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Car Reviews The VW Arteon has plenty of class, but too little choice

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon.

Mark Richardson

Go to Germany and shop for the all-new Volkswagen Arteon sedan, and you’ll be spoiled for choice: different engines, different trim levels – it’s always the way. Not in North America, though. Apparently, we’re too impatient to want a choice.

In the United States and Canada, there’s one engine – the most powerful one – and in Canada, only one trim level, the very top end with all-wheel drive, which costs $47,995.

“In Europe, you’re okay to wait six weeks and maybe longer, but here, you buy it right now,” says VW North America’s product manager Kai Oltmanns. He’s talking about a prospective buyer walking into a dealership to purchase a car. “If we give too many choices, the customer may not be able to get the right car right now. We’re good with this one choice.”

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That’s the nature of buying a car these days, when drivers narrow down their choices with internet research and then visit a dealership at the tail end of the process. The average dealership often can’t keep one example of every trim level on the floor, and if it’s not in stock, the customer will walk – maybe to the next VW location, but more likely, to the Acura or Nissan dealership across the street.

The R-Line package includes 20-inch wheels.

Mark Richardson/Handout

Volkswagen Canada expects to sell maybe 1,000 of the new flagship Arteon sedans, the successor to the mid-sized CC, each year. CC buyers almost always opted for the loaded editions, so that’s what is available this time around. All singing, all dancing, and all built on VW’s new MQB platform, which also underpins the Jetta, Atlas and Tiguan.

“There was nothing wrong with the CC, but it runs on the old platform,” says Oltmanns. “If you want to upgrade the technology and develop it further, and you want a new shape, you need a new platform.”

The new Arteon is thoroughly updated with leading-edge technology and a modern Gran Turismo design. It’s intended to be Volkswagen’s flagship vehicle, at least until its new lineup of all-electric vehicles arrives in 2021.

Tech specs

  • Base price/As tested: $47,995 / $53,085
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic / AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 City, 8.7 Hwy., 10.2 Comb.
  • Alternatives: Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Buick Regal Sportback, Kia Stinger

Looks

The Arteon has a fastback design that’s low and sleek. It looks good – not so much a boring sedan as an attempted coupe, which is always more exciting, for better or worse. It’s not particularly memorable in a parking lot, but drivers will notice those swivelling LED headlamps coming up in their rear-view mirrors, shrouded beneath the clamshell hood.

In Canada, there’s a $2,995 option for the sporty R-Line package, which includes paddle shifters, lots of logos and 20-inch wheels to replace the standard 18-inchers.

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Interior

The rear seat has plenty of legroom, though headroom is limited by the shape of the car.

Mark Richardson

Certainly comfortable, and everything falls to hand as it should, but again, not especially memorable. I had to look at a photo to remind myself what it was like, and that’s after spending all day in the car.

It’s spacious inside, with enough space in the rear for a pair of six-foot passengers to be comfortable, though their hair will brush the headliner. Since Canadians only get the top-end trim level, the seats will be Nappa leather and both heated and cooled in the front, heated in the rear. A heated steering wheel is standard, as is a massaging driver’s seat, though it’s not really a massage – the lumbar support band pushes in and out against the small of the driver’s back. Feels good, though.

Performance

Yes, the only engine available in North America is the most powerful one, with 268 turbocharged horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, but this is no German rocketship. Overtaking is still a manoeuvre to be planned well in advance. More impressive is the handling. The Arteon’s dimensions are very similar to the CC, but while the new sedan is about 5 cm longer, it has an additional 12 cm of wheelbase. This gives it a bigger overall footprint.

There are five different drive modes – Econ, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Custom – and there are many settings within each that are easily adjusted by the driver. The computer will even set the active cruise control to stick more aggressively to a specific distance behind the car in front, or swivel the headlights more quickly around corners. But when you select Sport and the Dynamic Chassis Control adjusts the damping and rebound of the shocks, the Arteon changes instantly into a well-planted, aggressive car that tracks flat through curves with no surprises.

Or select Comfort and wallow along the interstate with everyone else.

Technology

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – check. Blind-spot monitoring and active cruise control – check. If you spring for the only other available option – the Driver’s Assistance package ($2,095) – you get parking assistance both parallel and perpendicular, a 360-degree camera displayed on the 12.3-inch central high-resolution screen, and lane assistance for semi-autonomous driving, though I didn’t find it very good at holding a central line in the lane. WiFi is not available, but Volkswagen says it will be as soon as they can figure it all out for North America.

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Cargo

The Arteon's fastback design gives it hatchback-like storage capacity.

Mark Richardson

This is a major jump from the CC, which could fit 374 litres of stuff in the trunk. The Arteon benefits from its fastback design, which allows the rear door to be basically a hatch. There’s now 643 litres of room behind the 60/40 split rear seats, and if they’re folded down, that bumps up to a very impressive 1,558 litres. This is on a par with the Buick Regal Sportback – again, not a hatch according to the maker, but every bit as spacious as one.

The verdict: 7

A nicely rendered car, with all the advantages and breakthroughs that you’d expect from a company that employs 44,000 engineers. Ultimately, though, it blends into the crowded background rather than stands out, and at this price, a buyer should expect just a little more pizzazz.

The Arteon doesn't stand out as much as a car in its price range ought to.

Mark Richardson

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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