2019 Volkswagen Arteon first drive: VW’s luxury flagship isn’t an SUV

The ExecutionTo try all this out in U.S. specs on U.S. roads, Volkswagen turned me loose in an Arteon on Highway 33, the little-known squiggly line that slithers through the Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai, California (where both the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman lived, if you were watching too much TV in the ’70s). This route is not only scenic and uncrowded, but features a wide variety of fast, wide-open curves. Tighter, more claustrophobic turns might not have shown the Arteon off in its best light. But these long sweepers made the car feel downright sporty, in a grand touring sort of way.The eight-speed automatic can be paddle-shifted or, if you get a trim level without paddle shifters, manually shifted by simply whacking the shift lever itself. In the conditions in which I drove — those wide, sweeping turns — this was just fine. I never once felt I wanted a DSG or even a manual. Really. Shifts clicked off in rapid succession as quickly as I wanted them to, with the smooth, quiet efficiency of a sadistic German bureaucrat. Likewise, while you could scoff at the idea of a 2.0-liter four powering a “flagship,” as long as you bang it into the right gear the power was never lacking, either. That was surprising.There are different drive modes for different conditions, selectable via a button next to the shifter. Sport mode changes damping, throttle response, acceleration and steering response. Sport mode even makes the sweeping LED headlights swing faster around corners. There is also an “individual” drive mode that you can adjust to your own settings.I spent most of the day in sport, naturally, and really had a good time.