Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen’s distinctive Arteon sedan offers striking looks and style
Since the mysterious days of the brief American appearance of the Volkswagen Phaeton, a very expensive and very upscale VW, folks who still equate the brand with Herbie the Love Bug (or do not remember the early, $80,000 diesel Touareg SUV) have often been bewildered by the sheer notion of really costly Volkswagens.
And since the phase-out of the midmarket CC sedan, those who like the idea of a family-sized Volkswagen sedan but still fail to be thrilled by the Passat were left with a bit of a gap.
Enter the Arteon, a fanciful, striking and nicely accomplished larger sedan, which offers a more premium experience at a still reasonable price — albeit nearly double the cost of a Jetta SEL Premium I also drove in back-to-back tests.
Arteon starts at $35,845, but the top-of-the-line SEL Premium model in its family, also equipped with Colorado-compatible 4Motion all-wheel drive, brought the price to $46,175. Jetta, in the meantime, did its full act for $28,590.
What do you get for what is indeed a kind of costly Volkswagen, exactly? You get a vehicle that seems to be trying very hard to make a statement, from its striking visual cues, its intricate use of chrome and even funny little details like side mirrors, which electronically rotate upward like supercar scissor doors when you lock the vehicle. There’s also an interesting, initially somewhat offsetting lantern effect from a coach-styled light feature above the rear-view mirror, adding a different ambience at night.
Arteon shares the same adaptable platform as everything from the full-sized Atlas to the smaller Golf, so proportions are not unexpectedly different — though the car definitely feels wider and longer than other members of the family.
In reality, it’s 191.4 inches overall, with a 111.7-inch wheelbase (versus Passat’s, uh, 110.4-inch wheelbase and 191.9-inch length), suggesting that looks and finish can really change one’s impressions of a vehicle, without much change at all.
It also offers more SUV-styled power, with a turbocharged, direct fuel injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 268 horsepower — a big improvement over Passat’s 174 horsepower variant.
Arteon’s turbo, par for the course, sounds equally coarse at start-up but will truly fling the vehicle along in high style, returning the promised 27 highway mpg with no problems. My only truly exciting galavanting during my mostly commute-heavy drive was a circular on-ramp onto Interstate 25, and I was able to do so with a confidence and lateral grip that I found quite impressive.
Standard driving was smooth and solid, with comfortable steering, indicating that the car will be a happy summertime cruiser.
The design does indeed give it a whole lot more presence, and even in a Urano Gray paint scheme, Arteon looks pretty chic. Up front, the car’s face is made up of rows and rows of chromed fencing, a detail also repeated on the air vents in the cabin, plus extremely low-profile headlamps, and a low, broad and very flat hood.
There’s chrome everywhere — window frames and expressive pseudo vents on the side panels — plus a deeply tapered crease above the rocker panels that adds visual strength.
Arteon is set up in sportback style, and the effect is an absolutely gigantic, nearly SUV-sized cargo area in the rear, as much as 55 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Mine did come loaded to the gills with the full range of Volkswagen’s fancier bits, including aluminum pedals and sill plates, a 700-watt, 12-speaker Dynaudio stereo system, plus the full extent of VW’s most current navigation system.
Leatherized doors, sumptuous and sporty seats and a flat-bottomed, race-style wheel also class up the whole experience. But it’s the back that benefits the most from an almost limousine-level of refinement, with substantial and spacious leg room, tall benchlike-seating with deep bottoms and full climate controls, including seat heaters. Larger, longer squared-off doors also make rear-seat access more pleasant.
If Arteon seems a little upmarket for your tastes, consider that the Jetta SEL is still pretty impressive, with more than enough real-world power and comfort in its standard 1.4-liter turbo engine setup. That 147-horsepower output is definitely a different experience than Arteon or even the Jetta GLI, but you can use it wisely and efficiently to make the Jetta a fun experience, with impressive confidence on corners.
SEL brings a nicer set of wheels and some additional trim to add to the package, plus the Beats Audio system; the relentlessly monochrome interior is perhaps the height of VW’s black-on-black color scheme.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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