2023 Volkswagen Arteon Review and Test Drive

An antidote to the common crossover SUV.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium red front quarterChristian Wardlaw

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Are you as sick and tired of SUVs as I am? Then you may want to consider getting a 2023 Volkswagen Arteon while you still can. You can also get a 2024 Arteon. It's still in the automaker's lineup, but the most affordable version will no longer be available in 2024.

What is a Volkswagen Arteon? That's what my dad wanted to know when I pulled up in my test car for our daily morning walk at a local park. It's a sedan with a full-size interior and a sportback design, the rear hatch opening wide to reveal a roomy trunk. Folding rear seats let you expand the cargo area like an SUV, and the Arteon offers all-wheel drive (AWD) making it easier to go in the snow. Though conservative in its overall appearance, there is artistry to the car's details, from the grille and wheels to the lighting and interior materials. It's not an Audi, VW Group's volume luxury brand, but it comes close.

Dad loved this car's styling, interior, and utility. "I've never seen one of these before," he told me, despite the Arteon's existence for nearly a half decade. I explained that in the United States, people now prefer SUVs to cars. If someone doesn't and can afford a car that costs as much as the Arteon can, they may prefer a smaller luxury-branded model with fewer standard features than an obscure Volkswagen with all the trimmings.

Volkswagen introduced the Arteon in 2019 and gave the car a substantial refresh in 2022. The most significant change that year was a more powerful drivetrain that made driving the car even more rewarding. The 2023 Arteon adds more standard equipment and minor cosmetic changes, while the 2024 Arteon lineup drops the base SE R-Line trim level and sees further stylistic detail changes.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon Premium red rear quarter rightChristian Wardlaw

As a car enthusiast who loves to drive, a parent with two teenagers, and as a person who prefers to forge my path in the world, I am smitten with the Volkswagen Arteon. It speaks my language while providing all the utility I need and AWD for my family's annual winter trip to Mammoth Lakes, California. You hardly ever see Arteons in Los Angeles, making it genuinely unique in a city where acting is woven into the local economy.

Better yet, the Arteon gives you a luxury sport sedan look and feel without spending the money commanded by a luxury brand. Sure, you could buy an Audi A5 Sportback for about the same money, but it will offer less passenger and cargo room.

The 2023 Volkswagen Arteon comes in SE R-Line, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium R-Line trim levels. Base prices range from the mid-$40,000s to the low $50,000s, including the destination charge to ship the car from the Emden, Germany, factory that builds it to your local dealership.

For this Arteon review, I test-drove the SEL Premium R-Line in Southern California. It came with extra-cost paint but also included a credit for missing ventilated and massaging front seats and heated rear seats due to the global microchip shortage. Those additions and subtractions brought the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $51,370, including the $1,295 destination charge. Volkswagen provided the vehicle for this Arteon review.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium interior dashboardChristian Wardlaw

2023 Volkswagen Arteon Review: The Design

To my eye, the most off-putting element of the Arteon's styling is the grille and how it bleeds into the adaptive headlights with bars that hockey-stick into the hood and fenders. Otherwise, the car displays balanced proportions, clean lines, and a conservative look that will likely age well over time.

Inside, the Arteon SEL Premium has a technical appearance that would look right at home in an Audi. The materials, surface textures, Black Carbon trim, polished metallic accents, and stainless-steel pedal covers convey quality, and the Arteon's interior smells like a good German sports sedan. Naturally, the Arteon is less sophisticated than an Audi, particularly regarding its simpler Digital Cockpit Pro instrumentation display and smaller infotainment touchscreen. Otherwise, except for the VW emblem on the steering wheel, you might not guess you were in a Volkswagen.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium red rear quarter leftChristian Wardlaw

Outward visibility is good, but on sunny days, the interior trim casts significant glare into the driver's eyes while causing reflections that impede the view in the side mirrors.

Volkswagen lays out the controls logically, but the user experience could be more satisfying. For example, the gloss-black steering-wheel controls also suffer reflections, making them hard to read. They're touch sensing, too, so it's easy to activate something accidentally. A couple times, the steering wheel heated up in my hands, leading me to discover that I'd accidentally turned on the heated steering-wheel function.

Similarly, the climate-control panel is touch sensing and is mounted low enough on the dashboard to cause distraction. It is a triple-zone automatic system, so I recommend setting it and forgetting it. The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system lives above the climate controls and has inconvenient hidden menu selections visible only when you raise your hand toward the display. Fortunately, Volkswagen equips the Arteon with a traditional PRND shifter with Sport and Manual driving modes.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium interior back seatChristian Wardlaw

Seat comfort is excellent, front and rear. In front, Volkswagen provides heated sports seats with artificial (SE R-Line) or genuine leather (SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line), while in the back, passengers ride on a wide and supportive seat with plenty of legroom. The SEL Premium trim typically equips the Arteon with massaging and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats. Unfortunately, the test car did without them in exchange for a $495 credit that inadequately compensated for their absence.

Most Arteons have an oversized glass sunroof and ambient interior lighting, and storage is generous throughout the cabin except for under the front center armrest, which slides and adjusts for height to ensure comfort. Rear passengers get their own climate zone with a separate control panel, and Volkswagen equips the Arteon with handy coat hooks and a pass-through between the trunk and interior for carrying long items and people simultaneously.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium cargo spaceChristian Wardlaw

Open the hands-free power hatchback to reveal an ample 27.2 cubic-feet cargo space. If you need more room, fold the 60/40-split back seats down to maximize the volume at 56.2 cu-ft. By comparison, the Audi A5 Sportback has 21.8 cu-ft behind its back seats. Unfortunately, Audi doesn't provide a maximum cargo room number for its sportbacks and station wagons, but I'll bet big money the A5 doesn't match, let alone exceed, the Arteon with its rear seat folded down.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium safety featuresChristian Wardlaw

2023 Volkswagen Arteon Review: The Technology

Every 2023 Arteon has a 10.25-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit Pro instrumentation display. Graphically, it's less appealing than what Audi offers, but you can display the navigation map here and alter the contents and appearance of the data.

