The Volkswagen Arteon has only been on sale in the United States for about a year – the first units hit American dealerships in April 2019 – but it is already receiving an update for 2021. With a very subtle exterior restyling, the VW Arteon 2021 a rather attractive interior, a movement which, according to the company, aligns it more with its status as a flagship.
In Europe, the Arteon has been on sale since the 2018 model year, which is why it is apparently updated at the start of its life cycle in the United States. In addition to mid-cycle style and technology changes, our European friends will also get a boost on the Arteon fire brake, an unusual long-top variant of the hatchback. In addition, European customers will now have the option of choosing a 215-horsepower (160 kilowatt) rechargeable hybrid powertrain and a 315-hp (235 kW) Arteon R variant.
Unfortunately, the Americans will be deprived of the Shooting Brake, the plug-in hybrid and the Arteon R, leaving us only the SE, SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line. A 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder with transfer turbocharger powers each of our versions, delivering 268 hp and 258 lb-ft (200 kW and 350 Newton meters) via an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels on the SEs and SEL, with 4Motion all-wheel drive optional on SEL and standard on SEL Premium.
Fortunately, the upgrade to the five-door Arteon 2021 is still a nice consolation prize. Volkswagen did everything possible to distinguish the sportier R-Line from the basic trim, giving the former a front bumper with enlarged lower grilles contained in a C-shaped frame. The unusual blades of the color of the bodywork rises from the bottom of the front bumper to squeeze through the openings in the exterior grille, giving the 2021 Arteon R-Line a slightly more sinister appearance. The R-band is also unique to the R-Line compared to other Arteons. It includes a full-width LED strip that extends from the DRLs in the shape of headlight hockey sticks to the second accent bar on the grille.
An Arteon without R-Line style (which for Americans only understands the basic SE trim level) also gets some front overhauls. The grille has been redesigned with a larger shield pattern, a movement that we think is very reminiscent of the Ferrari Portofino. The redesigned front bumper also has a full-width chrome strip above the front spoiler, giving the SE a more premium appearance.
At the rear, the changes are slight. The rear lights have a more technical and futuristic appearance thanks to the new LEDs, and the R-Line gets a distinct rear bumper design with integrated quadruped tailpipes. Finally, the sedan receives the recently updated minimalist corporate logo from Volkswagen on the entire vehicle, and the “ARTEON” script on the tailgate has also been revised.
In Europe, the real flagship of Volkswagen is the Touareg, and the company turned to this luxury SUV to rethink the interior of the Arteon. Improved interior materials include embossed faux leather for the dashboard and door panels, and a redesigned steering wheel with delightful-looking capacitive controls.
The air conditioning unit is also new, abandoning Arteon’s old intuitive rotary dials with touch controls – we admit that worries us. European models benefit from VW’s modern MIB3 infotainment that uses a touchscreen interface only, but fortunately, cars in the U.S. market will combine the new system with ergonomic volume and adjustment knobs.
Even the Arteon SE base will be fully equipped. A 10.3-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit gauge cluster is standard, as are Apple Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, a four-door keyless entry and an 8.0-inch MIB3 infotainment screen. It also benefits from standard safety features like automated emergency braking and blind spot monitoring, as well as elegant new 18-inch wheels.
The Arteon SEL adds standard R-Line styling, an inductive wireless charge charger, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist. Finally, the SEL Premium R-Line will have 20-inch wheels and premium Harman / Kardon sound – a new stereo system developed for VW with 12 speakers, 700 watts of power and a 16-channel Ethernet amplifier. The SEL and SEL Premium also benefit from a translucent shock-resistant and fear-resistant aluminum trim which combines with ambient interior lighting, bathing the entire cabin in one of 30 different colors.
The forbidden fruit
The Volkswagen Arteon firing brake is the last automobile slap in the face of America, taunting the Yankees with another wagon that we cannot have. The styling of the five-door hatchback translates well to a long-roof design, thanks in part to solid rear axes that stand out even more from the roofline of the car than that of the hatch. The design of the side window openings is combined with a smooth roof spoiler to draw attention to the rear – “look fast while standing still” applies here. Unfortunately, a new body style means a new series of crash and emission tests in the United States, which VW can hardly afford given the low car handling rate here.
A plug-in hybrid variant of the Arteon sedan will also be offered to our friends across the pond. If it uses the same powertrain as the Passat GTE intended only for foreigners, it combines a four-cylinder in-line of 1.4 liter of 156 ch (115 kW) and a battery of 13 kilowatts feeding an electric motor of 115 hp (85 kW). The total power of the system on the Arteon plug-in, like on the Passat GTE, is 215 hp (160 kW) and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm). The GTE can travel approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) in EV mode before the engine starts, more than enough for most daily trips by Europeans – we expect the Arteon plug-in to be similar.
The other Volkswagen that the Americans will be deprived of is the Arteon R. Volkswagen was silent on the details, except to say that the performance model will have 315 ponies, as mentioned above. It is possible that the Arteon R is a rechargeable hybrid, possibly combining the 292 hp (218 kW) four-liter turbo of the Golf R with a light battery of small capacity. 4Motion all-wheel drive is almost guaranteed on the Arteon R.
Here in the United States, Arteon’s primary calling card is its style. Competing against rivals like the Kia Stinger and the Nissan Maxima, both of which offer more power, the Arteon mainly sells its ability to make spectators watch with envy as it passes. With a subtle exterior restyling that spoils nothing of this appeal – and a modernized and luxurious interior that should also impress the people inside the vehicle – the Arteon serves as a worthy flagship of the American market for the VW brand.