2019 Volkswagen Arteon first drive review

Volkswagen’s flagship model, the 2019 Arteon, delivers style without compromise

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon proves stylish cars don’t have to be impractical.
The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon proves stylish cars don’t have to be impractical.
The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon proves stylish cars don’t have to be impractical.

Highs

  • Stylish exterior
  • High-quality interior
  • Digital Cockpit display
  • Practical hatchback design

Lows

  • Numb steering
  • Unimaginative interior design

There are plenty of reasons to buy a car, and many of them are boring. Cars are a major expense for most people, so factors like value, gas mileage, and running costs often come to the fore. But the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon wants to win over buyers’ hearts as well as their heads.

The main selling point of the Arteon is the way it looks. Volkswagen considers it its flagship vehicle, and exterior styling is how this car is differentiated from lesser Volkswagen models.  With its sleek roofline, grinning grille, and pumped-up wheel arches, the Arteon is a much more daring design than any other current VW.

But is the Arteon more than just a pretty face? To find out, Digital Trends went to California, where Volkswagen invited us to drive the Arteon from Solvang to Santa Barbara. The drive was timed with the Arteon’s anticipated arrival in showrooms. VW is selling the car in SE, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels, starting at $36,840, $40,990, and $45,940, respectively. Front-wheel drive is standard on the SE and SEL; all-wheel drive is standard on the SEL Premium and an $1,800 option on the other two models. VW also offers an R-Line appearance package with 19-inch wheels ($1,265) or 20-inch wheels ($1,765) in place of the standard 18-inch alloys.

Stylish exterior, plain interior

At first glance, the Arteon appears to be a straightforward successor to the Volkswagen CC. Like the CC, the Arteon has four doors and sleeker styling than the average sedan. But the recipe is a bit different this time. The Arteon boasts more passenger space and a hatch, making it more practical than its predecessor. It’s also based on VW’s MQB platform, making it kin to the current-generation Jetta, Golf, Tiguan, and even the massive Atlas. Our positive experiences with those cars boded well for the Arteon.

Those other MQB models have fairly conservative exterior styling, but VW let its designers let their hair down with the Arteon. A low roof plus steeply-raked front and rear pillars give the car a sleek silhouette, while puffed-up wheel arches and creasing along the doors as well as on the hood create some visual muscle. Designers also blended the LED headlight elements into the grille, giving the Arteon a distinctive look that also makes the car appear wide and planted.

We were impressed by the Digital Cockpit’s graphics and its ability to show different types of information coherently.

It’s too bad the interior doesn’t live up to the exterior. It has a sensible look and, typically for Volkswagen, the materials are top-notch. But other than a strip of air vents, there really isn’t anything that distinguishes the Arteon’s cabin from that of other VW models. It doesn’t quite feel special enough for a flagship vehicle. We also found the seat cushions to be flat and unsupportive.

The Arteon has less overall room for front-seat passengers than the Nissan Maxima and the Kia Stinger, two other large cars with swoopy styling, but more rear-seat legroom. The more conventionally styled Toyota Avalon beats the VW on both overall front-seat and rear-seat space. The Arteon and Stinger are both hatchbacks, while the Maxima and Avalon are conventional sedans with trunks. At 27.2 cubic feet, the VW offers more cargo space than any of its rivals with its rear seats up. They can also be folded, affording a crossover-like 55.0 cubic feet of cargo space.

Familiar tech

Much of the Arteon’s infotainment tech carries over from other recent Volkswagen models. An 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility are standard on the base SE model, along with two USB ports. Moving up to the SEL nets navigation and VW’s Digital Cockpit, which replaces conventional analog gauges with a 12.3-inch driver-configurable digital display. The top SEL Premium model adds a 12-speaker, 700-watt Dynaudio system and foot-activated trunk lid.

Just like in other recent Volkswagens, we were impressed by the Digital Cockpit’s graphics and its ability to show different types of information — from speed readout to traffic information — coherently. But as with the rest of the Arteon interior, we were left wishing for something to really distinguish this so-called flagship from lesser VW models. You can get Digital Cockpit in a Jetta, after all.

Standard driver aids on the base SE model include autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, and rear cross traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control is standard on the mid-level SEL, while the range-topping SEL Premium adds lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, a surround-view camera system, and Parking Steering Assistant. VW claims the latter can automatically steer the car while in reverse for parallel parking, but we didn’t have a chance to test that claim.

