Driven: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon – a Luxury Car for Gen X?

It’s time to face facts my fellow 40-to-50-something’s, we’re now squarely in middle age. Sure, we still think we’re in our 20s, but one solid day of yard work and you become painfully aware of your real age. But with age comes success; you’ve clawed your way up the ladder at work, and you’re finally building your savings account. You’re not yet ready to jump into a BMW, Audi, or a Lexus (ugh). And while you love your GTI or Golf R, it’s just not as practical as you wish it were; the kids’ sports equipment isn’t getting any smaller. An neither are the kids.

Is there something a doesn’t-follow-traditions person like you can drive without feeling too flashy yet still gives you a healthy dose of driving pleasure? The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon could be just that car. 

A Mature GTI?

After spending the better part of the day driving and riding in the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon, I can’t help but compare it to their legendary hot hatch. Both have a well defined sporty nature, a common architecture, an upscale (for the most part – more on that later) interior, and a rear hatch. But is the Arteon the “true Gran Turismo” that VW execs stated it is in their product presentation? It just might be. 

Volkswagen’s New Flagship – Not an SUV

If you haven’t kept up with Volkswagen news, the Arteon is a “four-door coupe.” Now if you think this is a direct replacement for the CC, the designers who created the Arteon would disagree with you. For this new model, VW said the designers started from a clean sheet of paper. The fact that it is a liftback and not a trunked-sedan shows how they took a fresh look at this model. The brand states that the Arteon shows VW’s continued commitment to sedans (although they also revealed that SUVs now make up more than 50% of VWNA’s sales), and there was an active choice not to make a sport-utility the top model. A bold choice in our SUV-crazy market. 

A Sexy Volkswagen?

As someone who is drawn to vehicles with a healthy dose of visual drama, the Arteon confidently checks my style box. There are strong character lines all around the car that all point back to the bold grille. From comments in our forums, some people are a little turned off by the front-end styling but in-person the grille and front graphics work very well to give this sedan a low, wide, and aggressive face. It’s surprisingly imposing in a rear view mirror.

Volkswagen had a Kurkuma Yellow SEL Premium R-Line displayed in the hotel courtyard, and the metallic paint accented the lines of the car beautifully. I’ve seen the Kurkuma Yellow on Atlases and was never drawn to it, but it looks entirely different on the Arteon. Pictures do not do the paint color justice. If you’re interested in this metallic paint, buy one now; while gorgeous, this color might not make it to the 2020 model. Looking back at past models, beyond the Karmann Ghia and maybe the CC, there haven’t been many truly sexy Volkswagens; the kind loaded with curves and confidence. Handsome and conservative styling has always been a mainstay at VW, but the Arteon is sexy. And the execs present were all very proud of the car.

Smart Luxury

The term “smart luxury” was used more than once in describing the Arteon. I’m not 100% on-board with that label, but there is some validity to it. You see, the Arteon provides the kind of features luxury car buyers are looking for: the latest in electronic gadgets like quick-response touch-screen infotainment, Apple and Android phone pairing, and the slick digital cockpit. To this, they’ve added a host of safety features like Front Assist, Side Assist, Rear Traffic Alert, and eight (EIGHT!) airbags. Not bad. Higher trim level cars come with Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Park Assist (can help parallel park and even standard-park the car), and much more. And like the proverbial icing-on-the-cake, all Arteons come standard with Dynamic Chassis Control; switching between the driving modes changes steering, damping, and throttle response. 

The Arteon trim levels illustrate the idea of “smart luxury.” Unlike other VWs, there is no “S” trim; the base Arteon is so well equipped, the product planners felt a base-trim-level designation wouldn’t reflect the content level of the model well, so the lowest trim level is “SE.” In Arteon-land there are three trims: SE, SEL, and SEL-Premium. Arteon SE models have heated leatherette seats, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights, and much more.

