New car review

2021 Volkswagen Arteon: Tasteful and restrained

The Arteon is VW's take on modern art.

Victoria Scott

The way I like to review cars is to imagine myself as the target buyer. Rather than ripping a high-end sports car as an adrenaline-and-estrogen-addled 26 year old girl driving it like she stole it, I imagine that I'm a classy, restrained mid-50s woman with a career, grown kids, and a mortgage - the person that they're trying to sell the car to. Whether or not I think it's fun is almost moot - I want to tell people with the actual coin to purchase one if I could see them enjoying it.

So when Volkswagen offered me a 2021 Arteon R-Line, their current flagship model, I decided to play up the luxurious lifestyle to enter the right mindset. Make no mistake - this is not a Passat, an entry-level sedan I could actually afford. It's priced and designed for a wholly different clientele. The Arteon is styled like modern art - there are none of the girl-racer fender musculature and gaping vents of the GTI and GLI; despite the R-Line moniker, it's clearly designed to impress with restraint and taste rather than shock and awe. And rather than the volume-sales aspirations of most modern Mexico-built VWs, the Arteon's cleanly designed but feature-filled interior is a throwback to the days when VW was a less ostentatious BMW or Lexus. The Passat has long since fallen into the mass-produced, low-price trap, with generic styling to match, but the Arteon seems like it's been built by a different company entirely. This company remembers their roots in Teutonic comfort and form, and it's a welcome change of pace.


2021 Volkswagen Arteon The Arteon is the perfect companion for a day out in Los Angeles.Victoria Scott


With this as my ride for a weekend, I lived it up. I took a close friend of mine to dinner and the Omni Hotel, a welcome respite from the camping and couch-surfing I'd been doing in LA, because this car encourages the mantra of "treat yourself". On our initial drive, I indulged further, letting the Travel Assist mode on the Arteon handle the stop-and-go traffic of the 101 while I talked with my partner. The car handled it surprisingly well, even as the sun set, accelerating and winding through the traffic-choked Los Angeles highways seamlessly. Most premium manufacturers offer an adaptive cruise mode that's usually passable on freeways, but the Arteon's version surprised me with its adeptness even in situations where I'd have expected it to fail. In "Comfort" mode, the atrocious California highways were at least passable, even with the mammoth 20" wheels the R-Line is equipped with as standard. The Harman Kardon stereo pumped Left at London's newest album through the cabin with clarity as we approached our destination isolated from the commotion of LA rush hour.

We pulled up to the hotel for the evening and as trite an ad-agency trope it seems, the valet seemed stunned that we rolled up in a Volkswagen this nice. "Brand new?" he questioned. "Yes, just got it", I replied, enjoying my roleplay as a somehow wealthy yet restrained twenty-something perhaps slightly too much. But it truly is a little hard to believe that it's a Volkswagen - it's more luxurious than the outgoing CC it replaces, and it's vastly prettier than the Bentley-based halo car Phaeton of the mid-00s ever was. Still, his compliment set us up for a lovely evening of wining and dining, and at this point, my literary technique of envisioning myself as the target buyer for this gorgeous car was as much for my own enjoyment as it was for any imagined story.

And of course, enjoying yourself in Los Angeles is what you're supposed to do, and we did. All of that wining and dining that a night of indulgence at a fancy hotel offers meant that we slept through two alarms. We made the checkout just fine, but my friend had a train to catch that morning. Now, unfortunately, all pretense had to drop - she legitimately needed to get to Union Station about 15 minutes before we woke up. When the valet gave us our Volkswagen back, I stomped it. I changed it to Sport mode at a red light, hoping that it would give me more rapid throttle response or faster shifts, and it did. Gone was the relaxed cruise of the night before - this was white-knuckle city carving at its finest; my entire demeanor had changed, but so had the Arteon's.


2021 Volkswagen Arteon All-wheel drive and 268 horsepower add up to surprising performance.Victoria Scott


When we finally skidded into Union Station and my knuckles started to regain their color, I realized the Arteon had performed vastly better than I'd expected. Granted, the Arteon R-Line has 4-Motion - VW's all-wheel-drive system - and the 268 HP 2.0 liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder, both of which are proven technology from the Golf R and the GTI, respectively. Those cars are sporty - they're hot hatches that I wouldn't have to envision myself as anyone else to review well. I am the target market for VW's five-door four-banger hatches. So perhaps I was doing the Arteon a disservice to imagine myself as anyone else at all when I drove it.

