The Arteon might be pretty, but it's being discontinued, and a second go has revealed why
2023 Volkswagen Arteon review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
How did we get here?
News recently broke that the rather pretty Arteon four-door coupe will hit the chopping block soon due to slow sales figures. That made me think and realize, "You know? I can't remember the last time I saw one." And it's true: I don't think I've seen more than two or three in the past year besides when I tested one previously. Sex sells, but apparently not well enough in the case of the Arteon. There's no mistaking that the Arteon remains a gorgeous shape; It's easily the best-looking car bearing the VW badge and even nicer appearing than some upscale Audi cousins. But, there's so much going underneath that has made the Arteon one of my least favorite cars I've tested this time around. This will likely be the last Arteon I ever test, and I really won't miss it.
So what's so wrong with the Arteon? For starters, it's nearly $50,000, for a Volkswagen. Would anyone consciously choose to spend this much on a V-Dub when an Audi can be had at the same price? Brand snobbery and recognition is real; People don't buy vulgar Louis Vuitton purses because they're the best bags, rather, they buy them because it says LV and you want others to know. This is the price of aspiration, but not a badge most aspire to. And besides the point, I don't think the interior is up to snuff considering the price. It's a step up from a Golf, but it's still too cheap inside with chintzy buttons and hard materials that only look decent until you touch them. I question the overall build quality because on the incline up my driveway, that transition from flat to hill, you could hear the door seals as the car went up it, like the chassis and/or doors are flexing. I think I've only heard that on a handful of cars, but not on something this expensive where there is enough flex for the door seals to audibly lose pressure against the door and then regain.
A trademark trait of all new Volkswagens is the insane amount of beeps and bongs. And it's not just how many there are, but how loud they are. Opening the driver's door while in park (with the engine running) emits an endless loud buzzing, and this is when stationary and the transmission is in P! If you open any other door in the same scenario, there are no beeps, so if it's a safety thing, only the driver gets a warning. Anybody else? Who cares about their safety - do you see what I'm getting at here? These are small details that have received zero thought from product managers and engineers. Just about all modern cars bong when you start them up without your seatbelt fastened, but none act like a bullhorn in your ear like a Volkswagen.
More electronic woes, the haptic and touch sensitive controls on the steering wheel are a solution to a problem that never existed and are more frustrating to use than not. On the subject of that, there's literally 19 buttons on the steering wheel - remember when cars had zero controls on the wheel? The infotainment system is easy to use, but accessing certain safety features can only be done when parked.
Another large demerit is found in the shoddy implementation of this potent turbocharged inline-four and dual-clutch transmission. Performance is there, with 0-60 MPH taking 5 seconds thanks to 300 horsepower and all-wheel drive traction. However, the drivability in normal conditions is frankly bewildering how it was signed off at the factory like this and deemed acceptable. Dozens, and I mean multiple dozens, I found that when setting off from a stop, there seems to be no power available as you ease onto the throttle. Then, the turbo decides to wake up and spool boost, causing an uncomfortable surge and lurch, behavior that is absolutely unacceptable in this day and age; Even a Car & Driver review noted the lurching character in their review. VW helped pioneer the modern and European-standard 2.0L turbo inline-four with a dual clutch, yet it seems to have gotten worse than the first iteration back in the MKV Golf GTI. On slight hills, the nearly bucking lurching became more apparent as the engine just refuses to give you anything off the line and then you suddenly get more than you asked.
A dual-clutch transmission is normally a welcome additive, and this trans shifts cleanly when under heavy acceleration, but again the programming and logic leaves so much to be desired. Upon normal acceleration, after the lurching, the transmission upshifts far too early, only for the driver to have to press the gas pedal further to compensate, and then the transmission downshifts right back to where it was. This is a sign of lacking intelligence, and to make matters worse, manually downshifting the trans results in near-zero engine braking. So, if you're driving spiritedly, using the gears to help control your speed won't do a thing, basically coasting as if you're in top gear even if you shuffle down to 5,000 RPM; so strange. Also, the paddles are cheap plastic that discouraged me from wanting to even use them.
This is all rather a shame as the chassis of the Arteon is admirably accomplished. Don't mistake this for a sports car and instead accept its role as more of a grand tourer, and the Arteon steers superbly and has a chassis that both changes direction well and has lots of grip for the bends. Traction is also a strong point due to the all-wheel drive and smart distribution when laying the power down leaving corners, remaining neatural without dreaded understeer. I did think the ride quality was on the firm side, but it's far from uncomfortable and yields favorable control over the car when at a hustle. The skeleton and body are both quite nice; it's all the rubbish in the middle that detracts from what could have been the best overall car VW has made since the Phaeton.
Am I a cynic? Sure, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong here or overreacting. Think of this for perspective: Volkswagen is one of the largest carmakers in the world, producing around 10,000,000 cars a year...and this is the best they can do? Throw an engine and transmission programmed together so badly it's like an engineer never took it for a test drive? Same in regards to the haphazard controls on the inside. The apparent lack of effort is appalling from a brand this old and large; This not some tech startup ironing out its bones, this is Volkswagen. For the reasons noted, the Arteon could be a fabulous machine, yet it isn't, and that's why I won't be sad to see the model range go the way of the Dodo.
2023 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line
As-tested price: $48,390
Pros: Beautiful to look at; Roomy interior and hatch
Cons: Not a $50K interior; Driveability problems
2023 VW Arteon review.