Seldom has a new car seemed destined to bring so much joy to so few people as the sleek ★★★ 2019 VW Arteon sedan. It’s the answer to a question not many people are asking, but man, those folks are loud, and it is a good answer.
So rejoice, sedan lovers. In this year of the SUV, a mainstream car brand just introduced a sophisticated and advanced new midsize sedan. Now, prove you’re right when you write to me insisting that other automakers’ emphasis on SUVs is forcing unwanted vehicles on customers who really desire a new sedan: Buy one.
Better yet, buy two, 'cause the line at Volkswagen dealerships will be people waiting to buy hot-selling Tiguan and Atlas SUVs, not Arteons … no matter how much you wish it were otherwise.
The Arteon lives in the auto industry’s most precarious neighborhood: It’s a premium-priced sedan from a non-premium brand. It replaces the CC, an attractive sedan that labored in anonymity because Americans with $30 to $50 large to spend on a five-passenger vehicle have largely decided they want the height, sight lines, room and capability of a midsize or compact SUV.
On the other hand, the Arteon is roomy, comfortable, looks great and offers many appealing features.
The Arteon competes with top versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. New versions of the Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy arriving later this year also will square off against the Arteon.
A powerful 2.0L turbocharged engine and eight-speed automatic transmission are standard.
Arteon prices start at $35,845 for a front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel-drive models — VW calls its AWD system 4Motion — start at $37,645.
Those prices are all decidedly at the high end for midsize sedans from mainstream brands. A top-of-the-line Arteon even clocks in above comparable models from Acura and Buick, to name a pair of modestly premium-ish brands.
I tested a loaded Arteon SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion, equal parts the product of German engineering and paying the naming department by the word. It stickered at $46,210. All prices exclude destination charges.
Features included all-wheel drive; antilock brakes; stability control; 19-inch alloy wheels; engine start/stop to boost fuel economy; LED headlights, taillights and running lights; power sunroof; three-zone climate control; Nappa leather seats; 60/40 folding rear seat and heated rear seat; 360-degree camera for parking; parking assist and sensors; blind spot and lane departure alert and assist; automatic high beams; hill hold assist; forward collision and pedestrian alert and assist; remote start; 8-inch touch screen; Dynaudio 700-watt, 12-speaker audio; Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; Bluetooth compatibility, and adaptive cruise control.
The art of Arteon
The sleek Arteon has a long nose and a low roof that falls away quickly to a short deck, effectively hiding the fact that the car is a hatchback. There’s no disguising the Arteon’s roomy cargo compartment, with 27.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. That compares to the 16.7 cubic feet for the Accord, the competitor with the biggest trunk. You don’t need packing crates to know that 62% bigger is a lot, even before you fold the Arteon’s back seat for maximum space.
The passenger compartment is surprisingly roomy and comfortable, given the Arteon’s slick looks and low roof. The front seat has plenty of storage cubbies. Rear leg and headroom are startlingly good.
The interior of my car was all black, except for a few pieces of shiny trim. The leather seats are comfortable. Spots you’re likely to lean on or touch are padded.
The controls are easy to use, with a big touch screen and dials and buttons for climate and tuning. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Specifications as tested
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 268 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,950 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Length: 191.4 inches
Width: 73.7 inches
Height: 756.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,854 pounds
Assembled: Emden, Germany
Remember when VW meant low fuel costs?
The Arteon’s looks aren’t the only sporty thing about VW’s new midsize. The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumps out 268 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Output compares well to competitive 4-cylinder turbos. The Arteon accelerates confidently on the highway. Its eight-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly.
The Arteon’s steering is responsive, with no torque steer in the AWD model I tested. The car was planted and stable in fast curves, and comfortable over bumpy surfaces.
Unlike most mainstream midsize sedans, the Arteon’s engine requires premium gasoline to get its rated power and fuel economy figures. Its fuel economy is nothing special.
The EPA rates the AWD Arteon I tested at 20 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway and 23 combined, with premium fuel. Most of its competitors run fine on regular, putting the Arteon at a disadvantage for cost before a wheel is turned. The 2.0L turbo Malibu also needs premium for best performance, but its 27-mpg combined rating beats the Arteon handily.
The combined city/highway rating is the most useful for comparison. The Arteon’s 23 mpg trails front-wheel-drive and similarly powerful versions of the Accord and Optima. The more powerful Toyota Camry V6 also gets better fuel economy than the Arteon.
Among all-wheel-drive competitors, the 245-hp Fusion matches the Arteon. The much less powerful AWD Altima rated 27 mpg in combined driving.
According to EPA estimates, an Arteon’s annual fuel bill will be a few hundred dollars higher than the competition. You can find detailed figures at www.fueleconomy.gov.
Looking for a few good cars
When the books close on 2019, Volkswagen will likely be one of the auto industry’s big winners, and virtually none of the credit will belong to its new flagship sedan. VW’s U.S. sales are up 6.8% — 11,710 vehicles — so far this year. More than half — 95,057 — are Atlases and Tiguans. In about three months, VW has delivered 598 Arteons. Do I have to say, “Do the math?”
That said, the Arteon is a comfortable, classy ride. Its owners will be happy, and undoubtedly certain they made the right choice when the lemmings lined up for SUVs.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2019 VW Arteon review: The car sedan-lovers are waiting for