And for the rest of the day I left it in Sport mode, slid the seat back, and let Paul Wall blast from the 700 watt, 12-speaker system with the windows down as I headed for the switchbacks of the iconic Angeles Crest Highway. No longer was I Miss Victoria, Wealthy Businesswoman - I was Tori, and I was here to shred. And it was time to figure out just how quickly it would make work of the twisting hairpins that wound through the mountains.

And I found out it's not too bad, honestly. It's not quite a Golf R, of course, and it feels a bit weightier than a GTI, but the underlying handling dynamics of Volkswagen - phenomenal steering feel right up to about 8/10ths, which is as far as I'll push it in the canyons anyway - are still present and prominent when pushing it hard through the twisties. It's not perfect, because VW's insistence on a heavily-delayed accelerator response somewhat kills the ability to nail it out of a corner, and the eight-speed's shifting even in Sport mode is never going to match the violence and rapidity of a true DSG, but at the price point with all the other features, there's a need to pick and choose what you're getting, and it was fun enough that I didn't feel like I was lugging a rental car through the mountains.


2021 Volkswagen Arteon Image matters, and the Arteon understands this.Victoria Scott


As I piloted the bright red sedan through the canyons, chasing another auto journalist in his loaner Lotus Evora GT, I had a flashback from another era. I worked at a software job in a previous life, and I used to daily-drive a horrid Mitsubishi Mirage and then my heavily-modified Supra. My coworkers constantly ribbed me for my youth and foolishness in car choices. This was my introduction to the professional world, and I soon learned that driving a 30-year-old car with a welded diff and a leaky main rear seal is not the path to career advancement. Image matters, and the Arteon understands this. This was a refined, classy car meant for the office five days a week, and just dabble in a little fun in those precious weekend moments. Ironically, there was no mindset shift required to understand the true purpose or target for this sedan - it was simply me a few years ago, working in those green cubicles, a lust for speed and a healthy paycheck landing in my account every few weeks, but with a desire to move up the corporate ladder. I just didn't want to sacrifice my love of cars and driving. The Arteon would fit the bill perfectly for that past self.

But, unfortunately, for fifty-grand, I have to nitpick. The Arteon suffers from some obvious modern day Volkswagen cost-cutting that feels jarringly out of place in such an otherwise well-finished car: The volume knob is a single piece; when rotated, the iconography rotates. This, quite frankly, drives me insane. The cluster screen flashing ECO TIP: Close the sunroof for reduced wind resistance! made me question why they'd included such a gorgeous, expansive sunroof if they were going to instill me with guilt for using it. The center console touchscreen required a hard press to activate, and its placement relative to the wheel made it hard to operate seamlessly, which seems to defeat the purpose and ease of standard CarPlay.


2021 Volkswagen Arteon Volkswagen still clearly remembers their roots in German quality and design that established them in America.Victoria Scott


And then, finally, the closest thing to a dealbreaker for me: The steering wheel. The capacitive-touch steering wheel holds no fewer than a dozen buttons, all cryptic and way too easily activated. I lost count of the number of times I turned on the steering-wheel-heater with the edge of my thumb in the middle of the LA summer, only to realize it was cooking me once my palms started burning. The genuinely helpful Travel Assist cruise control becomes downright annoying to activate by being hidden in a steering wheel menu of vaguely demarcated buttons. It was a constant aggravation in an otherwise pleasant car; if I owned this thing I'd have to forgo an airbag and swap in a Nardi just to prevent a stroke from pure frustration.


2021 Volkswagen Arteon The capacitive-touch steering wheel holds no fewer than a dozen buttons, all cryptic and way too easily activated.Victoria Scott


Outside of these minor irritations and the war-crime steering wheel, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Volkswagen still clearly remembers their roots in German quality and design that established them in America, and the Arteon drives like a callback to those better times. In short - VW has built a competent enough sporty sedan with looks paralleled by none, and comfort only rivalled by a few. It shows the flaws of a manufacturer still trying to recall the glory days of high-end automaking, but it's close enough to the mark in a nearly empty market segment to be worthy of at least a test drive. Just watch those thumbs on the steering wheel.

Trending News

 
 

New Golf GTI and Golf R

The New VW Hot Hatches Do Almost Everything Well

The eight-gen Golf is coming soon.

Victoria Scott

It's undeniable that the Volkswagen GTI has always held an outsize spot in enthusiast culture despite its diminutive size. No other car near its price point has ever been able to so deftly blend the raucous fun of a turbocharged sports car and ironclad build quality in quite the same way as VW's halo hatchback, and the incredibly long and successful production run of the nameplate has meant that every generation has offered something desirable to buyers. From a young age, they were my aspirational car; when I got my first copy of Need For Speed: Underground as a ten-year-old, I excitedly chose the fourth-generation GTI as my starter car. It offered good looks, an incredible engine note, and even on my Playstation it was a joy to fling through the rain-soaked city streets of the Underground map. What other car could offer all that for twenty thousand "credits"?

