2022 Volkswagen Arteon First Drive Review: Remote Therapy
It’s been a rough few months (hell, a rough few years) to be a human being. I woke up last Thursday with the anxiety of an ever-ongoing pandemic, political division, international conflicts, war, and violence heavy on my mind. After staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I begrudgingly took a shower and pulled some clothes on – I still have a job to do, though one that feels increasingly insignificant in the wake of that aforementioned strife.
With rain clouds in the sky and on my mind, I found myself face to face with a 2022 Volkswagen Arteon, a fastback sedan fresh off a significant mechanical update for this year. Thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four borrowed from the 2022 Golf R, there’s more thrust (300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, up from 268 and 258), routed through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that replaces an eight-speed auto. Prices are up a few grand too – the old base price of $38,190 rises to $41,945 (including $1,195 destination) for the sporty-styled, front-drive 2022 SE R-Line.
That’s a smidge cheaper than other premium four-door hatchbacks, and my SEL Premium 4Motion tester demanded $51,140, a number that places it squarely in the crosshairs of the BMW 430i Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback. But I didn’t have time to think about those rivals right then. Sometimes, when the world all starts to feel too heavy, all you can do is just go for a drive.
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In spite of its newfound power, the 2022 Volkswagen Arteon cultivates the same visual mystique as the 2021 model (which received a minor facelift comprising new front and rear bumpers and a slightly revised dash design). Its grinning grille features a full-width light bar, dovetailing into the daytime running lamps that underline the headlights. All 2022 models (SE, SEL, and SEL Premium) get the R-Line appearance package that includes larger wheels and more aggressive front and rear bumpers. It’s subtly handsome, with great styling that avoids trendy pitfalls while still standing out.
The story is much the same inside, where a modernist dash design gives place to an easy-to-operate 8.0-inch center touchscreen and nicely detailed 10.0-inch digital instrument cluster. Thankfully, VW hasn’t given the Arteon its unpleasant, haptic slider buttons just yet, relying on physical climate controls and a pair of knobs astride the screen.
The cabin is a very relaxing place to spend time, with supportive seats and good ergonomics that would feel as good on hour six as they do on hour one. And in spite of the low-roof exterior design, there’s more than enough head- and legroom for my nihilistic, 6-foot self to get comfortable in any of the outboard seats.
Standard on all Arteons, adaptive dampers only add to the liftback sedan’s cosseting nature. Set to Comfort mode, the shocks give the liftback VW reasonable body control without sacrificing a smooth ride on poorly maintained roads. Steering is light, perhaps too much so, though the Arteon offers a custom drive mode that allows the driver to mix the smooth ride of Comfort or Normal with the heavier steering (and sharper throttle response, if you like) of the Sport setting.
Bundle it all together (and add the SEL Premium’s heated and ventilated front seats with massage for the driver) and you’re left with a polished, poised vehicle that’s perfect for winding up the coast and unwinding away the stress. There are a few flaws with the Arteon, sybaritically speaking. Hard plastics are the most obvious offender, appearing too liberally on the door panels for comfort (especially compared to the nicely finished Audi A5). There also isn’t a lot of storage apart from the smallish door pockets and front armrest binnacle. But overall, the smoothly styled Arteon is a smooth operator as well.
…And Carry On
With the Arteon’s onboard navigation routing me toward Oxnard, California, I passed by a road that’s long been a favorite of mine. Carving through Decker Canyon above Malibu, Route 23 is narrow and taxing, with more than a few first-gear corners that demand attention and respect. The stretch of pavement is a better fit for something like a Golf R, but I had time to kill and needed a momentary distraction. A few easygoing miles on the highway had calmed my mind a bit, so I flicked on the turn signal and toggled the drive mode to Sport.
No one will confuse the Arteon for the hot hatch that donated its heart. At 73.7 inches wide, riding on a 111.9-inch wheelbase, and weighing in at 3,935 pounds, Volkswagen’s flagship fastback isn’t what you’d call nimble, but it does have a surefooted sense of stability when weaving apexes together. Even with the added heft of Sport mode, steering isn’t particularly feelsome, though turn-in is quick enough to give the driver a strong sense of control. The Arteon is happy to dance if you’re willing to keep the pace brisk instead of hair-raising – think a saucy tango rather than a jaunty foxtrot.
The automaker’s novel XDS+ cross-differential system applies selective braking to all four wheels, helping replicate a limited-slip diff and improving agility a bit. The SEL Premium’s 4Motion all-wheel drive adds to the effect with excellent grip that’s most noticeable when exiting slow corners. The four-wheel traction (also standard on SEL but unavailable on the SE) is a good thing, since the new turbo four provides peak torque at an accessible 2,000 rpm, tapering off in time for peak power to come in at 5,350. Squeeze the throttle after clipping the apex and you’re met with a whooshing, satisfying rush of thrust.
That potential energy is a boon in normal traffic, as well. The old Arteon wasn’t slow by any means, but the new one feels stronger thanks to those elevated output numbers and a more responsive throttle. Your butt dyno will tell you it’s easier to cut and thrust through the suburbs behind the wheel of an Arteon than the 261-hp Audi A5 Sportback or 255-hp BMW 430i Gran Coupe. The snappy DSG transmission helps too, with good low-speed manners and the immediate gear changes we’ve come to expect from such gearboxes. The Bimmer makes do with a traditional eight-speed automatic, though the Audi benefits from seven-speed dual-clutch goodness too.
The 2022 Volkswagen Arteon is a spacious, comfortable vehicle for passengers, but it also does a surprising impression of a moving van when necessary. It offers a commodious 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats or 56.2 with them folded, eclipsing the 4 Series’ respective 16.6 and 45.6 cubes. The Audi Sportback comes closer in one metric, with 21.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat, but its paltry 35.0 measurement with them folded is worst in this set.
The Vee-Dub is pretty efficient, though its 25 miles per gallon combined can’t match its premium competition. The rear-drive BMW will do 28 mpg and the Quattro-only Audi can hit 27 mpg. If you choose the front-wheel-drive Arteon SE, you’ll get 28 mpg combined.
You’ll also save some cash at the outset without making too many comfort sacrifices. The SE still comes standard with a digital instrument cluster, leather seats with heat in the front row, wireless charging and smartphone integration, and front and rear parking sensors. As I learned in a brief spin of the front-drive Arteon, it suffers from some wheelspin when hooning out of tight corners, but otherwise, it’s much the same dynamic experience as its all-wheel-drive kin. Although it lacks adaptive cruise control and a panoramic sunroof, the base SE might be my pick if I were shopping for an Arteon.
The base Arteon’s lower price ($41,945 for the SE I drove) relative to the 430i and A5 would also make the cheaper-feeling interior more acceptable. Each of the three offers similar driving dynamics; that is, competent and enjoyable, but not hair-on-fire hot. In my opinion, the Arteon is the most attractive, and its spacious cabin and cargo area make it appealing to those who have as many family obligations as they do fashion accessories. There’s no denying the snob appeal of an Audi or BMW badge, but the Arteon makes a case for itself with cost savings and style.
I’ve only recently been able to articulate that impression, though. Last week, the Arteon was just my therapist, absorbing my internal monologue and relaxing my nerves before giving me a safe, stable outlet for some excess mental energy. The world isn’t any better after my time in the Arteon – in fact it’s probably worse – but like I said, sometimes you just need to go for a drive.
Volkswagen Arteon Competitor Reviews:
- Audi A5 Sportback: Not Rated
- BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe: 8.7/10
- Kia Stinger GT-Line: 9.2/10
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