Behind the Wheel

2019 Volkswagen Arteon Review: VW phones it in with its latest sedan

The Volkswagen Arteon is the automaker's new premium sedan.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Look at the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon and you have an idea of what it is. Driving it, your suspicions are confirmed. The Arteon is just another Volkswagen sedan. Nothing about it creates a visceral reaction for the driver nor does it excite. The Arteon simply exists.

Taking a look at the sales numbers, Volkswagen customers don't seem too thrilled with the new addition to the VW lineup. It's selling only marginally better than Fiat's core models through the third quarter of 2019. The Arteon is the worst-selling Volkswagen model in the U.S. that isn't the discontinued Touareg or CC.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon The fastback model has a low and wide stance.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

There are plenty of reasons to be non-plussed about the Arteon, which competes directly with the Audi A5, Genesis G70, B W 3-Series, and Kia Stinger in price point and market positioning. At its front, the model shares looks with the rest of the Volkswagen family, which has become increasingly boring to look at. This from a company that made its name selling the Rabbit, Karmann Ghia, and Thing.

It has a low and wide stance, which is exactly the direction many new sedans are going these days. Its wide crossbar grille extends across the front of the vehicle giving the front a segmented by cohesive look that is reminiscent of the ugly dashboard int he Lexus LS. The Arteon comes standard with LED headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights. Premium accents like puddle lights and power-folding side mirrors are available as you move up in trim levels.

The front-wheel drive Arteon has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood that is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission here in the U.S. It produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which is a fine amount but not enough to release any endorphins.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon The long bars of the grille carry over into the headlight design of the Arteon.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Its handling isn't particularly engaging nor is it dull. Middle of the road is what Volkswagen seems to like to be with their sedans and they've done it again here.

A manual transmission is available in the car Europe and it shows in the Arteon's center console styling. The console top lays lower than the position of the average American car, which would be great for drivers who needed to rest their elbow near the shifter on the ready.

Other than that quibble, the interior remains functionally appropriate though its aesthetics and materials choices are not optimal. Simply put, the Arteon looks designed straight from the Volkswagen parts bin and serves as a reminder that there are other, more nicely appointed vehicles a buyer could choose from.

The car's 12.3-inch Digital Cockpit is a highlight, replacing the instrument panel, and the standard 8-inch infotainment touch screen is as status quo as they come for Volkswagen. It's completely function and for most buyers, that's exactly what they're looking for.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon The interior of the Arteon is completely function but it doesn't excite.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Arteon is available with rear climate controls which are a nice touch and Nappa leather upholstery is also available in higher grades. That finery can't hide the Arteon's general lack of comfortable seating space. On the upside, there's a good amount of passenger and cargo space.

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon starts at $35,845 but climbs close to $50,000 when you opt for higher trims and premium add-ons. Driving a Arteon makes one wonder what else is out there. In an evolving car market space where Hyundai is taking design and innovation risks that are paying off while Nissan and Toyota are adding value to their models at every turn, it's hard to reconcile settling for the Arteon. It's not surprising that most customers are passing it by.

Kia Motors has given insight into the company's future product plans.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Kia is charging ahead with an aggressive electric vehicle (EV) implementation plan that includes 11 new vehicles in the next five years. The strategy, called "Plan S" starts with the company's first dedicated EV in 2021.

Plan S is a dual-focus shift for the company. On one side they will be progressing toward an EV-centric product strategy while in the other hand Kia will be focusing on customized mobility solutions. They will also be focusing on autonomous vehicle development.

By the end of 2025, Kia plans to offer a full line-up of 11 battery electric vehicles. The company is aiming to have 25 percent of its vehicle sales outside of China come from what they call "eco-friendly cars" by 2025 on their way to achieving a 6.6 percent market share in the global EV market (500,000 annual EV sales excluding China). According to a McKinsey & Co. analysis published April, the U.S. EV market almost doubled to 360,000 EV units in 2018, mainly because of the strong sales performance of Tesla's Model 3.

From 2022, Kia plans to add EVs in the passenger vehicles, SUVs, and MPVs categories. They further outlined their electric vehicle development:

The dedicated EV model to be launched 2021 will be built on a unique platform specifically engineered to accommodate the car's world-leading EV powertrain and technologies. It will offer a crossover design which blurs the boundaries between passenger and sport utility vehicles, a future-oriented user experience, a single-charge driving range of over 500 kilometers, and sub-20-minute high-speed charging time.

Across its EV line-up, Kia plans to operate two different types of EVs with different charging capabilities (400V/800V) -- high-performance dedicated models and derivative models with reasonable pricing -- to meet the diverse needs of customers.

Growth in global EV sales will be pursued in accordance with a customized, market-oriented strategy, which considers regional differences in environmental regulation, subsidies, infrastructure and more.

These EVs are expected to first be sold as a trim level option in Kia vehicles in the same vein as the Niro EV and Soul EV.

Additional Kia expansion is planned to come from car-sharing and e-commerce businesses.

"Plan S is a bold and enterprising roadmap for Kia's future business transition, buttressed by the two pillars of electric vehicles and mobility solutions," said Han-woo Park, president and CEO, Kia Motors. "Our approach is to put customers first, and Kia will reinvigorate its brand innovation by developing products and services that offer new experiences for customers."

Easily missed in this plan is Kia's proposition to raise the sales of internal combustion engined vehicles while at the same time establish the development system for EV architecture. Though they say that they'll focus those efforts on emerging markets, it's relatively safe to say that the Soul, Forte, and Telluride aren't going away any time soon.

Kia is activating recent partnerships and company share acquitions to get to this goal. Last year, the Korean automaker invested in Croatian performance EV manufacturer Rimac Automobili and IONITY, which specializes in building high-speed charging infrastructures.

They're also planning on building "Mobility Hubs", transfer stations between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles. Long term plans call for self-driving robotaxis and on-demand roboshuttles to also populate these Mobility Hubs.

Kia is part of a car-sharing services joint venture with Repsol, Spain's major energy corporation, in Madrid via its WiBLE brand.