2017 Volkswagen Arteon First Drive

Don’t mention the Passat CC – Volkswagen says the Arteon isn’t a replacement for the more svelte version of VW’s popular saloon.
Only, the CC’s not on sale anymore and the Arteon fills something of the same brief, being very obviously a design-led statement, with rakish lines and that misnomer nomenclature of being a ‘four-door coupe’. It’s bigger than the Passat though, some 5cm longer in wheelbase, the Arteon looking and feeling more Audi A6 in its dimensions, which is very deliberate.
That’s because Volkswagen in aiming high with it, as in, into new territories. This is a VW that very clearly sees the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and the VW’s own Audi A5 Sportback cousin as key rivals. Strong competition, both of which immediately start with the clear advantage of coming with recognised, upmarket premium badges.
Not that there isn’t strength in VW’s brand – it’s always been able to position itself a bit higher than the mainstream norm, but that’s some heavy-hitting status it’s competing with, so the Arteon needs to fight its corner very convincingly indeed.
We’re in it relatively early, pricing as yet unconfirmed, though the talk is of around lb38,000 for the entry-level model at launch. That’s a lot, even factoring in the powerful engine choices, seven-speed DSG automatic transmission and inevitable huge standard equipment VW is likely to offer it with. Two trim levels will be available when it arrives later this year, the R-Line with its more sporting demeanour, or the Elegance, which dials back the assertive looks of that R-Line a touch, adding some chrome and more comfort-biased equipment.
First impressions
Nobody can accuse Volkswagen of not going all-in on the styling. As bold a VW as we can remember, the Arteon is certainly a head-turner. Proportionally it’s low and broad, the effect at the front exacerbated by the grille that neatly joins with the LED driving lights.
The headlights look deeply cowled – the Arteon, even in its less overt Elegance trim asserting a confident nose among the traffic. That effect doesn’t end there, either. Sharp lines run up the vast bonnet and along the Arteon’s flanks, while the pillarless doors and tight windows above create a shape that’s svelte and striking, the wheel arches certainly needing the 20-inch wheels to fill them convincingly.
For all its rakish looks the Arteon is practical, that longer wheelbase than its Passat relation is to the benefit of interior space, while the boot isn’t just sizeable, but it’s accessed by a wide-opening hatchback. If we’ve one criticism, it’s that in some areas the design is a bit busy, but then if the intention is to get it noticed VW can consider it a job well done.
The cabin mixes Volkswagen’s usual high standard of fit and finish with fine material quality and operational simplicity. There’s plentiful equipment, as befitting VW’s upmarket aspirations with the Arteon, the dashboard instruments all digital and configurable, while there’s a touch-screen sat nav and entertainment system with all the latest connectivity, too.
VW has increased its safety and driver assistance offering, the Arteon debuting the company’s latest tech, that’ll ease your drive and potentially save you from having an accident, wandering out of a lane or, if you’re incapacitated in any way, pull you over to the side of the road safely.
What impresses inside is the feeling of space – there’s loads of head and legroom front and back, the glass area in the back stretching behind the rear seats, giving a real airy feel back there despite the tapering roofline.
How does it drive?
The engine choices at launch will be limited to a pair of 2.0-litre units of differing outputs. One is a turbodiesel with 240hp, the other a twin-turbo petrol four-cylinder with 280hp. Those high-power engines define the Arteon’s upmarket intent.
There’s discussion from Volkswagen of a wider range in time, but until the German manufacturer has tested the marketplace it’ll stick with the big engines. Both come mated to a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission and 4motion four-wheel drive, while adaptive suspension gives a variable choice of options via a slider bar on the touchscreen in the centre of the dash.
Volkswagen’s chassis engineers are quick to point out that the Arteon was developed from the very beginning to ride on large 20-inch alloy wheels, and for the most part it’s good. We’d default to the Comfort setting, though, as selecting anything above that does result in some unwanted frequencies and knocks from less than perfect surfaces; even that Comfort setting sometimes troubled by lumpy tarmac. Blame the R-Line’s slightly sportier suspension settings here. It’s never really unsettling, but the tautness is slightly at odds with its otherwise relaxed gait.
The turbocharged petrol engine delivers performance, which, on paper, looks very impressive. It’ll reach 62mph in just 5.6 seconds, but you do have to rev that 2.0-litre pretty hard to do so. It’s all rather unbecoming for something so big and luxurious.
The 2.0-litre TDI offers a lower output, but its more abundant low-rev torque delivery is arguably more in keeping with the Arteon’s dignified demeanour. The seven-speed automatic transmission helps here, shifting with a speed and decisiveness that makes the paddles on the steering wheel for self-shifting all but redundant.
Traction levels, thanks to that 4Motion four-wheel drive are never in question, grip levels too being high – though there’s precious little engagement behind the wheel, which when you list a BMW 4 Series among your rivals could be an issue. It’ll get you down a road with ease then, which is perhaps the point, but we can’t help but think it could do so with a little bit more flair.
Should I buy one?
That’s the (estimated) lb38,000 question, isn’t it? It’ll be a brave buyer who walks past the plate glass showrooms of BMW and Audi and into the Volkswagen dealer to place an order for an Arteon. Not least as it really takes the firm into unknown territory, even if for the customer there’s the promise of plentiful equipment, good space, striking looks and, more than likely, a degree of exclusivity.
Yes, it’ll show you’re prepared to carve your own niche, but at what potential cost? The Passat CC that the Arteon most definitely doesn’t replace was a little bit easier to justify, representing a more elegant take on a mainstream model for a small increase in outlay.
The Arteon takes a different approach by directly targeting the premium players, and good as it is, it might be aiming a bit too high to make any real impact against such established, and formidable premium competition.
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2017 Audi A5 Sportback Review
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