Mild redesign fills in gaps for 2021 VW Arteon in its second model year 

A front view of the 2021 VW Arteon

The 2021 VW Arteon has starting prices of $38,190- to $48,190, in front- or all-wheel drive. (Mark Maynard)

BY MARK MAYNARD

There is a unique presence to the driving characteristics of a German-engineered car. It telegraphs a message of confident control, which is present in a VW or a BMW — and it is an engaging spirit to just go out and drive. The redesigned 2021 VW Arteon is just such a purveyor of driving solidarity.

The large-midsize fastback Arteon is luxury-class but not luxuriously gilded. The VW Arteon debuted in the U.S. in 2019, but it barely caught the attention of SUV-hungry buyers.

Even I wasn’t overly excited about the first Arteon, but the speed-updating refresh for the 2021 model has made a vast improvement in subtle ways.

The European brands have improved their “large” or “executive” sedans, which are more of an American midsize but a few inches bigger all around. Consequently, there are few available choices, including the Acura TLX, Kia Cadenza, Nissan Maxima, and Toyota Avalon.

The Arteon driver area with Nappa leather upholstery

Standard SEL Premium equipment includes Nappa leather. (VW)

New for the VW Arteon

The refreshed Arteon features more refined front-end styling, Volkswagen says, with a redesigned cockpit. The interior has an updated dashboard design, décor trims, and Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit. The all-new MIB3 infotainment system includes an updated navigation system and wireless app-Connect.

VW Arteon R-Line models were updated with a light bar in the grille and 30-color interior ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, and enhanced driver assistance technologies.

Other new technologies include:

  • Travel Assist, standard on R-Line models, for partially automated hands-on driving from 0 to 95 mph.
  •  Emergency Assist, also standard on R-Line, can bring the vehicle to a stop if the driver is incapacitated, or not keeping hands on the steering wheel.

And there are three new paint colors of Oryx White Pearl, Kings Red
Metallic and Lapiz Blue Metallic.

A look at the Arteon's contemporary interior styling

The cabin has a contemporary, coupe-like presence. (VW)

2021 VW Arteon Pricing

Sold in three trim levels in front- or 4Motion all-wheel drive, all VW Arteon models have a 268-horsepower, turbocharged and intercooled, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The transmission is an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic, with manual shifting.

Starting prices range from $38,190 for the front-drive SE, $42,790 for the SEL R-Line (plus $1,800 for 4Motion) to $48,190 for the SEL Premium R-Line with standard AWD; MSRP pricing includes the $1,195 freight charge from Emden, Germany.

All models feature 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED headlights and an electronic adaptive suspension (DCC). Safety technologies include rear traffic alert, automatic post-collision braking system, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, side assist (blind-zone monitoring), and pedestrian monitoring.

Today’s tester is an SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion, $48,585 with one option for King’s Red paint, $395. VW’s warranty coverage of 4 years or 50,000 miles, includes the powertrain, with roadside assistance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.

Find current VW Arteon pricing here.

The Arteon's panoramic sunroof

A panoramic power sunroof is standard on SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line models. (VW)

VW Arteon Architecture

The Arteon is now VW’s flagship sedan, though the company considers it a grand tourer. And as an architecture partner with Audi, there is some sharing of elements but without all the luxury content.

The R-Line cabin has a sporty coupe-like presence with contemporary design and horizontal lines to accentuate width.

Front headroom of 37.9 inches (with the sunroof) should accommodate those 6-foot-5 inches. And there is long front legroom of 41.6 inches. The R-Line front sport seats are firmly supportive with long thigh support. But the seats also have serious side and cushion bolsters for those drivers who push the limits of cornering.

Sightlines are clear at the side mirrors and down the hood, but the smallish back glass and sloped sides can be an issue. When parking, the wide-screen rearview camera with guidance lines enhances visibility.

Ergonomics and access to controls are smartly arranged with an easy-to-use 8-inch touch screen. As VW has stepped up to add more charging USBs, its wireless charging pad is a struggle to use. It occupies a shallow tray just ahead of the gearshift lever and it requires slender fingers to slip in a phone or pull it out, but it beats the tangle of a charging cord.

The 12.3-inch-wide digital gauge display (trickle down from Audi) is useful for its selectable elements, such as the navigation map as background or to highlight a digital speed readout or gear position.

Small storage areas include large door panels with space for bottles.

The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (gauge array)

The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (gauge array) is now standard. (VW)

VW Arteon Performance

The 268-hp spools up quickly for responsive acceleration with dependable passing power at 65 mph. Programmable driving modes can finesse the power and suspension settings. I frequently used Sport to keep the power on edge, but it can feel too edgy around town.

With 258 foot-pounds of torque at 1,950 rpm, few drivers would wish for a V-6. And with a potential driving range of more than 500 miles to a tank, a diesel option becomes unnecessary.

A look under the hood reveals elements of robust construction, including the plastic and rubber lines and rust-resistant connectors.

The Arteon 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine

All models have a 268-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.  (Mark Maynard)

The eight-speed automatic has an electronic differential lock to keep AWD power flowing before wheel slip is detected. And there was no noticeable hesitation or electronic distraction in routing power four ways.

Fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 31 highway and 24 mpg combined have improved an mpg or two since 2019, but premium fuel is required. I easily worked up to 33.9 mpg on an 80-mile highway run and continued at 24 to 26 mpg in combined driving. Oddly, front-drive models have an 18.2-gallon tank vs. 18.3 for AWD.

The AWD curb weight of 3,955 pounds (3,686 lbs. FWD) is husky and a little heavier than the competition.