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R Western NC was the perfect playground for the hot hatches.Victoria Scott

Fast-forward fifteen years and three generations, and ten-year-old me would still be vindicated. Despite an onslaught of ever-tougher competition from Southeast Asia, the Teutonic GTI is still the standard-bearer of hot hatches. For good reason, as well - the outgoing MK7 GTI and Golf R still offer competitive specs, a fun driving experience, and a fantastic interior for their price, even six years after the generation debuted. So when Volkswagen announced the new MK8, they not only had a chance to improve upon their masterpiece decades in the making, but elevate the entire hot hatchback market, and the excitement I felt back at age ten was rekindled all over again when I had the chance to test it for myself.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R Trick handling tech makes any driver feel like a superhero.Victoria Scott

And on paper, the MK8's formula is familiar from the past three generations of GTI: mild revisions to a winning formula. The GTI gains a mild bump in power over the outgoing model, now offering 241 HP and a hefty 273 ft-lbs of torque from the 2.0L turbocharged EA888 four-cylinder. The differential gets an upgrade as well, with the innovative VAQ front diff now standard on all GTIs. The story for the rest of the GTI is more incremental improvements in typical VW fashion; standard heated seats and wireless charging, as well as stock 18" wheels, make the eighth generation base GTI a slightly more posh offering than its outgoing ancestor, while still coming in at just under $30K for a base model, at $29,545.

The MK8 platform Golf R is a bit more revised, but the underlying recipe is still the same that the Volkswagen halo car has always been known for: A damn fast AWD hatchback. The newest generation gets a 23 horsepower hp bump over its outgoing model, up to an impressive 315 HP and 295 ft-lbs of torque. Volkswagen was apparently worried about stopping all that power, so front brake rotors are now a whopping 14" in diameter, and front calipers are now twin-piston, instead of single. Most noticeably, the rear Haldex differential has been dropped in favor of a fully electronic diff in the back that can send 100% of the rear's power (so up to 50% of the car's total power) to a single rear wheel. With this new differential comes a special Drift mode, so those of us who aren't Tanner Foust can still feel like him. The standard features list is lengthier than ever, too, because all trims have been axed except the very top of the line, so if you want the newest Golf R, it'll set you back a stiff $43,645.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R VW gently massaged the Golf's appearance for the new generation.Victoria Scott

Aesthetically, revisions are minor; VW hasn't been too keen on messing with the form of their halo hatches since the late aughts. The sheet metal is a little cleaner, the available colors are great, and it looks buttoned up with a mild dose of aggression. In short, it's true to form for the restrained presentation of the Golf platform. Both cars are offered in the US with the option of either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic; international markets will have to make do with only the DSG-equipped Golf R, because Americans seem to be the ones craziest for three pedals. Because I am an American and crazy for three pedals, I asked for the manual transmission equipped test cars. The dirty secret of the VW hot hatches has always been that while the DSG is a perfected science, the manual transmissions have always left something to be desired, so I was excited to see if perhaps they'd finally dialed it in a bit more.

For my test loop, I was presented with one of the best roads East of the Mississippi: The Rattler, a 290-curve, 24-mile segment of North Carolina road that winds through the hills surrounding the Blue Ridge parkway, replete with both high-speed corners and treacherous downhill switchbacks. With its imperfect paving but incredible vistas and variety of corners, it was a perfect example of a spirited driving road that any sports car should come alive on.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R The new GTI isn't quite as engaging as its predecessor.Victoria Scott

The GTI certainly performed well on it, with a ceiling of performance that nearly outstripped my abilities. Chassis and suspension tuning has become even more precise than its predecessor; the top trim of the GTI now offers electronic adaptive-suspension, which my test car was equipped with, and it shone on the old rural roads of NC-209. The cabin was never jarringly rough even on the worst pavement, but there was no slop or body roll to be found when hard on the brakes and throwing the car directly into a hairpin. Turbo lag was virtually nonexistent - stomp on the pedal in any gear of your choice and torque will surge through the drivetrain to pull you out of it.

The manual transmission is improved over the outgoing model's, although the shifter throw was still long and a bit numb when tossing it through the gears. Steering was communicative and easy to judge right up until a fraction before the limit; I wished it would have understeered with a little more warning, but finding the outer limits of performance on the GTI takes a Herculean effort best not attempted on the streets, so I doubt it'll be a dealbreaker for most owners. Overall, the newest iteration of the GTI is fun to fling down sports-car roads, but I found it less engaging than the outgoing MK7. It's gotten quieter and less raucous overall; I enjoyed the slightly less precise but more communicative feel of the last generation, if only because it made the corners more engaging for the driver. The MK8 is certainly faster but it feels less fun on the whole, even if your lap times will improve by a few tenths.


