Arteon’s appeal more than skin deep

VW’s glamorous passenger flagship delivers a lot more than dramatic styling.


LOOK at the Arteon and you might imagine it’s simply all about swaying the style-savvy.

Actually, not wholly true. While it’s certainly fair to say that fashionistas are very much in Volkswagen’s sights, they’re not the only target market.

In Europe at least, this $74,990 car is also hunting for technology geeks.

Regardless that those sharp lines make this four-door coupe one of the shapeliest cars to come of Wolfsburg for decades, the true beauty is potentially in the brainpower within.

An incredible array of advanced infotainment and safety features that individually require more computing power than was used to run the NASA lunar programme in its entirety are stacked into this svelte shape.

The complexity of some of these features might all seem too much for those of us who tend to be flummoxed simply by having reset an oven clock come daylight saving. But it’s all a necessity now if a brand is win over an increasing count of home territory customers who these days are prone to judge a pretty car but more than just its cover.

For sure, some of this is enforced by ever increasing safety regulations. But a lot is also reflective of our insatiable interest in consumer electronics. If a phone can do all sorts of fancy stuff, why not a car?

There’s growing evidence, either way, that the more important the innovation, the greater the appeal and, now that new features – especially in the area of connectivity and driving assistance systems – are no longer top-down (that is, restricted to the most expensive fare), the greater the speed at which the innovation cycle develops. For instance, the next car within VW to benefit is its cheapest and smallest hatch, the new Polo, coming in February.

The interesting aspect about Arteon as it presents here is that, while setting a new standard for VW technical prowess locally, the NZ market version is actually set to achieve a slightly lower MENSA score than its equivalent sold in Germany.

An ability for the car to self-read a road using GPS and subtly set itself up for bends even before the driver has thought about them had to be left behind; not because the local distributor didn’t want it but because the factory determined our sat nav accuracy and road markings were not of good enough quality to guarantee a 100 percent accuracy in guidance.

Still, even without out this, it is by no means dull-witted. Ingredients over and above the usual safety and luxury items expected in a top-flight European include adaptive cruise control along with a second-generation emergency assistance feature that can steer the car automatically into the slow lane while simultaneously braking the car to a stop if it detects you’re not paying enough attention. The lane departure warning system has ability to react to other vehicles, such as swerving heavy trucks. And the headlights still retain that nifty auto high beam with an assist function that not only self-dips the lamps but also monitors, and alters, the light spread so that you’re never bugging other drivers.

The whole dash is electronic and really impressive in its presentation. Also, the 9.2-inch infotainment system reacts to swiping – which is cool – and also some specific expressive gestures, which you might blanch at trying least people imagine you’re having some sort of ‘episode’ in the car. Some ingredients are new to VW product and a couple are very likely making a first appearance in a sub-$100k setting, such as the pop-up glass head-up display and Mercedes-style adjustable ambient LEDs in the cabin. 

And it’s easy to use? Well, I’m not going to say everything is instantly intuitive, but by and large you can muddle through without cursing too often. That I didn’t need to resort to the handbook (which can be called up on screen and on line), let alone call in the kind next door who spends all his time either upgrading laptops into supercomputers or resetting PlayStation record scores.

But perhaps that’s because much of what the car presents has been seen, albeit usually in simpler format, in previous cars. The centre console display, for instance, is much like that in the latest Golf and Passat; I like a lot how you can metaphorically push a lot of buttons without physically pushing a lot of buttons. Because, actually, there aren’t that many of them.

So, as a tech exercise, it’s pretty convincing. Not quite as street smart as the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class, insofar that those now have ability to self-steer in optimum conditions for a short period of time: The Arteon cannot do that. But smart enough to hold station with other traffic, right down to self-stopping and starting off again, while you keep your feet away from the pedals. I’d assume a lot of Germans would love that and, I have to say, it impresses me, too.

And you, too? Potentially not always. People asked about the Arteon, but not specifically that side of things. It was all about regular car stuff – you know, the practicality of the shape, whether it ran like the wind.

And they’re right: A car’s a car. And, as a car, the Arteon is obviously in a niche simply because of how it presents. That’s not to say that low-slung coupe-looking fastback sedans are not without favour (Mazda just unveiled a corker in concept form at the Tokyo motor show), yet let’s be fair: If VW wanted to create a sales stormer, they’d have rendered this as an SUV, right?

It’s sensible for the brand to stick to just the single 2.0-litre turbopetrol TSi R-Line 4Motion format: That’s the best engine, best driveline, best spec. You get a fair wallop of power, good traction and R-Line adds some nice styling enhancements that suggest just enough sporty flair to impress those upper management executives, entrepreneurs and all other kinds of well-heeled and attention-hungry aspirationals who want a car that says they’re on the rise, but not necessarily out to reset a race track lap record.

