This Volkswagen is excitingly pretty, and that might be all that matters
2023 Volkswagen Arteon review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
Volkswagen, as a corporation and parent company, makes many sexy vehicles from their Porsche portfolio, Lamborghini, some Audis, yet they haven’t really reserved any vehicles with proper sex appeal for themselves. Until this, that is, with their latest Arteon, equipped in this luscious shade of blue that looks straight out of James Cameron's Pandora. What a looker. Is there substance to be had, though?
We should address the elephant in the room, though, because this Arteon costs over $50,000 as-tested. That is not a small sum of money, and many might not think one should ever pay that much for ‘just a VW.’ That asking price for this highly-optioned model even crests the performance-bred Golf R on price and is one of the most expensive Volkswagen’s you can buy currently. In some respects, that makes this almost a halo product, and it sure looks like one at least.
There are many things that the Arteon does rather well apart from the seductive gaze. For one, drivers and passengers will appreciate the surprisingly enormous amount of space on hand inside the Arteon. While not that large a car externally at 191" and with an 111" wheelbase, the cabin has leg space for days in the back seat, so much that I’d swear it’s more spacious than a BMW 5-series even that stretches five inches further. The back seat itself isn’t even a brick, making for a comfortable experience for occupants.
That space advantage extends to the trunk, which is, surprise again, of the hatchback variety. This convenience lends to generous storage and ease of access while also being a contributing factor to the sweetly sloping roofline. I took the Arteon on an overnight trip to Monterey and was shocked at how much I was able to fit in this V-dub. Outside of some electric cars that have their batteries under the floor, this might be the best modern example of maximizing volume, but still being able to look hot and not like a milk carton.
Power comes from VW Group’s familiar 2-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder that remains an industry-standard when it comes to four-banger refinement. While still not mistaken for a smooth Bavarian six, it's when sampled next to other inline-fours does it becomes apparent that VW continues to definitely lead the pack of these juice blenders for noise, vibration, and harshness levels. Horsepower is an even 300 with a torque figure twisting at a healthy 295 pound-feet. This mill is closely related to that in the Golf R and mated to the familiarly quick and snappy seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission only. Further adding similarities to the Golf R, the Arteon in this trim gains 4Motion all-wheel drive. This potent combo contributes to 0-60 MPH times of about 4.8 seconds.
Despite the claimed power, I just never felt like the Arteon was actually that quick, lacking that oomph that I would expect by the seat of the pants. The Golf R was the same in this regard, while the mere peasantry (relatively) that is the GTI punched above its weight considerably. Oh well, they’re all plenty and very quick cars, but I thought to be more wowed expecting a harder turbocharged gut-punch with the boost comes on; Perhaps the dual-clutch automatic masks some of that wallop. Also of note is the fuel mileage, averaging 26 MPG during my week with the car, while seeing a steady 32 MPG on the freeway, which I think should be higher given the small-capacity of the engine. For reference, a BMW 330i with its 2-liter turbo does over 40 MPG on the highway. Even a six-cylinder and fast M340i from a few years ago delivered 36 MPG during interstate cruising.
Handling works, but this isn’t as a resolved or committed sporting car like a Golf GTI or Civic Type R. So, understandably, it’s not as sharp as its sibling, nor as playful, but this is still a capable steer in its own right that doesn’t lose anything compared to one of those BMW 330is. Steering is lifeless, but I liked the weighting and ratio, the feel of the leather wheel itself, and there are quick responses to be had with little wallowing. If you go into this expecting more of a comfortable spacious grand tourer, then it will both surprise and impress in the handling department, with it’s locked down front and rear ends and only mild doses of understeer. It’s never playful, like even a front-wheel drive GTI or a rear-drive sports car, but it’s capable and competent in its own right. I'm reminded of the AWD Golf R, a car I was disappointed by due to the lack of driver engagement it provided because I wanted it to be harder-edged than it is; too grown up for a Golf R, but not too grown up for an Arteon. If you do go into this thinking this as some kind of sleek super sports car, then it’ll leave a bit to be desired. For what this car is ,though, and its mission as a sexy grand tourer, then I’m totally happy with how the Arteon behaves in the twisty bits when under pressure. I also liked the ride quality, having control, but never overtly firm. The key here is knowing what to expect; sports car this is not, but rather an entry-level grand tourer, and it does that job rather well.
Moving to the interior itself, it’s fine. I don’t think it’s quite a $50k interior, and the space does go a long way, quite literally, but this does miss the mark for being a convincing luxury car. Those moving up from something like a Jetta, or even an older Honda Accord or Camry will be impressed, but it still isn’t as nice as a Volvo S60 or Mercedes-quality. I just wish some of the materials were a little softer and plush, and there are flimsy plastics here and there. The big issue with the cabin is in the electronics, though. The infotainment ranks among the worst for UI and UX, plus there are the annoying haptic controls on the steering wheel that don’t work when you want them to, and do work when you don’t want them to as your hand accidentally grazes them at random. The HVAC controls are better because there are more physical controls than on the new Golf luckily, but they’re awkwardly placed and still have the strange slide control to them. Work is needed. I applaud new ideas, but they can't actually have tested this in the real world and went, "ah, yes, this is the future." Much Mercedes' maligned new Formula 1 car, there’s a vision somewhere that’s good, in theory, but the application so far with the newest breed of Volkswagen’s has missed the mark.
Modern Volkswagen’s have been a mixed bag for me so far, liking the Golf GTI but not the Golf R for example. I usually tend to enjoy and appreciate their affordable options the most because of the value they provide while the expensive, top-trim levels of other offerings tend to suffer from low-rent interiors and a quality that just doesn’t match their price tags. The Arteon was indeed a risk, as it’s one of the most expensive new VWs today. However, I did enjoy my time with the Arteon. It’s absolutely gorgeous, generating envious gazes like no other People’s Car in history, and has a superbly spacious interior. I do think the interior does still miss the mark, but it’s closer than before. There’s also the question of whether this should even be VW; like a country artist crossing over into pop, this a tipping point of a Volkswagen meeting some Audi glitz and glamour.
The main enemy to cars like the Arteon are the barrage of crossovers and SUVs on the road, driven by those who do not need such towering vehicles. The Arteon makes a real alternative due to the space it carries inside, and drives so much better than any lumbering crossover. Let’s be real, though: the Arteon could be a terrible thing to drive and people should and would still want it. Why? Just look at it.
2022 Volkswagen Arteon SEL R-Line 4Motion
Price as-tested: $51,240
Pros: Gorgeous styling; spacious cabin
Cons: Not all that exciting, tricky touch controls inside.