In addition, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, an unimpressive offering in a modern automobile carrying a price tag that eclipses $50,000. The infotainment system includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, SiriusXM 360L satellite radio, and a navigation system, and Volkswagen equips the Arteon with a wireless smartphone charger. My SEL Premium R-Line test vehicle also had an excellent Harman Kardon sound system.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium infotainment systemChristian Wardlaw

Car-Net connected services are standard, with Remote, Safe & Secure, and Hotspot (Wi-Fi access) plans. Volkswagen includes a complementary five-year subscription to the Car-Net Remote and Safe & Secure plans, the latter added halfway through the model year to most VW models. The Remote plan includes the MyVW app to remotely start the car's engine, determine where you last parked it, lock or unlock the doors, and check the fuel level. The Safe & Secure plan equips the Arteon with information assistance, emergency assistance, automatic crash notification, and a stolen-vehicle locator.

You can also upgrade the Arteon with a Plus Navigation subscription that keeps the navigation system's maps current. With a paid Plus Navigation sub, you can further upgrade with Plus Speech, offering access to natural voice recognition. Since the standard voice recognition system is disappointing, paying extra for Plus Navigation and Plus Speech seems like a good idea. Instead, I suggest relying on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Family Guardian is another Car-Net Remote plan feature, adding a layer of safety when young drivers are behind the wheel. Using this technology, the Arteon's primary user can set up Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Boundary Alert, delivered through the MyVW app when the car exceeds any of them.

In addition, every 2023 Arteon has an automatic post-collision braking system, which stops the car as soon as possible following a collision. Doing so helps to prevent injury during secondary impacts after the airbags have deployed.

The Arteon also features IQ.Drive, Volkswagen's collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). It includes the expected features but also has Travel Assist and Emergency Assist.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium travel assistChristian Wardlaw

Travel Assist works when the driver is holding the steering wheel, and it pairs the adaptive cruise-control system with lane-centering assist to provide semi-autonomous driving assistance. I used Travel Assist extensively, and it works better on freeways than highways.

For example, on Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu, it struggled on sections of road where one lane expands into two and two lanes converge into one. In addition, the Arteon's Lane Assist features (lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist) regularly issued false alerts and unwanted steering corrections in various situations.

Emergency Assist can detect when a driver is unresponsive due to sleep or a medical problem and will bring the Arteon to a safe stop with the hazard lights flashing. It is an appealing technology, but in the Arteon, I discovered that if you hold the lower quadrants of the steering wheel, Emergency Assist will activate even though you're holding the wheel, alert, and paying attention. Grip harder and make sure you manually add inputs occasionally, or Emergency Assist will activate and start to slow the car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't performed crash tests on the Arteon. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has. It gives the car the highest possible rating of Top Safety Pick+ for the 2023 calendar year.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium engineChristian Wardlaw

2023 Volkswagen Arteon Review: The Drive

In 2022, Volkswagen equipped the Arteon with a more potent engine and a snappier seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with a Sport mode and paddle shifters. That turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder carries over for 2023, making a robust 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

The Arteon SE R-Line comes only with front-wheel drive, while the SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line have a standard AWD system Volkswagen calls 4Motion. An XDS+ cross-differential lock helps to get the power to the ground, and drivers can choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Custom driving modes. Those modify the behavior of the powertrain, variable-ratio steering, and adaptive damping suspension.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium red front quarter leftChristian Wardlaw

One of my favorite things about driving the Arteon is how the thick-rimmed steering wheel feels in my hands and the view forward over the flat hood and past the thin windshield pillars. Visibility is excellent, lending a sense of intimacy with the road that is missing in many typical family cars. In addition, the accurate steering allows you to place the car right where you want it, making the sizable Arteon feel a size or two smaller than it is.

The grip is impressive, too, despite the relatively modest 245/35 Continental Pro Contact all-season tires. When hustling the Arteon, they clearly convey the approaching limits of adhesion, making it easier to trust the car's handling. Substantial brakes contribute, too. During an evaluation in the summer heat, they withstood repeated use without rumbling, vibration, or fade. In addition, the adaptive damping suspension expertly quelled unwanted body motions while driving a challenging stretch of a twisting and undulating mountain road.

When you're not taking the long way home, the Arteon is equally pleasing to drive, but there is a catch. If the car and transmission are in their normal modes, you'll experience a delay in powertrain response when you step on the accelerator. Worse, you can elicit a harsh downshift from the transmission if you're impatient and push harder on the pedal.

I solved this by driving in Sport mode. But that negatively impacted fuel economy, with the Arteon returning just 21 mpg in the testing route when the official EPA rating is 25 mpg.

2023 Volkswagen Arteon Premium red side viewChristian Wardlaw

Is the 2023 Volkswagen Arteon a Good Car?

Criminally overlooked by crossover SUV buyers and entry-luxury car shoppers, the 2023 Volkswagen Arteon is an excellent car serving generous and equal helpings of style, performance, comfort, safety, and utility. In addition, its rarity guarantees exclusivity if you like that sort of thing. And the 4Motion AWD system helps you to get home when the weather is frightful instead of delightful.

The Arteon isn't perfect. No vehicle is. But this family-sized fastback can be an undeniably appealing alternative to the same dull crossover SUVs everyone else is driving.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.