SEL models add VW’s Digital Cockpit, Nappa leather seats, and a panoramic sunroof. VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is available on both SE and SEL models. SEL Premium models add 4Motion, cooled front seats, massaging driver’s seat, heated rear seats, the 700 watt Dynaudio stereo, independent rear temperature controls, power rear hatch, ambient lighting, and a slew of electronic safety gizmos. 

Not enough design for you? The R-Line package can be added to any trim level. R-Line Arteons feature unique front and rear bumper fascias, 19 or 20-inch wheels, alloy interior trim pieces, what appeared to be a thicker steering wheel (with silver stitching), and a black headliner. 

But How Does It Drive?

The Arteon takes all the best elements of its MQB architecture. It is tight, composed, and truly fun. It seriously hustled through the tight curves and switchbacks around the Los Alamos National Forest. And the Arteon wasn’t even breaking a sweat. Just to be clear: this was not in long straight-always. Nope; I was doing easily double the “suggested” speeds for the curvy sections, and the two 4Motion-equipped Arteons handled them with aplomb. In fact, a few times I backed off the throttle to save my co-pilot from motion sickness.

All Arteons come standard with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) which changes the throttle response, gear selection, steering rate, and, most importantly, the damping of the magnetic struts. On the freeway, we didn’t notice much difference between the settings, but in the tight corners in the mountains, there was a profound difference between the “Comfort” and “Sport” settings. In “Sport” the car was much more buttoned-down; it gave the car a very precise feeling compared to “Comfort.” The transmission held gears longer and reacted faster in “Sport” as well, but would still upshift if you reached redline.

I should mention that we only had the opportunity to drive the all-wheel-drive models. I’m sure the 4Motion system added to the driving prowess of our test cars. I wonder how well the front-wheel-drive Arteons will take to these type of serious curves.

Drawbacks?

Like all cars, there are some areas of opportunity with the Arteon. First, as I mentioned above, I wonder how the FWD models perform compared to the 4Motion models. Second, the Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission is an… interesting choice. If this is VW’s flagship model, why not give it the top-of-the-line DSG transmission? The Aisin is… fine. It’s quick to shift, it holds gears reasonably well in Sport mode, and the shift paddles on the SEL Premium model are a great touch (they really should be present on all models since this is a “sport” coupe). But my driving partner opined the identically-engined Audi A4 feels faster than the Arteon. Could the transmission be to blame? There’s also a healthy amount of engine noise entering the cabin at full throttle. Might the Audi models that share the 268 horsepower turbo-four get a bit more sound dampening than the Arteon? Driving home from the airport in my MK7 GTI confirmed my observation: under full throttle, the Arteon is louder than the GTI.

Finally, the interior is just a tiny bit lacking in a truly luxurious experience. The design, shapes, and surface treatment are all fine. And there are more softly padded surfaces than the Jetta and Passat, but the trim on the SEL is “engineered” wood. It’s good looking stuff: there’s even a simulated open-pore wood effect, but it’s not wood. The R-Line model had nice aluminum dash trim that looked and felt real, but I didn’t get to confirm it is truly aluminum. My biggest gripe would be the steering wheel. It’s a fine design, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the same wheel you’ll find in a $20,000 Jetta. The $47,000 Chili Red Metallic SEL Premium R-Line we drove deserves a better tiller. If I were buying one, I’d be sourcing a GTI wheel almost immediately.

One nice feature I see has returned to the interior: soft-touch plastic on the inside of the door handles as the MKIV Golfs/Jettas had.

The Verdict?

Looooong story short: I completely enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the SE and SEL Premium R-Line Arteons. They both were engaging, dynamic, and again, truly fun. The drive is now hours behind me and I can’t shake the feeling that this is the GTI’s big brother; more mature, slightly less athletic (and I mean slightly), but still able to tear loose on the weekends.

So, if you are creeping up in age, then this, my fellow Gen-Xer’s is your luxury car: stylish, substantial, connected, attainable, rewarding to drive. And most of all, just fancy enough (but not too fancy).