Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 25, 2019
You have heard it a dozen times so bear with me if I sound like a broken record, but sedans just aren’t selling as well as they used to. However, they still command a sizable chunk of the automotive market, and automakers are optimistically investing in them. Just take a look at the popular Mercedes C- and E-Class sedans, the Subaru WRX, or even the recently announced all-wheel drive Toyota Camry. While certainly not as popular as their higher-riding SUV comrades, sedans carry their own advantages and unique traits.
Volkswagen is aiming to exploit that opportunity with the new (to the Canadian market) Arteon, a four-door sedan complete with a sloping roofline, Audi-esque looks, frameless windows, a proper hatchback liftgate, and typical German refinement. The Arteon is essentially Volkswagen’s interpretation of the Audi A5 Sportback - from the side view you would be hard pressed to tell the two apart. When graced with the optional R-line treatment ($2,995) as our tester was, the Arteon gains some muscular 20-inch wheels, a more aggressive front and rear bumper, a new steering wheel, and it makes for what is surely the sexiest Volkswagen to ever come out of their design studio.
Underneath that gorgeous sheetmetal is only one available powertrain, a diminutive 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that we’ve seen before in Golfs and Jettas, except here it produces a rather disappointing 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. 4MOTION all-wheel drive comes standard. Priced at $47,995 for its one and only Execline trim, it can be one tough pill to swallow, especially when a mid-level Audi A4 runs just a bit more at $48,950, and a base Audi A5 Sportback at $49,200. To add salt to the wound, our fully loaded Arteon with all the bells and whistles rings up at an eye-watering $53,085.
So does it drive as dynamically as it looks? Not quite. The Arteon’s performance is unbecoming and uninspiring, like wearing a stylish jacket that’s barely lined and offers zero to no warmth. That’s kind of how it feels to drive the Arteon. You know it could be warmer, and paying just a little more will make that significant difference which in this case, would be the Audi A4 or A5. The slim power figures make it hardly enough for it to compete with the similarly priced 365-hp Kia Stinger GT with the V6 ($44,995 - $49,995) or a 485-hp Dodge Charger Scat Pack ($44,670). Furthermore, the Aisin-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission (not a dual-clutch like its CC predecessor) is uncharacteristically slow to engage gears, and not nearly as swift as Volkswagen’s dual-clutch units that we have heavily praised in the past.
And while the Arteon gets up and goes in a jiffy thanks to its lagless engine and low peak torque, it fails to conjure up any excitement or the same emotional appeal that we get when piloting a Golf GTI. If Volkswagen spruced up the chassis, made the suspension a little stiffer, gave it more power, and made the engine sing, then they just might have a winner for the mid-size sedan market. The steering is nicely weighted, the nose points where you goes, and it’s a rather fun dancing partner to fling on some back roads, but it doesn’t make me want one over an Accord, let alone the bottom-rung Mazda6 or Nissan Altima. It doesn’t help the case that the Arteon is significantly more expensive too, mostly due to its all-wheel drive system and feature-rich interior. The former isn’t a valid excuse anymore though, as both the Altima and Camry now come with AWD.
The Arteon’s cabin appears like a copy and paste job from the Passat but enlarged with a magnifying glass. And you would be right to an extent. The signature analog clock remains perched on the nicely streaked dashboard and while dark glossy plastics run rampant, they don’t make for a more convincing upscale feel than its more affordable Accord or Camry rivals. A few standout features are the sleek frameless windows situated above the substantially heavy doors, fully electric trunk liftgate that unveils an expansive cargo area, and roomy back seats that shames the Audi A4 or A5 Sportback and rivals the aforementioned Japanese sedans. You will also find expensive tech in here like the Audi-inspired Digital Cockpit, a fully digital and customizable 12.3-inch instrument cluster than we have come to love and appreciate, everything from its clear fonts to crisp graphics.
If you could not tell by this point, my biggest quarrel I have with the Arteon is the price. If there were a more bare-bones trim priced to compete against the Accord or Camry, then it would be a hit, but instead the Arteon is situated slightly upmarket and I find it hard to justify. For nearly fifty large, there a dozen more appealing and compelling alternatives, some from the SUV camp and a handful from the sedan market. The Kia Stinger GT has the more upscale interior, the Buick Regal is quieter and more comfortable, and the Dodge Charger Scat Pack makes significantly more power and noise. The Arteon has superior connectivity and features, and more attractive sheetmetal, coming across as a slightly more affordable but no less sexy Audi sportback sedan. But while it has the dropdead looks to tug on our heartstrings, its lack of a dynamic drive and bleak and bland interior have us looking elsewhere. Appearances only go so far.
Model: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon Execline
Paint Type: Chili Red Metallic
Base Price: $47,995
Price as Tested: $53,085
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,862 / 1,871 / 1,435
Curb weight (kg): 1,748
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 12.0 / 8.6 / 10.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.1