volkswagen: firm and sporty. It’s evident that this car was designed with smooth German asphalt in mind, and it can be a bit of a solid ride on our inferior roads here in the states, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it jarring.
The engine is torquey and reminds me of the wonderful-to-drive but emissions-happy TDI engines that Volkswagen no longer offers. Ahem. Sorry VW. Given that everyone else was cheating on emissions tests, it’s probably time to move on from that. Still, I miss those engines.
Volkswagen sold just shy of 5,000 Arteons in the first nine months of 2021, though that is an 84 percent increase from 2020 and a 97 percent increase in the third quarter alone. Still, the all-electric ID.4 outsells it by 3x.
It seems like everyone wants crossovers and SUVs these days, but if you have a hankering for a sporty European sedan that doesn’t break the bank (or show too much flash), Volkswagen has built the Arteon for you. If you want four rings, I understand - kind of. But do you really need a brand name?
Well, given how many high-powered Audi RS and BMW M and Mercedes-AMG rigs are sold to folks who have never even sniffed a racetrack, I suppose branding is more than a little important.
Still, give the Arteon a look. It may be the most surprising car I’ve driven this year. But don’t expect to buy-it-for-life; save that for your suitcases.
$48,585 as tested: