After just two years on the market, the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon gets a refresh. On the plus side the 2021 Arteon is probably the best looking vehicle in Volkswagen’s portfolio. Its long, low, and wide proportions convey the type of elegance typically reserved for models wearing the interlocking rings of Audi rather than VW’s logo.
Our test vehicle was a top-of-the-line Arteon SEL Premium R-Line that rode on a set of newly designed 20-inch wheels. The most noticeable changes are to the Arteon’s technology, with an updated multimedia system, upgrades to the digital instrument cluster, and new USB-C charging ports. The exterior and interior have also been slightly restyled, but those changes are harder to spot. The grille incorporates a new LED light bar and revised lower air intakes, while the interior gets a dashboard layout that looks more layered. One fun highlight was the cabin also looks great at night, the new ambient lighting featuring 30 selectable colors that highlight a strip across the dash, translucent panels on the doors, and even elements in the fully digital gauge cluster and 8.0-inch touchscreen.
As a part of the new MIB 3 infotainment system, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay now come standard on every Arteon, along with a wireless charging pad on SEL R-Line models and up. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit has received a serious upgrade, this is a 10-inch display which has been swapped in for a traditional instrument panel. The system is now highly customizable with 21 different viewing options, and it now integrates directions while using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay’s map apps, which makes the whole ecosystem feel rather integrated. The main touchscreen in the Arteon is only 8.0 inches on the diagonal, but it feels larger, partially because it sits behind one piece of glass that includes the capacitive menu buttons on the sides. There are capacitive touch buttons all over, including on the steering wheel controls, AC and so forth, and to VW’s credit, they did have good haptic feedback.
The Arteon’s one-size-fits-all powertrain, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an output of 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque paired with an eight-speed automatic remains. Those who were hoping for the 315-hp version from the European Arteon R are unfortunately out of luck. Every top-trim SEL Premium has standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, which means our test car reaches 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. However, on the plus side the EPA highway fuel-economy figure has increased by 4 mpg to 31 since 2019. The engine is more than enough for day to day driving and the light steering is accurate, while body control is poised. The graceful ride quality was expected when you say inside and reminds you that VW is really good at building cars that feel expensive. Drivers will appreciate new assist systems including Dynamic Road Display and Travel Assist which features an updated Adaptive Cruise Control with predictive speed control. There’s also Lane Keeping Assist, Forward Collision Monitoring, and an improved rear camera.
Most importantly however the changes don’t affect the Arteon’s cargo or passenger space. The pilot’s seat remains more relaxing than engaging, with front-seat cushions that err on the side of supple rather than supportive. Adults in the back enjoy legroom worthy of a luxury car and a surprising amount of headroom despite the hatchback’s diving rear roofline. The Arteon is almost as practical as a compact crossover, with an expansive cargo area behind the back seat (27.2 cubic feet). Fold them down and luggage capacity is almost comparable to a VW Tiguan (55 cubic feet). Rear seat passengers get their own little climate-control pod with a pair of vents, and the rear seats are heated, as well. The interior is also nicely insulated from wind and road noise. Most vehicles with adaptive suspensions provide three or four suspension settings ranging from comfortable to firm, but the Arteon gives you 15.
The Arteon feels like a car-designer sketch made real, and in a world now mostly populated by tall, clunky-looking SUVs, driving something low and elegant like the Arteon feels like a statement. Although the Arteon is certainly a special Volkswagen and a fine mid-size luxury car, it’s not really an affordable Audi alternative because it is not much more affordable. Our SEL Premium R-Line had an as-tested price of $48,190, which is only $1755 shy of a loaded A5 Sportback. In all, the Arteon presents an appealing package and is an excellent road trip companion as it glides on the highway and churns through miles with ease. In a way, the Arteon is the last throwback to the Piëch-era VW‘s, the Phaetons and Touaregs, that sought to transcend their badges.