Sedate sedan

Volkswagen seemed pretty confident in the Arteon’s driving dynamics. It specifically called out the Nissan Maxima and Kia Stinger as rivals to the Arteon. Both are on the sportier side of the large-car spectrum. VW also picked a spectacularly twisty stretch of California State Route 33 as part of the test route. But the Arteon is no sports sedan.

With its excellent road manners and generous cargo space, we think the Arteon would be a great road trip car.

The Arteon is only available with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. The engine makes 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which compares favorably to the 255 hp and 260 lb-ft of the 2.0-liter turbo four offered in low-end versions of the Kia Stinger. But Kia also offers a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 making 365 hp and 376 lb-ft. The Nissan Maxima comes standard with a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 making 300 hp and 261 lb-ft.

Then there is the question of driven wheels. The Maxima may be available only with front-wheel drive, but the Stinger has standard rear-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is optional), which is better for handling. We’d much rather drive the Kia on a twisty road, and just because of its rear-wheel drive layout. The Arteon also had some of the numbest, most uncommunicative steering we’ve experienced recently. It felt like the steering wheel wasn’t connected to anything. We also felt the car could have used more powerful brakes.

While back roads are not its forte, the Arteon is still a nice car to drive. Volkswagen’s MQB platform continues to impress us with its refinement and solidity, although the Arteon had a bit more cabin noise than one would expect of a vehicle in this price range. Ride quality is excellent as long as the car is set in comfort or normal modes (sport is harsher). With its excellent road manners and generous cargo space, we think the Arteon would be a great road trip car.

2019 volkswagen arteon 16
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Front-wheel drive versions of the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon get an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway). The Nissan Maxima is rated at 24 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway), while rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder versions of the Kia Stinger are rated at 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway). The Arteon’s ratings also match the gasoline Toyota Avalon, but that car is also available with a more-efficient hybrid powertrain rated at 44 mpg combined.

With all-wheel drive, the Arteon is rated at 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway), compared to 24 mpg combined (21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway) for an all-wheel drive, four-cylinder Kia Stinger.

Rivals

They may not represent a big chunk of sales, but large cars like the Arteon are a very diverse group. That’s apparent from looking at the Arteon’s competitors.

Kia Stinger (base price: $33,985): The Stinger brings real sportiness to the table. It’s available with rear-wheel drive, and its available 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 has substantially more power than the Arteon’s four-cylinder engine. But the VW has a nicer interior, as well as more rear legroom and cargo space.

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon is an impressive combination of style and practicality.

Nissan Maxima (base price: $34,945): Nissan calls the Maxima a four-door sports car, but it doesn’t really live up to that moniker. The Maxima does have more horsepower than the Arteon, but less torque. It also lacks the Arteon’s available all-wheel drive and hatchback. While styling is subjective, we also feel the VW is better looking than the Nissan.

Toyota Avalon (base price: $36,480): Toyota’s flagship offers more interior space than the VW, as well as an available hybrid powertrain. Toyota also has one of the best reputations for reliability in the industry, something VW can only dream about. Unlike VW, Toyota does offer adaptive cruise control as standard equipment, but Android Auto and all-wheel drive aren’t available.

Peace of mind

Volkswagen offers a six-year, 72,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty. Unlike most other automakers, VW allows the warranty to be transferred to subsequent owners. Because the Arteon is a new model, it is difficult to predict future reliability. Other recent Volkswagen models have shown lower-than-average reliability in Consumer Reports surveys, however. Crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are not available at this time.

How DT would configure this car

Of the three Arteon trim levels –- SE, SEL, and SEL Premium –- we would take the range-topping SEL Premium. Some key features ,including the Digital Cockpit display, leather seats, and adaptive cruise control, are available in the mid-level SEL, but the SEL Premium adds heated and ventilated front seats (with a massage function for the driver), foot-operated trunk lid, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, and Parking Steering Assistant.

If you’re going to buy an Arteon and not, say, a Passat, you might as well add features like these to give the car a truly premium feel. The SEL Premium’s $45,940 base price extends into luxury-car territory, but the Arteon offers more equipment at this price than most cars from bona fide luxury brands.

Conclusion

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon is an impressive combination of style and practicality. It takes the refined MQB platform and impressive infotainment tech from recent VW models and adds something those cars were missing: a distinctive look. While it isn’t as engaging to drive as a Kia Stinger, the Arteon is also a great highway cruiser.

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