• 2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Review: 2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Now with more stuff!

Lee Bailie By: Lee Bailie July 15, 2021

At the risk of repeating myself, I think the Volkswagen Arteon is a fine car that won’t get a second glance from most new car shoppers.

But don’t take my word for it, just look at new car sales figures for North America, where roughly 75 per cent of the market is occupied by crossovers / SUVs and light trucks. And where does that leave passenger cars like the Arteon? On the automotive endangered species list.

Introduced in 2019, this car has yet to gain a solid footing in the market. In Canada, just 456 were sold in 2019, followed by 352 in 2020 and just 169 this year through June 30. Things are equally dire in the U.S., where the Arteon has produced sales of 2,449 in 2019, 3,998 in 2020 and 2,781 so far this year.

In fairness, the 2021 U.S. figure represents a 76 per cent increase over last year at this point but given how small the volume remains I doubt the improvement is cause for celebration at the Volkswagen of America head office.

But let’s not dwell on that, for there are changes in store for the 2021 Arteon.

Caveat: because I reviewed the 2020 Arteon for Wheels.ca mere months ago (https://www.wheels.ca/car-reviews/review-2020-volkswagen-arteon/), I’m not going to say much about the nuts and bolts, because none of it has changed. There are some design and packaging changes which I will discuss, however.

But first, the basics. The Arteon is a coupe-like sedan, based on Volkswagen’s MQB (modular transverse matrix) platform that’s shared with a number of models, including the Atlas and Tiguan. For North America, one powertrain is offered: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine (268 hp / 258 lb-ft) paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.

For 2021, the Arteon receives a mid-cycle styling update, which also coincides with some packaging changes made by Volkswagen Canada.

First, the styling changes. The exterior updates are cosmetic tweaks but do stand out if you’re familiar with the Arteon. The big change at the front is a new grille that features three chrome bars in the lower half instead of four, along with a light bar that connects with LED daytime running lights. The lower air intakes have been redesigned and enlarged, and the new, slimmer VW logo sits prominently in the centre of the grille. Changes at the rear are more modest, with a re-styled, stretched Arteon wordmark along with the new VW logo.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Alterations in the cabin are more sweeping. Volkswagen designers have remade the entire dashboard, including trim panels, air vents and surrounding décor. New materials, including aluminum, adorn the upper dash, which now includes ambient lighting that supports 30 colours.

Big changes have also been made to centre console. The round analogue clock in the previous model has been removed, as have the physical buttons for the climate controls. The mechanical controls have been replaced by a touch-sensitive sensitive system like those used in late model Audis.

The eight-inch multimedia display is the same size as it was previously, but it now powered by Volkswagen’s latest MIB3 software that features improved voice recognition, Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Finally, the steering wheel has been replaced with a new multifunction unit that is heated, with digital touch controls and the new VW logo in the hub.

Given its small sales volume, the Arteon is available in just one loaded-out Execline trim for Canada. It’s been that way since it first went on sale two years ago, but for 2021, Volkswagen Canada is doubling down on this strategy by including R Line trim options with the base MSRP. This means 20-inch Nashville alloy wheels wrapped in Continental ProContact rubber (P245/35R20), R-Line steering wheel, and ‘silver rise’ décor inserts are now standard. As a result, the ’21 Arteon is roughly $3,000 more than the ’20 I reviewed last winter, but you get more stuff.

Essentially, ordering an Arteon boils down to picking a colour and putting your money down. Speaking of colours, there are two new exterior finishes for ’21: Lapiz Blue Metallic and Oryx White Pearl ($795 paint charge). Interior colour options consist of Mistral Grey / Raven and Titan Black.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon For this review, Volkswagen Canada furnished me with a Urano Grey tester (same colour as the 2020 I drove), with a Titan Black leather interior. Apart form the changes mentioned, the 2021 comes with all the same stuff as the previous model.

I won’t run through them all, but among the noteworthy are heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, configurable Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, Harman / Kardon premium audio with 10 speakers, LED exterior lighting and a full suite of safety kit. Included in that package are pedestrian monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane assist lane keeping system, park distance control with park assist, dynamic road sign display and a lot more.

In terms of impressions, I’m going to focus mainly on the stuff that’s new. Because there are no mechanical changes, I don’t have much to add regarding the drive. It’s the same car, so what I said six months ago still holds: the Arteon offers decent everyday performance, with a comfortable ride, quiet cabin and responsive handling on public roads. It’s not neck-snapping, but it’s not a slug either. For more, check out my 2020 review.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

As for the 2021 changes, I like them. I think the decision to offer the Arteon with the R Line options included in the base MSRP is justifiable given the intended competition (Kia Stinger, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon), and the car’s tiny sales volume. Volkswagen Canada really doesn’t have much to lose here, in my view.

And I think the extra stuff is a good deal to boot, given that the old optional packages cost more than the $3,000 price hike that’s been applied here. The exterior changes are modest, but the big 20-inch Nashville alloys look great, and the LED light bar in the new grille looks quite stunning at night.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

On the inside, I’m a big fan of the new multifunction steering wheel and the dashboard redesign is well-executed. I think the ambient lighting warms up an interior that was a little too cold and austere before. I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled when I heard the mechanical climate controls were going to be replaced by less intuitive and more distracting touch-sensitive controls, but they do look good and aren’t as fussy to use as I was expecting.

But the set-up they replace was better and, yes, you’ll want to keep a box of wet wipes in the console arm rest because the new panel is going to get covered in smudges and fingerprints.

Overall, the changes made to the 2021 Arteon make it more compelling but I’m not sure it will be enough to keep it around for much longer. As I said before, it’s a truly beautiful car that offers lots of space, a well-finished interior and loads of content for the money. The value proposition here is strong.

So, why doesn’t it sell better?

The market shift towards trucks and SUVs in North America is a big factor, but a Volkswagen Canada rep suggested to me in a recent chat that perception may be part of the problem. As they put it, “no one walks into a Volkswagen store looking to spend more than $50K.”

The implication here is if the Arteon was an Audi, it might have broader appeal because the price would be more aligned with the badge, and therefore consumer expectations. I hadn’t thought of that, but I can imagine this type of feedback has been relayed to Volkswagen Canada from its dealers.

Is that why the Arteon has de-facto all-in pricing? I’m not sure, but I hope the strategy helps its sales because Volkswagen can’t change the badge.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon Specifications

BODY STYLE: mid-size sedan

DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic transmission

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder (268 hp / 258 lb-ft)

FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium 91+) 11.6 / 7.7 / 9.8 L / 100 km city / highway / combined

CARGO VOLUME: 1,591 litres (56.1 cu-ft)

PRICE: $52,995 base / as tested, excl. taxes

WEBSITE: www.volkswagen.ca