Top-of-the-line cars used to always be sedans, but that layout has fallen out of favor because of the sedan's comparatively small trunk — and limited versatility.
That's probably why Volkswagen decided to make its new top-of-the-line Arteon sedan a hatchback.
VW calls it a "Gran Turismo" with "coupe-like styling," because that connotes better than a sedan. But the function — and purpose — is the same.
Compared with the almost identically sized Passat sedan — which has a trunk — the Arteon has three times as much space for stuff.
It also has much more power — as well as some things you never used to be able to get in a VW, including a massaging driver's chair.
Not even the $70k Phaeton had that.
And this new Arteon costs tens of thousands less than that.
What It Is
The Arteon is VW's new "halo" car — industry speak for a top-of-the-line model. It's VW's first post-Phaeton attempt at a high-end model, this time with a price more in line with VW models and VW buyers' budgets.
It's about the same size as the current Passat sedan, but comes standard with one of VW's most powerful engines and offers all-wheel drive, which is no longer available with the Passat.
It also offers luxury car features — like the massaging driver's seat — that you generally have to spend luxury brand bucks to enjoy.
Prices start at $35,845 for the SE trim with turbocharged 268 horsepower engine and front-wheel drive.
A top-of-the-line SEL Premium R-Line with brushed metal interior trim, all-wheel drive, the massaging driver's seat, heated rear seats, a full-length panorama sunroof and a 700-watt, 13-speaker Dynaudio stereo stickers for $46,710.
The Arteon is all-new, as is its position at the top of VW's lineup.
The Passat — which was VW's largest and most luxurious sedan — is now VW's value-priced large sedan.
It's sleeker — and more practical — than the Passat.
The second row is as roomy as the first, both in its legroom and its headroom.
There's a minor price bump to get all-wheel drive in SE and SEL trims.
What's Not So Good
The massaging seat — that's seat singular; only the driver gets a back rub — is limited to the SEL trim, which starts at $44,945.
It's slinky stance, at just 5.4 inches off the pavement, cancels out many of the winter weather advantages of all-wheel drive.
Under the Hood
All trims come standard with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and your pick of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The engine makes 268 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque at just 1,950 rpm.
For cross-referencing purposes, the current Passat's version of the 2.0-liter engine only manages 174 horsepower.
Not surprisingly, the Arteon is much quicker than the Passat. Zero to 60 mph takes about six seconds versus more than eight for its less muscular, same sized brother.
The bad news — if you care about such things — is that the Arteon uses noticeably more gas: 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, versus 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for the less powerful but more parsimonious Passat.
On the Road
The Arteon drives like the large luxury car it is in everything but badge, which means it's a great way to get the luxury car — and the luxury car ride — without paying the price.
You also get visibility — something lacking in many new cars, regardless of price.
The Arteon has frameless door glass — which is very hard to find outside of the luxury car class — and the door tops aren't as high as your chin. In fact, they're low enough that you can open the frameless door glass and rest your elbow on them, if you'd like.
At the Curb
VWs are attractive cars. The Arteon is a beautiful car.
It is also a strikingly practical car. The first and second rows have about the same legroom (41.2 inches versus 40.2 inches) and headroom (37.7 inches up front and 37 inches in the back). It's often the case that the back row has noticeably less legroom and headroom
This is true in the Passat — but not here.
If you lower the rear seatbacks, the Arteon has 55 cubic feet of cargo-carrying capacity, versus just 15.9 cubic feet in the trunk of the Passat.
The Arteon is also available with VW's slick LCD Digital Cockpit and comes standard with a glass (not plastic) touch screen that you don't even have to touch. You can use gestures to control some of its functions.
Just wave your hand.
The Arteon is one of the few cars you can buy for less than $50k that offers a massage feature. But it's only offered to the driver. Usually, massaging seats, like heated seats, are offered in pairs.
Your front seat passenger will probably want some driver's seat time.
The Bottom Line
Who says hatchbacks can't be sexy — or practical?
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.