Photos by Howard Walker.

Volkswagen’s latest Arteon is a piece of rolling art

So, we’re playing the “name game.” Take a guess, if you will, as to the meaning, or origin, of the word Arteon. As in Volkswagen’s drop-dead-gorgeous new Arteon flagship.

Maybe a planet from Star Trek? Or some online bank? I was thinking maybe a Lord of the Rings character.

Give up? It’s actually taken from the Latin word “artem,” which roughly translates into “art.” Maybe because this swoopy-roofed sports sedan is nothing less than a piece of rolling art.

As for the “eon” part, I’m guessing it’s because it’s been eons since Volkswagen has had a car in its lineup that looked this good. 

The Arteon has actually been around since 2019. But because no one buys sedans anymore, and frankly the name hardly rolls off the tongue, sales have been pretty bleak. 

According to Carfigures.com, VW sold just 3,602 Arteons in the U.S. last year, which works out to be roughly 300 or so a month. With VW barely spending a dime on marketing, few buyers know it actually exists.

Which is a pity. But VW is hoping that a slight nip-and-tuck facelift for the 2021 model year might focus a little more attention on this unsung hero. 

I’ve just spent a joyous week piloting a loaded $44,985 Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line 4Motion and loved every minute.  

I say that, but it was a week marked by constant neck problems. It’s what happens when you continually look back over your shoulder at this piece of automotive sculpture as you walk away. 

Of course the design formula isn’t new. Mercedes pretty much created this low-roofed, four-door coupe category with its CLS fastback sedan back in 2004. 

What the Arteon offers is fastback style, but at a way lower price point — the Arteon lineup kicks off at just over $38,000. 

But you’ll want the latest SEL version, with its now-standard sporty R-Line features, bolder front end, slithers of pencil-thin LED lights, lovely 19-inch wheels and discreet tailgate spoiler.

The one negative with all this style is that function definitely takes a back seat. Yet despite that low, headroom-limiting roofline, there’s actually plenty of space inside, especially in the back seat. 

Now raise that rear tailgate — yes, it’s a hatchback — and you’ll find an impressive 27 cubic feet of space with the rear seats in place, and over 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats flipped forward. Most crossovers don’t have that much load space.

While the interior design will hardly get your pulse racing, there is a minimalist elegance here, and plenty of quality. 

The cockpit is sleek and stylish with a lovely mix of materials — there’s proper double-stitched Nappa leather on the SEL and top-of-the-line SEL Premium models, and some nice brushed metal and silvery faux carbon. 

The central 8-inch touchscreen and 10-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster work well, too, and the chunky feel of the contoured steering is just terrific.

Powering every Arteon is VW’s trusty 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It packs 268-horsepower and 258 torques and is mated to an eight-speed automatic, with 4Motion all-wheel drive a $3,000 option on our SEL.

And that might be the problem: a perceived lack of oomph. Most rivals in this class offer a V6 with 300 horseys — Kia’s excellent Stinger is available with a 365-hp twin-turbo V6.   

But the Arteon is certainly no slug — 0-to-60mph sprints take just 6.4 seconds. And once the turbocharged gets with the program, there’s a lovely flow of power for rapid passing and easy freeway merging. 

It’s also super-quiet and refined. And courtesy of a quick-shifting transmission, nicely weighted, precise steering, and all-wheel drive poise and balance, I found it plenty athletic. 

This is a truly delightful car — a delight to live with, and an even bigger delight just to gaze at. Think of it as affordable art.

Test drive the 2021 Arteon at Kuhn Volkswagen in Tampa, Reeves Import Motorcars in Tampa, Lokey Volkswagen in Clearwater, Bert Smith International in St. Pete and Volkswagen Brandon.