And its Golf R sibling is similar - excellent suspension, incredible brakes, hardly any turbo lag to be found, similarly improved manual transmission - but it dials all of the traits of its less powerful brethren all the way to absurd levels. Yes, with the new rear torque-vectoring diff and over three hundred horsepower, the MK8 Golf R is damn fast in a way few cars under $50,000 are, but it's also unexciting.


As I navigated the twisting roads of The Rattler behind the wheel of the Golf R, I continually dared myself: alright, brake later, accelerate earlier, it has more in it. But no matter how terrifyingly close to turn-in I'd brake or how early before the apex I'd mash the accelerator, the Golf R simply would tear through every corner without breaking a sweat; any mistakes I would make would be compensated seamlessly with the smart all wheel drive or the instant torque from the lagless turbo. I found myself purposely making more complicated downshifts just to feel like I was actually part of the driving experience, because even while pushing it to the absolute limits of what I could manage on the streets, it seemed bored with me, and it rapidly became a reciprocal feeling. There is very little at this price-point that offers this level of performance, but it comes at the cost of a sterile experience that left me feeling like an afterthought as the driver.

And unfortunately, the rest of the revised platform is downhill from here. The arc of progress is not always in the direction of improvement, and the MK8's interior is a massive step backwards for Volkswagen. It's shared with the rest of the refreshed VW lineup, and it is frustratingly unusable in every car they have introduced with it, including the Golf R and GTI. There is not a button or knob to be found in the entire car; every conceivable functionality is embedded in the infotainment system. Would you like to turn on your standard heated seats? That will be three touchscreen pushes on the laggy 8.5" tablet embedded at a slightly uncomfortable distance in the dash. Changing from sport mode to comfort? I hope you enjoy menus.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R VW offers great colors for the new GTI and Golf R.Victoria Scott



The rest of the climate control and radio functionality is also buried in the touchscreen, unless you feel like hunting for the unlit, untextured piano black capacitive touch buttons for the temperature and volume control. I couldn't find them in broad daylight; those buttons are completely unusable at night. On top of the dreadful infotainment system, the steering wheel on both cars is now the overly-cluttered capacitive-touch style that I previously discussed ruining the otherwise brilliant Arteon. Why a wheel with such easily triggered buttons would be used in a sports car where presumably the driver will be working the wheel with gusto is absolutely beyond all logic, because I would find myself turning on the steering wheel heater or turning off my soundtrack as I'd whip the GTI into a hairpin and actually needed to grip the wheel.

And so it's hard to celebrate the coming of the MK8 platform as a step in the right direction. Despite the higher performance ceilings of the newest offerings, I already miss the MK7 generation, with its vastly more usable interior and less inhibited, modest sounds and handling. The outgoing cars were fast enough to be fun, they made the driver feel like more of the experience, and they were overall less buttoned up. The Golf name has aged and grown up, sure. Neither of us are in our Need For Speed years anymore. But did it have to mature so much it forgot how to relax a little and have some fun?

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R The new cars are more buttoned up and tech-forward.Victoria Scott

From Your Site Articles

Trending News

 
 

VinFast will soon launch in the United States.

VinFast

The automotive business is a tough place to cut your teeth as a company. So many have tried and failed to break through with new vehicles, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Electric vehicles seem to present a perfect opportunity for companies of all types to jump in with a new product. Such is the case with VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker. The company launched two new crossovers at the LA Auto Show yesterday, both of which are heading to the United States.

VinFast EVs Two models will debut at first, but the company plans on expanding here.VinFast

The VinFast VF e35 features up to 301 miles of range on a charge, while the full-size three-row VF e36 can travel up to 422 miles on a charge. Both vehicles come with a ten-year/100,000-mile warranty. VinFast says that its launch strategy in the United States wraps in charging stations, as the company realizes that they are a necessary part of EV adoption. In Vietnam, VinFast is in the process of building 40,000 charging stations to bolster adoption.

VinFast EVs VinFast will eventually build a factory in the United States.VinFast

Here, the automaker will build dozens of company-branded stores to sell its vehicles, similar to the approach taken by Tesla. VinFast's plan is to position itself as an exclusive product in the EV space, and to help it expand in the U.S., the company plans to build a factory in 2024. Part of its launch will also involve several special events across the country to introduce the brand and its vehicles.

Related Articles Around the Web

Trending News