Volkswagen has received a lot of press for expecting half of its US sales to be all-electric vehicles by 2030. But that raises an obvious question — what kind of gas-powered vehicles will it sell to those buyers who do not want an EV?
If the 2021 Arteon is any example, the answer is, very good ones. The company's flagship midsize car has been refreshed with even sharper exterior styling, highlighted by dazzling 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and a more refined interior that now includes a Volkswagen Digital Cockpit that allows the driver to easily reconfigure its 10.25-inch instrument display.
In fact, the Arteon evokes EVs in several ways. It is so futuristic looking, several people asked if it was an electric car. And it is almost as smooth and quiet on the road as an EV, thanks to its advanced engineering.
The result is an Arteon that is even more competitive in the affordable family car market, where even base models are well equipped and the top-of-the-line versions challenge genuine luxury vehicles for thousands less. Although some companies, including Chevy and Ford, are dropping cars in favor of SUVs, remaining models like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Avalon, Nissan Altima and Maxima, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sorento are better than ever.
But the redesigned Arteon easily keeps up with them. It is also one of the few available with all-wheel-drive, a desirable option that increases traction in wet Pacfic Northwest weather.
In fact, the Arteon has the advantage of being the only hatchback in the group, even though it looks like one of the most striking four-door fastbacks ever designed. The hatchback creates an enormous amount of cargo space, however, far more than a conventional trunk.
Although the Arteon is only available with one engine — a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four that produces 268 horsepower — it never felt too slow in a week of mixed driving. Even in the fuel-saving Eco mode that suppresses throttle response, it was decent off the line. The 2.0T also felt peppy in the Comfort mode and downright fast in the Sport mode, even without using the manual shift mode for more precise control.
For 2021, Volkswagen simplified trim selections to SE, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line options. The company's 4Motion all-wheel drive system is available on SEL R-Line models and comes standard on SEL Premium R-Line models. For the first time, the Arteon can also be configured with an illuminated grille. On midrange models, new LED daytime running lights (DRLs) connect to form a central light bar in the grille, surrounding the Volkswagen logo.
Our test Arteon was the base SE trim level. Despite that, we didn't feel cheated. The redesigned, bolder front end gave it a more modern look, and the interior felt upscale. The V-Tec leatherette seating surfaces felt like genuine leather, and the soft plastics were all high quality. The multifunction steering wheel featured digital touch surfaces rather than moving buttons. It also has touch-sensitive surfaces that can detect whether the driver has at least one hand on the steering wheel, for safety reasons.
On the road, our test 2021 Arteon felt incredibly refined. Although not a genuine Germany luxury car, it drove as well as any number of them. Freeway trips were especially enjoyable, with the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission quickly shifting down when needed to pass slower slower traffic.
Volkswagen has now begun rolling out its promised like of EVs, beginning with the ID.4. But if you don't want — or can't easily accommodate — an all-electric vehicle, the company legendary engineer and quality can be found in the 2021 Arteon.
2021 Volkswagen Arteon SE
Price as tested: $38,190
Type: Midsize sedan
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (268 hp, 250 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Custom
EPA estimated mileage: 22/32
Overall length: 191.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,835 pounds
Final assembly: Emden, Germany
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