The car halted ahead of me at the stoplight was a Toyota Camry, which isn’t unusual. But what was unusual was that I was peering into the Camry’s rear deck lid, as though I was driving some sort of low-slung sports car.
Except I wasn’t in a sports car. I was in a four-door sedan that dimensionally is just about the same as the Camry, though this 2021 Volkswagen Arteon, when you toggle the shift lever into Sport mode, drives more like one of those low-slung coupes or convertibles than like a roomy sedan.
Part of the trick, I’m guessing, is that the hood is so low, thanks to the compact and lightweight engine. Another part may be that the seats in the Arteon are positioned closer to the pavement than in the typical 4-door sedan. I say that because when I looked at the technical specifications for the Camry and Arteon, I was surprised to see that the roofs of both cars are listed at 56.9 inches.
By the way, it’s pronounced R-Tee-on, according to VW of America.
This most recent drive was my second go-round with the Arteon. I’d previously driven a 2020 model, but Volkswagen notes that the Arteon “is refreshed and significantly upgraded for 2021. A sharper exterior design and premium interior upgrades lead the changes, while a complement of state-of-the-art technology is newly available or now offered as standard equipment alongside hallmark Volkswagen driving dynamics.”
As usual, this press-fleet vehicle is a near top-of-the-line example. It’s a 2021 Arteon 2.0 T SEL Premium R-Line, more equipped than the standard and 2-wheel driven SE model or the SEL R-Line, which is available with either 2-wheel or all-wheel drive. The Premium R-Line has 4Motion as its standard drivetrain.
Base price on the SE is $36,995. The SEL R-Line is $41,595 with 2-wheel drive and $43,395 with 4Motion. The SEL Premium R-Line is $46,995.
The 2021 refresh of the model includes a refined front-end design, upgraded interior with Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, as well as three new colors, including the Oryx White Pearl on the example we drove.
The big changes are in the cockpit, with its new MIB3 infotainment system with upgraded navigation and wireless App-Connect. R-Line cars also get 30-color ambient interior lighting, wireless smartphone charging and enhanced driver assistance technology.
The MIB3 setup brings tablet-style technology with swiping and pinch-zoom as well as traditional touch controls for the 8-inch screen at the center of the dashboard. Opt to extend the 3-month Sirius 360L all-access trial package and you get satellite and streaming content with personalized recommendations.
There’s also a 10-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit display in front of the driver with 21 viewing options, from navigation to photo info.
Introduced in 2014, Volkswagen Car-Net has been expanded for model-year 2021 and offers remote access for such things as locking or unlocking the car’s doors, remote start, last-parked location, even for checking how much fuel is left in the tank. CarNet also connects with Amazon Alexa, should you want to ask that device to honk your horn, etc.. and with Parkopedia, to help you find off-street parking locations.
Upgrades on the Premium model include 20-inch wheels, second-row climate controls and additional USB port, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, massaging driver’s seat, power-opening and closing trunk lid, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, parking steering assist, and overhead-view camera.
I realize I’m old-fashioned, but I find all this electronic progress difficult to deal with when driving. Just getting the nav map to show up took a few swipes and instead of push-button phone controls on the steering wheel, I finally discovered that they show up on the center screen.
On the other hand, my grandchildren love this stuff,as well as the spaciousness of the Arteon interior. I do have to admit that I like the 30-color selectable interior lighting.
But my primary interest is in driving, and the 2021 VW Arteon is fun to drive, at least when you toggle the shifter into Sport mode so you can select your gear.
Left in standard “Drive” mode, the 8-speed transmission is less-than-sporty off the line, but use the paddle shifters and you can drive this car as though it had a real three-pedal manual, shifting up via paddle on the steering wheel when wanted and also downshifting for controlled descent on mountain roads rather than using — or over using — the brakes.
Left in standard “D,” the gearbox wants to shift gears at 2,000 rpm. But use the “Sport” mode and the 2.0-liter turbo 4 eagerly revs to more than 6 grand before you feel the need to elevate to the next gear. Shifting for yourself brings with it the full use of the engine’s 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
The car’s steering is properly weighted and immediately responsive, dare I say sports car-like? The low center of gravity and adaptive suspension setup instill confidence that the car will go where you point it, and the low-profile Continental ProContact tires (245/35 R 20) provide great grip.
I also have to note that the lane-keeping technology is much less intrusive than in other new cars I’ve driven lately. Maybe the car also likes hitting the apex in a curve?
2021 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL Premium R-Line
Vehicle type: 5-passenger sedan, all-wheel (4Motion) drive
Base price: $46,995 Price as tested: $48,585
Engine: turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 268 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque @ 1,950 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 111.9 inches Overall length/width: 191.6 inches / 56.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,955 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 20 city / 31 highway / 24 combined
Assembled in: Emden, Germany
For more information, visit the Volkswagen website.