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2021 Volkswagen Arteon is an Audi cover band that still rocks

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2021 Volkswagen Arteon

After just two years on the market, the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon gets a refresh that seems too soon, but starts to make more sense when you consider that three new Arteon varieties (the high-performance Arteon R, a hybrid, and a new shooting brake body style) will be sold abroad this year. Unfortunately, none of those are coming to American shores, so we’re left with the regular ol’ Arteon that gets a few substantive changes.

The most noticeable changes are to the Arteon’s technology, with an updated multimedia system, upgrades to the digital instrument cluster, and new USB-C charging ports. The exterior and interior have also been slightly restyled, but those changes are harder to spot. The grille incorporates a new LED light bar and revised lower air intakes, while the interior gets a dashboard layout that looks more layered. More extensive changes weren’t necessary; I still like the fastback shape, and the interior is the best of any Volkswagen, befitting the Arteon’s top-of-the-line status for the brand. 

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

The powertrain is a carryover. It’s a 268-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 258 lb-ft of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available as an $1,800 option on the SEL R-Line and standard on the line-topping SEL Premium R-Line. This engine is plenty for day-to-day driving, but if you want to really get the Arteon hustling it requires keeping the revs high using the paddle shifters. Driving the Arteon made me wish for the Arteon R and its 316 hp turbo-4 with a more performance-oriented all-wheel drive system. That added power would also offer a more luxurious experience in addition to the performance gains.

My test vehicle, an SEL Premium R-Line, proved itself to be a rather capable touring car. In its more comfortable settings, the Arteon glides on the highway and churns through miles with ease. Take the car into the canyons and it remains quite composed, though even with the suspension turned up to its firmest there’s still noticeable body roll. Like other Volkswagens, the steering feels too light in Normal mode, but its Sport setting adds back necessary heft for a more pleasant experience.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Thankfully, the Arteon offers a high level of customization when it comes to drive modes and suspension settings. The “Custom” drive mode allowed me to dial up the steering weight to Sport, while leaving the engine and suspension in more comfortable settings to make a suitable default driving character. Most vehicles with adaptive suspensions provide three or four suspension settings ranging from comfortable to firm, but the Arteon gives you 15. Do you need 15? Probably not. Is it a very cool feature that hopefully makes its way into more performance vehicles? Absolutely. 

The technology upgrades caught my attention the most. As a part of the new MIB 3 infotainment system, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay now come standard on every Arteon, along with a wireless charging pad on SEL R-Line models and up. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, which swaps in a 10-inch display for a traditional instrument panel, has also received a serious upgrade. Previous versions of this system disappointed. While they felt like Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit, they had less content. The system is now highly customizable with 21 different viewing options, eclipsing the amount of suspension settings. And it integrates directions while using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay’s map apps (like Google Maps), which makes the whole ecosystem feel rather integrated. It’s improved to the point where I now prefer it to its Audi counterpart.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

The main touchscreen is only 8.0 inches on the diagonal, but it feels larger, partially because it sits behind one piece of glass that includes the capacitive menu buttons on the sides. It’s a very responsive system, with enough processing power that menus and graphics fly by rapidly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet; it seemed like I could see each evidence of each time I pressed or swiped the screen, like it was made of unhardened clay. When sunlight hits the screen the fingerprints make it hard to see, so be sure to keep a microfiber cleaning cloth in your Arteon to wipe away those pesky prints. 

The Arteon slots between the mid-size and full-size categories, so the backseat is suitable for adults. The middle seat is unpleasant with all-wheel drive due to the large floor hump, and the middle position sits a touch higher so taller passengers will run out of head room. For four passengers, however, the Arteon serves as a comfortable touring car.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Much like its in-between size, materials are the same way. The Arteon boasts luxury grade elements to be sure, but it fails to rise to that level when taken as a whole. The technology elements and that frameless rearview mirror are countered by some flimsier plastics on the dash and other hard touchpoints. 

In all, the Arteon presents an appealing package and is an excellent road trip companion. But the market for these larger, near-luxury sedans seems to be drying up and the $48,585 price tag (including destination charges) on my tester is a significant amount of scratch. It makes some sense as a larger, lower cost alternative to the Audi A5 Sportback, but that vehicle’s performance and cachet thoroughly outpace the Arteon.

The 2021 Arteon is priced from $38,190, including destination, and is in showrooms now. For more details, read the in-depth reviews at The Car Connection.

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Autos

Aston Martin to phase out manual transmission by 2022

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Tobias Moers

Aston Martin will no longer offer a manual transmission in any of its cars when the Vantage sports car is given an update in 2022.