VW insists the turning circle is 39 feet, but in my experience of making U-turns at my house, the arc seems more like 36 or 37 feet.

The Arteon’s drag coefficient of 0.29 is aerodynamically slick, which helps the long body slip through the air with little ruffling. Cabin soundproofing seems to have improved, too, at highway speeds with less wind and engine noise, and tire harshness.

The 20-inch Continental ProContact TX grand-touring tires, with a high treadwear rating of 500, can feel hard, but this application is well fitted for the Arteon.

The Arteon's gearshift console

The wireless charging pad, just ahead of the shifter. (VW)

Semi-autonomous driving

The addition of Travel Assist enables partially automated hands-on driving from 0 to 95 mph. The system works well to keep the vehicle centered in the lane, but like many systems, the guidance struggles to maintain the space when driving into direct sunlight on washed-out concrete highways (like all of them in California). And when the car crosses the line, the system blames the driver and gives a warning tone.

Arteon Ride and Handling

The chassis feels extremely rigid and secure, which helps the standard electronic damping system provide sharp, flat cornering. The ride quality is compliant but firm without jolt (or chin scraping) over lumpy intersections. The system manages the suspension rebound and compression at each wheel to adaptively adjust the damping force, Volkswagen says.

Braking is quite capable from 13.4-inch vented front discs and 12.2-inch solid rear rotors.

The tire and wheel package for the R-Line Arteon

The R-Line has 20-inch Continental ProContact TX touring tires. (VW)

Arteon Back Seat

Access to the back seat is a bend-and-drop sequence, but legroom is grand-touring comfortable at 40.2 inches — and the window seats have adult thigh support. The tall but narrow transmission tunnel helps center-seat legroom, but the window seats are far more comfortable. There is one 12-volt plug and one charging USB.

There is a fold-down armrest and ski pass-through to the cargo area, which is wide and deep (40 inches by 45 inches wide). Fold the seatback for about 6 ½ feet in length.

Back seats in the sedan

The Arteon’s long wheelbase allows generous rear legroom, at 40.2 inches. (VW)

The Sedan Dilemma

Federal fuel mandates have compromised the typical midsize sedan, once the top-selling mode of transportation. With the ever-steeper regulations to meet fuel economy and air-quality standards, the family sedan had to be made lighter, lower for improved aerodynamics and powered by mostly small-displacement, turbocharged engines.

As engine technologies improved to adequately move the basic sedan (weighing 3,200 pounds and more), it is the lower rooflines and lower stance that have taken away the user function from a midsize.

It is easy to track buyers’ migration from low and restrictive to the more upright SUV, in any size category. But SUVs are heavier than a sedan, do not get the same fuel economy and they cost several thousands more. And, of course, buyers want four-wheel drive, whether needed or not.

The opened cargo space of the liftback.

The wide and low cargo area spans 27.2 to 56.2 cubic feet. (VW)

Why Buy the VW Arteon?

While an SUV is an appliance, valued for its view from the inside outward, the Arteon has a sophisticated presence, seen from the outside in.

It is the purposeful and balanced German engineering that is the unspoken asset of the Arteon. It is a soaring grand tourer, built for 100 mph continental cruising and arriving at your destination with impeccable style.

Drivers will value its cabin size, power, and nimble footprint for the long term.

A rear side view of the sedan.

The word “Arteon” is taken from the Latin word “artem,” which means art. (VW)

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line 4-Motion

Body style: large midsize, 5-seat liftback sedan

Engine: 268-hp, turbocharged and direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 258 lb.-ft. torque at 1,950 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive with drive modes

Fuel economy: 20/31/24 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel recommended

SPECIFICATIONS

Fuel tank: 18.3 gal.

Cargo space: 27.2-56.2 cu. ft.

Front head/leg room: 37.9*/41.2 in.

Rear head/leg room: 37.1/40.2 in.

Shoulder room f/r: 56.5/54.7 in.

Length/wheelbase: 191.6/111.9 in.

Curb weight: 3,955 lbs. (3,686 lbs. FWD)

Turning circle: 39 ft.

FEATURES

Standard SEL Premium equipment includes: smart key locking and push-button ignition, electronic multi-mode adaptive suspension control, Nappa leather upholstery, digital (configurable) gauge array, rearview camera with overhead view, wireless phone charging, power tilt-slide panoramic sunroof, electric parking brake, 8-inch navigation touch screen, Harman Kardon audio system, power (heated) side mirrors), adaptive (turning) headlights, fog lights, 20-inch alloy wheels, automatic high-beam dimming, 3-zone touch electronic touch climate control, lighted cargo area with an adjustable floor and power liftgate

R-Line content, includes: leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel with redundant controls, special interior features and black headliner; R-Line style grille, bumpers and exterior trim; stainless steel pedal caps and driver’s footrest, Travel Assist (enables partially automated hands-on driving from 0 to 95 mph), Emergency Assist (can bring the vehicle to a stop if the driver is incapacitated, or not keeping hands on the steering wheel)

Safety features include: 8 air bags, Automatic Post-Collision Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, stability and traction controls, dynamic road sign display, park assist with park-distance control (front and rear), brake-force distribution and hydraulic brake assist, electronic differential lock, semi-automatic driving assistance, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keeping system, emergency assist

PRICING

Base price: $46,995, including $1,195 freight charge; price as tested $48,585

Options on test vehicle: King’s Red metallic paint $395

Where assembled: Emden, Germany

Warranties: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper including powertrain; 2-years/20,000-miles free scheduled maintenance; 3-years/36,000-miles roadside assistance

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