Update: Since this first drive was published in April 2019, we have finished testing.

See the complete Volkswagen Arteon road test.

The 2019 Volkswagen Arteon joins the line-up as the German brand's new flagship sedan, positioned above the Passat midsized sedan. It combines design elegance and a sophisticated driving experience in a model that bridges mainstream and upscale models. 

The Arteon is based on the European version of the Passat, which is a more feature-rich car than the Passat we get here in the U.S. With that pedigree, the Arteon targets the midsized sedan buyer who wants a bit more luxury than a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, yet at a slightly lower price than German prestige-brand cars.

It serves as the successor to the CC, an uplevel version of the Passat sedan that was dropped after the 2017 model year. The Arteon carries on the CC’s four-door coupe-like styling and packages the sleek silhouette as a hatchback in the vein of the Audi A5 Sportback, Buick Regal, and Kia Stinger.

We recently rented a 2019 Volkswagen Arteon 4Motion (all-wheel drive) to gather early impressions before we buy one for CR’s test fleet. We found it delivers a comfortable and sophisticated driving experience, but, like the CC that came before, its focus on styling trumps cabin space and visibility. Plus, we were surprised by the engine’s racket during hard acceleration.

The Arteon competes against semi-luxury cars such as the Acura TLX, Buick Regal, Infiniti Q50, Kia Stinger, and Nissan Maxima.  

2019 Volkswagen Arteon driving

What We Drove: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium 4Motion
Powertrain: 268-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $44,945
Options: $1,765: R-Line package with 20-inch wheels
Destination fee: $995
Total cost: $47,705 

What We Like . . . So Far

We enjoy the Arteon’s budget-Audi experience, from its strong powertrain to its fantastic front seats and high level of fit and finish. The four-cylinder engine provides an ample 268 horsepower, delivered with hardly any turbo lag or hesitation when hitting the gas pedal from a stop. The eight-speed automatic transmission is responsive and delivers mostly smooth shifts.

Corners are greeted with responsive steering and a well-snubbed suspension that gives the Arteon a mildly sporty feel. We were pleasantly surprised when we drove it with vigor around our test track. It proved quite balanced at its grip limits, allowing us to provoke the rear end of the car to step out in a fun, controllable fashion.

The ride is on the firm side, but it is absorbent enough to keep occupants from complaining. All Arteon trim levels come with an adaptive suspension system that allows the driver to switch between different levels of ride quality. The Sport mode works well when picking up the pace on a curvy road, but we found it too jittery for regular driving. The softest setting takes the edge off nicely when cruising down the highway.

Volkswagen Road Tests

The 12-way power front seats are superb, with comfortable cushions, well-bolstered seatbacks, and four-way lumbar support adjustment. Base Arteons come with leatherette seating surfaces, but higher trims, like the SEL Premium model we rented, have full leather upholstery. We really enjoyed the big metal block that serves as the left footrest.

We found the 8-inch touch-screen infotainment system to be a model of clarity. It responds quickly and allows the driver to perform many functions easily, such as manual radio tuning. It’s also simple to switch between Android Auto or Apple CarPlay (both come standard) and the native infotainment screen.

The Arteon’s hatchback configuration endows it with plenty of luggage space, especially when the rear seats are folded down. We also like the way the rear VW emblem flips up to reveal the rearview camera when the car is put into Reverse, as seen on other Volkswagen models. This keeps the camera lens protected from rain, dirt, and snow.

Advanced safety systems including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning come standard.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon interior

What We Don’t Like

We didn’t like the way the Arteon’s engine sounded slightly harsh and hollow when pushed. The same goes with the noticeable idle vibration. This unrefined character is out of place for a luxury-oriented car at this price point.

The cockpit also has a more closed-in feeling than most cars, and the hard-plastic center console seriously intrudes on the driver’s right knee room. The door armrests are unyielding, too.

The Arteon, especially its rear seat, is also a bit of a challenge to enter because of the sloping roofline. Plus, headroom is tight back there for adults. Outward visibility is a bit restricted by the car’s styling. Views out the front aren’t bad, despite the heavily angled windshield pillars, but the rear side windows (although quite long) taper into thick back pillars that make for some big blind spots. 

What We’ll Keep Our Eyes On

We’ll be buying an Arteon for the CR test fleet soon, albeit with a slightly lower trim level than the one we rented. We’re keen to see if the interior ambiance feels as top-shelf on less expensive versions. We’re also curious to see if the car we buy will have a more refined engine sound and less idle vibration.

Fuel consumption is one of the 50-plus tests we perform at the Auto Test Center, which means we’ll be able to see how our overall number compares with the EPA’s 23 mpg combined for the all-wheel-drive Arteon.

See the complete Volkswagen Arteon road test.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon rear