My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Some vehicles you welcome every time they show up for a week’s work. This is one of them. 

Two years ago, I worked with the then-new Volkswagen Arteon. It made such an impression upon me that it landed on the My Favorites list for that year. I even said that "[w]hile a Volkswagen fan may just get a Golf GTI, Golf R, and Jetta GLI and call it a day, I’d spend the extra money on an Arteon."

That was 2019. What about 2021?

For 2021, Volkswagen updated the Arteon with a few new features and some cosmetic surgery. Part of this mid-cycle refresh is to apply the new "digital" logo onto the new Arteon. Volkswagen also enhanced the Arteon’s interior, adding more connectivity with wireless App-Connect for smartphone integration, and upgraded driver assistance and safety features. 

While these updates were designed to help the Arteon’s cause, I cannot forget why I like this car in the first place. Which is why I was glad that Volkswagen did not change those elements that make it one of my favorite vehicles from this brand. 

The Arteon stood out for the way it drives. It is an elevated experience if you come from a line of Golfs, Jettas, and Passats. The Arteon is the touring car for Volkswagen – the kind of car I enjoy the most.

From an initial glance, the Arteon is exactly what I asked for – a sleek and sporting four-door touring hatchback. The enhanced grille was simplified from the onset, before applying the “digital” badge up front. LED lighting integrates well with this simplified grille, including running lights and turn signals. In fact, there is a LED strip that runs in the middle of this grille that lights up at night. 

At that point, you will find the clamshell hood, the frameless door windows, the nice creases, and fastback roofline that ends with a large hatch that loads down to the bumper. Volkswagen updated the rear taillights, as well as the font for all of the badges – including the new "R" symbol that denotes a sportier appearance package, including a rear lip spoiler on the hatch.

Just like the exterior, there is a lot of familiar Volkswagen design inside. It is something I always find comforting and familiar. Even the customizable Digital Cockpit is familiar and very useful. The center console has a “short throw” shifter, along with the electronic parking brake and other controls.

Let’s talk about what’s new about what’s inside the Arteon. The steering wheel houses a set of controls that designed for softer touches than before. Haptic controls enable you to slide your finger on the volume and track/preset controls, while a softer touch will; be required for the cruise control and to navigate the information screens on the Digital Cockpit. 

Not to mention, this is the first steering wheel I have ever encountered that encourages the driver to put their hands in the 9-3 position, like an enthusiasts or race driver should. The special grip surface and shape are a blessing for a driver like me. 

I also mentioned the wireless App-Connect, which enables smartphone integration without using your USB cords. This new feature connects quite well. You can also put your device on the wireless charger below the center stack. 

Up front is a set of two-tone leather upholstered seats that are both comfortable and supportive. Comfortable enough for a relaxing road trip. No fatigue was evident behind the wheel of this Arteon. Rear seat room continues to surprise me, as I am able to sit behind myself comfortably. The driveshaft hump will most likely prevent a third passenger to sit comfortably, unless they’re of an “average” size. 

Speaking of road trips, the 27.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats was able to swallow my conga drum in its bag and a 26-inch roller Pullman – with plenty of space to spare for two backpacks with the cargo cover on. If I had more items, no problem! The rear seats fold down to accommodate up to 56.2 cubic feet of stuff. That’s actually about the same amount of space found on a small SUV. 

While it was practical, the Arteon was a lovely driving machine. It all starts with a 268-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Connected to this powerful engine was an eight-speed automatic transmission and the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system. Combined, it is a sweet driveline that is made for any journey. In turn, I averaged 27.8 MPG in the Arteon – which was not disappointing, to be honest. 

You can also set the mood of your Arteon with the DCC adaptive chassis control system on the infotainment screen. However, I found little difference between Normal and Sport when it came to engine performance and ride quality. Yet, I did notice a tinge of difference when it came to cornering and steering system effort. 

However, the Arteon was made for driving excitement and lovely cruising. Overall, ride quality was solid and smooth. Handling was expectedly on point with great control through evasive maneuvers. 

Steering-wise, the electromechanical rack felt precise offering a tight turning radius. On-center feel was solid, even with the help of Lane Assist. I also like the superb pedal feel for the braking system. It offered solid stops in normal and panic situations, as translated through this system.

As for pricing, my lovely red SEL R-Line with 4MOTION tester came with a sticker price of $44,985. The Arteon lineup starts from $36,995 with just three trim levels, including two R-Line versions. 

You have been wondering why Volkswagen still sells a car like the Arteon. The sales figures are not flattering, as they only sold about 3,602 units in 2020. In contrast, Volkswagen sold over 82,000 Jettas, over 100,000 Tiguans, and over 87,000 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport models last year. Granted the Arteon was not intended to be a volume seller – rather, a niche model for a certain clientele. I get that…but…

Here’s the thing: This is a fun car to drive that happens to be very practical. This is something the Europeans have been espousing for years. However, we Americans are ambivalent about such vehicles. Is it time to change that? 

You can…with the Volkswagen Arteon. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America

All photos by Randy Stern

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