Review: 2022 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SE R-Line
There was no sign of the 2022 Volkswagen Arteon at the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado this year, but VW’s flagship must feel like it’s at the base of the 14,000-foot peak.
Here’s the hill that the Arteon needs to climb:
Its flagship predecessor, the over-engineered Phaeton, was a lovely car but a sales fail ranking somewhere between the Edsel and the Daihatsu Rocky. The Phaeton raised the question that the Arteon is still trying to answer in the positive: Do buyers even want a flagship Volkswagen four-door?
So far, no. Sales of the Arteon have been grim. The Arteon is a big car, not a big SUV, though its MQB architecture also underpins the mid-size Atlas. And as we all know, big-car futures are selling low. VW has already confirmed it will kill the mid-size Passat, though the bargain-priced Jetta compact remains in the corral; how much room was left in there when the Arteon debuted in 2019 is unclear. But with large cars like the Passat and Toyota Avalon going away, VW is perhaps betting there are enough customers left to find their way into an Arteon.
There’s no arguing that it is a pretty car, carrying through the design language of the CC. Outside, there’s little to complain about. The “Moonstone Gray” exterior color made the attractive styling seem a little drab, but the alloy wheels helped dress it up. From the front, rear or side, this is a handsome liftback sedan; all versions for 2022 come with the sportier R-Line bodywork. But the interior—at least on our 2022 Arteon 2.0T SE R-Line—wasn’t as upscale as you’d expect on a $41,945 car, which is the least expensive baseline model offered. It’s possible to nudge an Arteon up to about $50,000 with the all-wheel-drive SEL Premium R-Line. VW has priced itself here into the shallow waters of Audi and even Mercedes-Benz’s pool, not to mention those of Lexus and Genesis. Arteon press materials name the Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50, Kia Stinger, and Nissan Maxima as its four central competitors—each of which offer V-6 engines on upper trims.
For 2022, the freshened model gets an extra 32 horsepower, and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic replaces the conventional eight-speed. These are welcome changes to help justify the slinky four-door’s premium position, but VW essentially dulled the impact of those gains by increasing the price on a car that dealerships are already discounting to move from lots. And can you blame buyers, who despite the Arteon’s smooth, willing 300-horse powertrain, are wondering if it’s worth spending more than $40,000 on a 2.0-liter turbo-four with front-wheel drive?
(Fuel mileage, by the way, is 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, 28 mpg overall, which we fell just short of in our tests. But while the Arteon runs happily on regular gas, VW says if you want all 300 horsepower, you’ll have to buy premium.)
Acceleration felt brisk; the extra kick from the Golf R-sourced engine perk up the Arteon’s performance, and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DSG in VW-speak) shifts with authority but is never intrusive. Handling is crisp but falls short of sporty, with quite a bit of understeer in corners. Our test car came with standard 18-inch wheels and all-season tires; I suspect the available 20-inchers on the SEL would make the car feel a bit more German, more eager on turn-in. (It is German, by the way, built in the Emden factory.) The composed ride on the 18s, however, feels suited to a premium people-mover such as this. Braking performance, from the vented four-wheel discs, is similarly confidence-inspiring.
On the whole, the Arteon balances eye-catching styling with a fuss-free interior and competent dynamics. It’s also usefully spacious, with roughly the same length and height as a Toyota Camry but two inches of additional width. Those two inches are evident in hip and elbow room. Five actual six-footers will fit in the Arteon; while you can say that about some SUVs, there aren’t many cars that compare. Trunk space is absolutely cavernous with 27.2 cubic feet of room, and a low lift-over under the big liftback hatch. Rear seats are a 60/40 split and there’s a pass-through to the trunk.
Inside, upholstery in our test car was VW’s trusty V-Tex synthetic leather, in “Titan Black.” Nappa leather is standard in the SEL models. Seats are just fine—supportive and comfortable even on long stints. The cabin remains quiet on all but the roughest pavement. The sound system is a passably good eight-speaker unit, whereas a 12-speaker, 700-watt Harman Kardon is offered on the SEL. Again, for $42,000, you might expect a more dynamic stereo. And you might expect a sunroof, but that’s a separate issue.
Instruments and controls are intuitive and easy to learn, unlike in other modern VWs, and few of the essential controls require fiddling with the eight-inch touchscreen. The steering wheel is wonderful to touch and wrapped in (real) leather. One of the big problems I had—and maybe it’s just me—were all the “switch blanks” on the left and right sides of the center-mounted gearshift lever. These are the little rectangular pieces of plain black plastic that fill in when your car doesn’t come equipped with a certain feature that otherwise requires a switch. Five switch blanks in the eight positions on the center console reminded me that this car lacks a whole lot of stuff. What am I, an Uber driver? Some manufacturers are artistic about camouflaging switch blanks— Volkswagen isn’t. In Europe, remember, VW has the premium reputation and stature to price the Arteon a bit higher and include more features. In the U.S., the land of cutthroat cost competition, a car like this is a very tough sell.
Bottom line: There’s really nothing wrong with the 2022 Arteon SE, except that—at this entry level, anyway—it just doesn’t feel like $42,000 worth of car. If that doesn’t bother you, and you’re looking for a pretty, roomy, quick four-door with German bonafides, the Arteon is a fine pick. The SEL and SEL Premium R-Line may offer a more convincingly luxurious package, but with prices edging toward $50,000 the four-cylinder Arteon is stuck competing with V-6s and more established luxury nameplates. And before long, VW will be stepping away from gas engines entirely, meaning an EV in the vein of the ID.Aero concept is all but inevitable. It’s a steep grade for the Arteon, no matter how you slice it.
2022 VW Arteon SE R-Line
Price: $41,945 (including $1165 destination)
Pros: Style and substance, sober-as-a-judge performance.
Cons: Pricey, plain on the inside, base model would have more verve with all-wheel drive and 20-inch tires.
Takeaway: The Arteon has good looks and adequate performance, but $42,000? A dealer discount would make us a lot more interested.
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