The progressive shift of the new car market away from sedans and towards SUVs has taken its toll on your options if you don't need a crossover to reassure yourself about your outdoorsy and active lifestyle. Volkswagen's line-up in the U.S. hasn't quite felt the axe like, say, that of Ford's over the past few years, but the retirement of the Passat and the paring back of the Golf range has left no uncertainty about where VW's priorities lie. It almost comes as a surprise, then, that the 2022 Volkswagen Arteon is yet to take its curtain call.
On sale in the U.S. from early 2019, refreshed the following year, and now getting an engine and transmission update for the 2022 model year, it's fair to say the Arteon is not a heavy-hitter in Volkswagen's line-up. The automaker sold just 170 of them in the first six months of 2022, a sign of the times for sure, but undoubtedly also an opportunity for those seeking attainable exclusivity. You can point out to your neighbor that Ferrari sold ten times that many cars in the Americas in the same six-month period.
Okay, nobody is going to be weighing the Arteon against something with the prancing horse on the nose, but I can't deny that Volkswagen has nailed the proportions here. The Arteon sits low and long; its broad, chrome-straked grille beautifully blends into the headlamps and daytime running lights. Beneath it, the lower fascia coils splendidly, like the twirlable mustache of some generous dandy.
It is ample, but not extreme. Slicked with chrome along its crisp but not over-contoured flanks, and then capped neatly with a shapely rear that sports a charming little contrast spoiler. Even the nameplate typeface seems to lean toward elegance, the end result being a sedan that takes itself with just the right degree of seriousness in today's SUV and crossover-obsessed world.
Is there any reasonable argument that the Arteon isn't the most alluring design in Volkswagen's U.S. range right now? The shapely four-door leaves the Jetta looking stumpy and truncated; the ill-fated Passat lumpen and dour. SUVs like the Atlas and Taos may have the scale and proportions that American drivers currently flock to — and the sales figures to prove that strategy is certainly working — but they're slab-sided and obvious in comparison to the Arteon's swooping elegance. I don't think there's a bad angle.
Perhaps the closest comparison comes in the shape of distant Volkswagen Group cousin, Audi's A5 Sportback. It's a handsome four-door, itself borrowing from the theme its bigger sibling, the Audi A7, established so nicely. Setting yourself behind the wheel of a new A5 Sportback, though, demands at least $44k, or considerably more if you take a trek through the options and trim lists. The 2022 Arteon, in compelling contrast, starts at $40,750 (plus destination).
That's several thousand dollars more than VW used to ask, but in return for more standard equipment than you used to get. The base model is the SE R-Line, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine and front-wheel drive. The $45,550 SEL R-Line adds 4MOTION all-wheel drive, upgrades the wheels from 18-inches to 19-inches, and adds a panoramic sunroof and front fog lamps.
Finally, the 2022 Arteon SEL Premium 4-Line 4MOTION you see here starts at $49,550. It packs the same engine, along with all-wheel drive, but upgrades the wheels to 20-inches that fill the arches nicely. Standard across the board is Volkswagen's 7-speed DSG automatic transmission.
It, along with the 2.0-liter turbo engine's 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, are unlikely to rip the hair from your scalp. It's more powerful than the Arteon of old, and smooth, but it doesn't feel as fast and dramatic as the numbers might suggest. VW also nudged the pricing up in the process, though made the R-Link styling package standard too.
Adaptive dampers are standard-fit, tweaking the stiffness of the front MacPherson strut-type suspension and the multi-link rear. Comfort mode shows that tuning off best, the Arteon well suited to long-distance treks and keeping underwhelming asphalt at bay. Unfortunately, despite the looks — and the name of the mode — the four-door falls short when it comes to more eager driving.
Turbo lag starts you off at a disadvantage, and then while there's grip, the suspension even in Sport mode doesn't feel firm and assured enough to really push on. Will it be absolutely fine for most Arteon drivers? Sure, likely so, and I'm sure they'll be fine with the light steering feel, too. All the same, this definitely feels more like a cruiser than a carver, and the fuel economy numbers bear that out too. The EPA rates the Arteon at 24 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, or 28 mpg combined; my urban-centric numbers were a fair few points short of that.
The cabin underscores that unobtrusive, highway-loving personality. It is, like just about everything from Volkswagen that hasn't gone all-electric, a dark and sober place. Spacious, yes, and solid feeling too, but a few silver trim strips and some splashes of texture struggle to lift the mood.
Partly you can blame that on the Titan Black color scheme, which as the title indicates leans heavily on black fabrics and plastics. Stone and Raven, as well as sounding like a George R.R. Martin novel, is a much lighter theme, with gray and cream seats along with cream inserts in the door panels. The two-tone result is a little zebra-esque, but it's definitely brighter.
Either way, there's space in the front and the rear for actual adults, and their luggage in the trunk too. Pop the hatchback and you'll find 27.2 cu-ft of capacity; drop the 60/40 rear bench and that expands to 56.2 cu-ft. They're significantly bigger numbers than the A5 Sportback or 430i Gran Coupe can claim, and in fact aren't that far off Volkswagen's compact SUV, the Taos.
Every model of Arteon gets 3-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power front seats with heating, keyless access and push-button start, front and rear parking sensors, and blind spot warnings. Volkswagen's Digital Cockpit Pro — replacing analog gauges with digital versions — is standard across the board, too, as is an 8-inch MIB3 Discover Pro infotainment system with navigation. There's wireless support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with the pair of USB ports in the front dashboard, and a wireless phone charging pad.
The SEL R-Line adds driver's seat memory, adaptive cruise control, leather seating surfaces, and fancy ambient lighting in the cabin. Kick things up to the SEL Premium R-Line, meanwhile, and you get a Harman Kardon premium audio system, 360-degree camera, power lift gate, Park Assist, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and ventilated front seats. There's even massage, though only for the driver.
It's a good selection of kit, but you'd be forgiven for looking at the Arteon's numerous button blanks and wondering what else you could've paid for if you had the budget. The answer, though, is "nothing": there are no extra options, in fact. Fancy features like a head-up display are nowhere to be found, adding a little extra distance between the Arteon experience and what a well-spec'd Audi would deliver.
All in all, though, it makes for a fairly decent value proposition even on the base trim Arteon, even if — were it my money — I'd probably opt for the halfway measure of the SEL R-Line. There you get the all-wheel drive and most of the gadgetry, but I feel like I could do without what the Premium trim loads on top of that. At the price point of Volkswagen's flagship version, you're solidly in not only A5 Sportback territory but potentially cross-shopping with BMW's 430i Gran Coupe, too.
It begs the inevitable question: Just how much is that Audi or BMW badge worth to you? And, if you're willing to compromise a little there, does the far-less-common insignia on the front of the Genesis G70 have sufficient cachet? The South Korean sports sedan definitely feels like it strikes a better balance between luxurious and attainable than the Volkswagen manages, even if the Arteon has a more spacious cabin, and the G70 offers more to the enthusiast driver as well.
Rarity works in the Arteon's favor, and its handsome styling feels more timeless than the gaping maw of the Genesis or the heavy-handed nostrils of the BMW. As Volkswagen's ship continues to swing in a different direction, it feels like a practical and comfortable reminder of where we were, even if it's not the shape of things to come. Step into the Arteon knowing what it does best at, cosseting cruising, rather than expecting a sports sedan, and you'll get the most reward.