Review update: 2021 Volkswagen Arteon presents premium vibe despite mainstream badge

Look deep inside yourself and ask: Do I want a luxury hatchback without the luxury badge? For those few who answered yes, the Volkswagen Arteon exists.

For 2021, the sleek VW flagship gets refreshed with more prominent badging, updated LED lighting, and an upgraded infotainment system with new interior controls.

With a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10, the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon appeals with terrific suspension tuning, comfortable seats, simple yet elegant design, and mostly good interior packaging. But it falters on its high price, tight rear seat headroom, imprecise haptic controls, and a tight center console area.

I spent a week with the 2021 Volkswagen Areton driving the kids around town, running errands and picking up groceries to determine where this hatchback hits and misses.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Hit: Goldilocks suspension tune

Firm, yet never jarring. Controlled and taut, yet never delivering a harsh impact on broken midwestern roads despite my tester’s 20-inch alloy wheels. The adaptive dampers and independent suspension tuning has just the right balance of comfort and sport. There’s some body roll when pushed hard, but this isn’t a hot hatch, it’s simply one of the most refined VW’s in U.S. showrooms.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Miss: Touch sensitive controls

Prepare yourself, VW’s entering its touch-sensitive control era. It’s as if the automaker wasn’t around when Ford went through this with the last-gen Explorer. Spoiler: People hated those touch-sensitive controls. The updated interface for climate controls took multiple taps of the surface for the input to register in many cases. Good luck in winter while wearing gloves.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Hit: Mostly well packaged

The comfortable front seats are supportive with plenty of bolstering, but it’s the rear seat that’s really worth writing home about. At nearly four inches longer and two inches taller than the Audi A5 Sportback, the Arteon’s rear seat is the place to be with plenty of knee, leg, and foot room. But headroom doesn’t favor the tall; my head brushed the roof and I’m 5-foot-10. Opening the rear hatch reveals a healthy but shallow 27.2 cubic feet of space to haul everything for the kids’ soccer practice, and that can expand to 56.2 cubic feet by folding the rear seats.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Miss: Tight center console

The Arteon features wireless smartphone charging, but the pad to place the device is wedged into a cubby located in front of the gear selector. The slim opening was a pain to get my iPhone out of.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Hit: Sport Mode

The Arteon’s Normal drive mode leaves the 268-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 with some hesitation in the middle of the engine’s rev range. Also, the 8-speed automatic transmission constantly upshifts in the name of fuel economy. This dance often takes the engine out of the power band. Sport mode wakes up the entire powertrain, kicks the transmission down a gear or two, removes the aforementioned throttle hesitation, and improves power response. It essentially acts like a single shot of espresso for the entire car, and who doesn’t love espresso?

2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line

Miss: Premium price tag

The Arteon is a premium vehicle, from its European platform and adaptive dampers to its gorgeous design, but it sports a VW badge, and the value equation for the Arteon is a hard one to accept. A base Arteon costs $38,190, which is at the top end of most mid-size family sedans. My tester cost $48,190, and that’s a lot of money compared to an Acura TLX, Genesis G80, and even the Kia Stinger, which is both sportier and more powerful at that price. A nicely equipped A5 Sportback can be had for that kind of money, too.

The 2021 Volkswagen Arteon presents an appealing case in terms of design and packaging, but pricing presents a possible objection for a large portion of the U.S. market. For those seeking something that flies under the radar without a premium badge but with a near premium experience, the Arteon satisfies that need.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Base price: $38,190, including destination
Price as tested: $49,190
Powertrain: 268-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 20/31/24 mpg
The hits: Sharp design, simple interior, great interior space, terrific suspension tuning
The misses: Touch-sensitive controls, cramped wireless phone charging area, premium price tag

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