CEO Tobias Moers confirmed the plans in an interview last month with Australian media, including Car Advice.

He pointed to low demand and the need to have separate compliance to the automatic cars as the reasons for the manual’s demise.

His predecessor, Andy Palmer, saw the manual as a point of differentiation among the exotic car brands since none of Aston Martin’s rivals still offer one.

Tobias Moers

Palmer as recently as 2019 promised to offer a manual in a mid-engine Vanquish supercar, vowing at the time that Aston Martin would remain the last manufacturer in the world to offer manual performance cars.

In his efforts to return Aston Martin to profitability after a disastrous 2020, a year which saw Aston Martin shed 500 jobs and its share price bottom out 94% lower than its IPO price just two years earlier, Moers has also decided to abandon a new V-6 engine developed under Palmer.

The V-6 was due to make its debut in a new Valhalla hypercar. Instead, Aston Martin will rely on powertrains sourced from Mercedes-Benz AMG, including new plug-in hybrid setups, as well as the company’s own V-12.

Moers has also said that Aston Martin will begin transitioning to electric vehicles mid-decade, and the company plans for half of its cars to be fully electric by 2030 and the rest electrified.

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Autos

Harley-Davidson to make LiveWire a standalone brand

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Harley-Davidson LiveWire charging at Electrify America charging station

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle will spawn a standalone all-electric brand, the company announced Monday in a press release. The first LiveWire-branded motorcycle will be unveiled July 8, ahead of the International Motorcycle Show, the company said.

That marks a departure from the initial Harley-Davidson LiveWire, which was launched in 2019 as a single model within the Harley brand. It’s similar to the progression of Hyundai’s Genesis and Ioniq nameplates, which started out as individual models within the Hyundai brand, before expanding to standalone brands.

LiveWire will be “headquartered virtually,” with staff located in Silicon Valley and Milwaukee, according to Harley. The new brand will get its own engineering team dedicated to electric powertrains, but will also lean on Harley’s existing resources for engineering and manufacturing (the current Harley-Davidson LiveWire is built at the same York, Pennsylvania, factory as other bikes).

Harley-Davidson LiveWire charging at Electrify America charging station

Harley is also planning dedicated LiveWire showrooms, starting in California. However, the company also said LiveWire “will work with participating dealers from the Harley-Davidson network as an independent brand” and will “blend digital and physical retail formats,” indicating online sales may be a possibility.

Unveiled at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, the initial Harley-Davidson LiveWire sports a 110-mile range and 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.5 seconds. It hit the market in late 2019 with a $29,799 base price (before destination), which typically buys a higher-tier gasoline bike.

Several dedicated companies have launched electric motorcycles, but Harley is the only legacy manufacturer to wade in so far in the U.S. Polaris bought electric-motorcycle firm Brammo in 2015, and has a partnership with Zero Motorcycles, but so far it’s only discussed electric ATVs. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha are working to develop a standardized swappable battery system for the Japanese market.

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Porsche Sonderwunsch program to rival Ferrari Special Projects

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Porsche Sonderwunsch program

Ferrari for years has been offering its most loyal—and deep pocketed—customers the opportunity to dream up their ultimate car and have it built on the chassis of a contemporary model.

It’s a program called Ferrari Special Projects, and over the years it’s resulted in some real stunners, as well as some real head scratchers.

Porsche had a similar program back in the 1970s called Sonderwunsch, German for “special request,” though it was much more exclusive than Ferrari Special Projects. One of the cars developed via the original program is the 993-generation 911 speedster, of which just two were built. One of those was built for Jerry Seinfeld.

Now Porsche wants to invite more customers to its Sonderwunsch program. Like Ferrari’s program, Sonderwunsch will enable a customer to work closely with Porsche’s designers to dream up a car that can be built as a true one-off or as a limited series.

Porsche Sonderwunsch program

For the less brave, Sonderwunsch will also enable a customer to customize colors and materials—on both existing cars as well as new cars yet to be built. This will be particularly useful for owners of classic Porsches that may want to update some elements to modern standards.

Examples of some of the options that will be available include custom wraps, custom paint finishes, racing numbers, prints on the floor mats, puddle lamps, accessories, and even performance parts.

Porsche said some of the options available will start showing up on its online configurator.

“It is our goal to provide customers around the globe with even more accurately tailored and demand-based products within the context of classic, existing and new cars,” Alexander Fabig, head of the individualization and classic departments at Porsche. “Starting with new possibilities for individualization and personalization of individual components, through the additional range of performance parts, up to the realization of uniquely individualized sports cars, we have the right option for every customer.”

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