It imposes as much in respect to its size as a shape that is just Audi-esque enough in profile (and around the back) to have Ingolstadt asking if anyone has seen those early blueprints for the new A5.

Being built on the MQB Plus platform and thus meted a wheelbase that is some 50mm longer than the Passat's (and, presumably, therefore identical to that of the Skoda Superb), means Arteon is not a Passat in a party dress, as the previous lookalike (but not alike) CC was, but a whole new model. Well, except on the inside. That instrumentation cluster is largely shared.

The car is very well executed. Rakish lines, tighter gaps and some intricate detailing add up to an expensive and impressive look. I’m not 100 percent sure about the nose detailing but would agree with a colleague who observed that, all in all, it looks as glamorous as a Passat sedan looks staid. Which probably explains why the latter was removed from sale once the former was signed on.

Considering those sleek, low-slung fastback proportions, it feels roomy and expansive inside. Occupants sit low yet comfortably. Head- and legroom in the back is very much helped by a slightly reclined seat but is decent even with the optional sunroof. We can thank China for that – they’re a priority market and demand decent rear room because that’s where the fat cats like to sit.

The raked wiper-less rear hatch opens to a practical boot that provides 563 litres of space, which can increase to 1557 litres, or only 212 litres less than a Passat wagon and pretty much akin, indeed, to another impressive VW space shuttle, the Skoda Superb. And that’s with something not often seen these days: A full-sized spare.

Standard gear includes 19-inch Montevideo alloy wheels (which can be upgraded to 20s), heated Nappa leather seats, an active info display, app-connect, adaptive chassis control with four driving profile settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual) and an area view camera.

There’s vague talk of a six-cylinder petrol in the future, but now this 206kW/350Nm turbocharged four-cylinder driving via a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic is the sole choice, and it’s not too bad in most respects.

It has 20kW less potency than the old CC’s V6, but there is the same state of shove as before and a torque spread that starts at 1700rpm and runs to 5600rpm means the muscularity is quite broad and long-lasting. Also, it’s relatively economical, with VW citing an optimal 7.3 litres per 100km economy and CO2 emissions of 164 grams per kilometre.

That the claimed 0-100kmh time of 5.6 seconds is just 0.7s off that claimed for the other VW with this drivetrain, the Golf R, is quite gloatworthy, given that Arteon is more a grand tourer than an outright sports model. The only disappointment is that the soundtrack is a bit mediocre. There’s no snarl to be found here.

It feels the part of a high-speed cruiser from the moment you sit in and pull the frameless doors closed and survey a cockpit that’s plush and also conforming to the tech leadership role in presenting a fully digital dashboard in place of traditional dashboard instruments.

With a length of 4862mm and width of 1871mm, it’s hardly surprising that, around town, it feels like a big car. But any sense of enhanced scale delivers positively on the open road, where it delivers an air of solid resolve.

The refinement at 100kmh is really decent, too – even those 245/40 tyres remain relatively hushed across coarse chip. As per usual with top dollar VWs, it gets driving modes that adjust the throttle calibration, gearbox shift points and steering resistance also control the adjustable dampers, ranging from soft in Comfort to firm in Sport. The latter might seem a touch too brittle to become a default – the core demographic might prefer Comfort - though it’s not as harsh as your average performance Audi.

VW recruited a former Porsche engineer to sort the steering, with result that there’s a more weighted feel to the wheel in Sport setting. But it’s less involved otherwise; being quite inert at centre.

Arteon has no shortage of rivals. VW cites the Lexus IS, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XE and while it pointedly steered clear of the A4/A5 models from its own stable, they also obviously figure.

Because of its price, VW here also reckons the Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord and Skoda Superb also rate as competition and suspects the impending ZB-series Commodore VXR could join this gang.

VW NZ can only guarantee around 200 of these cars a year and gut feeling says that limited count is quite enough, for several reasons. For one, it’s one of those cars that has to retain an air of rarity – buyers might well be less interested if they get impression that they stand a chance of seeing a whole horde of ‘em in their driving locale.

Also, while the car upholds nicely to the concept of ‘premium for the people’ (not a tagline I coined but one used by VW in another market) and very much delivers in the expressiveness of its design and being loaded with equipment that even some much more expensive alternates still don’t make standard, the fact is that badges matter more than patently obvious value for money. And it’s still debatable whether the VW badge is as sexy among elite end purchasers as some obvious others.

Still, those who do are unlikely to be disappointed. It’s a smart choice in … well, every conceivable way, really.