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Volkswagen’s 2021 Arteon SE offers stunning style and spirited performance

Written By | Mar 29, 2021

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Volkswagen 2021 Arteon SE. With competition from the Honda Accord Sport, Nissan Maxima, KIA K5, and the Toyota Camry TRD Pro, I knew it was in a competitive category. Of course, there’s that running joke that it’s the poor man’s Audi A5 and that’s a cute joke — kind of. But there is some truth to it, however, this Volkswagen still has its own personality.

Under the hood:

The VW/Audi 2.0-liter turbocharged, TSI engine has been around for years and has certainly proved itself to be very reliable and potent. In the Arteon, it’s tuned to produce 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This power is put down to the front wheels by a standard, eight-speed automatic transmission with VW’s “Tiptronic shifting”.

If you want the 4Motion all-wheel-drive, you’ll need to step up to the available SEL R-Line or SEL Premium R-Line.

There’s an 18.2-gallon fuel tank and the EPA gives this car a rating of 22 around town and up to 32 miles per gallon on the highway or 25 mpg combined.

You’ll have little issues bringing the 2021 Arteon SE to a complete, quick stop — thanks to its 13.4-inch front vented disc and 12.2-inch rear vented disc, anti-locking brakes.

Perhaps the best thing going for the 2021 Arteon SE is that it has a very unique look amongst its peers.

It simply looks bad-ass. From the sculpted front facia to the bold rear end of the car. Its masculine, sporty, and yet has enough curves in all the right places to help it stand out in a crowded vehicle segment.

Step inside:

There’s something simplistic yet modern, about the way Volkswagen handles its interior designs. Being the parent company of Audi — which is world-renowned for its quality interiors — certainly must help keep pressure on the team of VW to deliver. There’s something rather subtle about the interior. While it doesn’t have fancy color schemes or is lathered in expensive-looking materials, it feels more like essential basics. Nothing in here is mind-blowing yet all work together in one cohesive sense of simplistic modern nirvana.

Our SE model was equipped with the Fender audio system and it was quite the let-down. It simply lacks clarity on the highs and almost no impact on the lows. It was simply adequate in the purest sense of the word. While the R-Line models do allow you to step up to a Harmon/Kardon audio system, we have yet to listen to one of those.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard

and one feature that I’ve never heard another car do, is to audibly warn you when you’re approaching a red-light camera intersection.

This is very handy, very handy indeed. Note to all other automakers, please start including this tech in your vehicles. Like the other German automakers we’ve tested in the last year or so, Volkswagen has moved to use USB-C ports rather than the traditional ones. This new design allows you to more easily plug in a cable to your phone as there is no right or wrong way, anymore. We only wish VW wouldn’t be so stingy with having ports as there are only two available in the SE model.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, but not the comfiest we’ve sat in, in this class.

There is a lot of legroom for those in the front and a surprising amount as well for rear passengers. The rear middle seat of almost any car is no picnic and that continues in the 2021 Arteon SE. Sure it’s roomy enough for three kids in the back, but anyone larger than an average ten-year-old might have a rough go at it, while sitting in the middle.

Safety and driver aids:

Drive aids include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, emergency braking assist, rear traffic alert, dynamic road sign display, auto high-beams, and an overhead view camera.

VW has also filled it with tons of safety, including electronic stability control, knee and side airbags, and VWs “Intelligent Crash Response System”. This system shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights in certain kinds of collisions.


There’s a middle pass-through in the rear seat that drops open to the trunk, which offers 27.2 cubic feet of storage capacity. If you fold down the rear seats completely, that increases to a roomy 56.2 cubic feet.

On the road:

As folks who love to drive, it’s on the road where we really get to see the personality of a vehicle in action. In Sport mode, the 2021 Arteon SE loves the asphalt. Especially ones with a high speed limit and a great deal of curves. This car easily eclipses the handling and steering feel of most of its competitors. With very little body roll and tons of grip on its 245/35 R20 all-season tires. It never once felt as if it was going to lose grip or control.

Sure, it doesn’t have the most available horsepower in its class but once you drive it, you won’t care. There’s certain chemistry you feel when driving it. The connection you feel to the road. Even though there are a lot of driving assists going on, it still, remarkably, has a rather analog feel to it and that’s a great thing.

Duane Pemberton

Duane Pemberton is a lifestyle writer and CDNs Auto Editor. Pemberton loves anything that helps bring people together which is why he writes about food, wine, cars, and travel.