Review: 2020 Volkswagen Arteon
In search of a greater audience
After spending two full weeks driving one over the holidays, I’ve come to really appreciate the many virtues of the Volkswagen Arteon.
But there are two problems with that statement. One, I’m not currently in the market for a new car and, secondly, most Canadians who are don’t have the Arteon on their shopping lists.
And that’s a shame, because the Arteon is a really fine car. But the lack of interest in passenger cars among new car buyers in North America isn’t just an existential threat facing the Arteon, it’s a reality that confronts all sedans these days, including those with nameplates such as Accord and Camry.
No, those two aren’t going away – yet. But the segment they occupy is shrinking at an alarming rate. Less than a quarter of new cars sold currently sold in Canada are passenger cars. When asked, automakers remaining in the sedan space have told me they’re staying (for now) because the segment is still big and their cars sell well enough, particularly in the U.S., to justify their existence. The question is for how long?
Which brings me back the Arteon, Volkwagen’s flagship sedan that was introduced as an all-new model in 2019 and is freshly face lifted for 2021. While the two aren’t related, the Arteon essentially replaced the CC in the lineup after it bit the dust in 2017. All units sold in Canada come in Execline form, which is Volkswagen-speak for fully loaded. The only powertrain on offer is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (268 hp / 258 lb-ft) paired with an eight-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission and Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
Built in Emden, Germany on the company’s modular transverse matrix (MQB) platform that underpins just about every vehicle Volkswagen sells (except for the North American Passat, a car whose days really are numbered), the Arteon is long and wide with the lines of a coupe but with the interior space of a sedan.
The Arteon is about as close as a Volkswagen product can get to being an Audi without carrying the four interlocking rings badge. From its sleek proportions to its austere, but very well appointed, interior the Arteon is unlike any Volkswagen I’ve ever driven.
A sleek design that features full LED lighting at all four corners, along with standard 18-inch wheels is complimented by an interior with a long list of standard amenities including two-tone leather seating, configurable Volkswagen digital cockpit, eight-inch multimedia touchscreen, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, power liftback, moonroof and a lot more.
The pre-facelift 2020 I drove is a Urano Grey press unit finished in Valencia Brown and Titan Black leather with no options and is one of few such vehicles I’ve driven with no extras. And, honestly, I couldn’t think of anything this car didn’t have that I would’ve added if I were building my own.
The Arteon’s cabin is spacious, comfortable and pleasingly straightforward to navigate. The digital instrument cluster takes some time to become fully familiar given its deep configurability, but everything else is in line with automotive convention, and I mean that in the best possible way. The wide array of mechanical knobs and buttons for stereo and climate controls are ideal for reducing distraction and I didn’t have to go searching for anything. Sadly, things on this front are changing for 2021. More on that shortly.
On the road, the Arteon’s 2.0-litre turbo four won’t give anyone whiplash, but it hustles the Arteon along well in city and commuter traffic. The transmission sport option and drive mode setting sharpen throttle response somewhat, but not to a great degree. Despite its looks, the Arteon is no stealth fighter. Instead, it offers good everyday performance, secure handling, a comfortable ride and relatively quiet cabin. As much as I love performance, most buyers in the segment aren’t buying a car like the Arteon for that reason.
Before wrapping up, I’ll touch on changes in store for the 2021 Arteon, which is available at Volkswagen dealers now. In addition to a revised grille and front and rear fascia updates, the ’21 also sports a redesigned centre stack. Gone is the analogue clock and physical buttons used for climate controls. In their place is a touchscreen, which resembles units used in newer Audis.
Interestingly, Volkswagen Canada is also eliminating the Arteon’s two option packages for bigger wheels and R Line kit. For ’21, 20-inch wheels and R Line equipment (badging, steering wheel, etc.) come standard. As a result, the Arteon’s base MSRP has jumped to $52,995.
Having seen photos of it, I must say the 20-inch wheels and R Line goodies make the Arteon look even sexier, but an extra $3,000 is a big increase. Paring back options can sometimes foreshadow a car’s demise, and while Volkswagen hasn’t commented publicly on its future, if Arteon sales were higher there would likely be more choice on the table. A price tag north of $50K could hurt the car’s limited appeal significantly, but with only 456 sold in 2019, Volkswagen Canada doesn’t have much to lose.
And so it goes for the mid-size sedan in North America. Fewer trims and options, but better than nothing at all. The Arteon is a good car with a lot of utility and content that would make for a good family vehicle, but few appear willing to put their money down. A sign of the times perhaps, but a car as good as this one deserves a better fate.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.
2020 Volkswagen Arteon
BODY STYLE: mid-size sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder (268 hp, 258 lb-ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium 91+) 11.5 / 8.2 / 10.0 L / 100 km city / highway / combined
CARGO VOLUME: 770 litres (27.2 cu ft)
PRICE: $49,960 base, $49,960 as tested, excl. taxes