THE Volkswagen Arteon is the German auto giant’s attempt to sneak into luxury heartland and steal away customers from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even corporate cousin Audi – not to mention Lexus, Infiniti and Jaguar.
It may have the right look, but does it have the dynamic goods?
WHAT IS IT?
Essentially the replacement for the Passat CC, the Arteon takes Volkswagen back into premium territory with a mid-sized sedan that trades heavily on style, equipment and performance to give it the edge over similarly-priced luxury-marque rivals.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Volkswagen’s had a fancy midsizer before, but the Arteon is VW’s most concerted effort so far to snare buyers who are looking for a little more prestige to park in their driveway.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Arteon makes a strong case for itself through its design alone. While Volkswagens are often handsome cars, the styling department usually plays a safe game, and it’s rare for the German automaker to put out a car that is a genuine head-turner like the Arteon.
When lined up against price rivals from the luxury segment, Arteon’s high level of standard equipment and excellent drive experience also put it in good stead. The only real problem it’s got is whether Volkswagen can convince those who’d ordinarily aim for a base model C-Class to hop into a car with a less prestigious badge instead.
PLUS: Gorgeous styling; high-featured infotainment; extensive safety equipment
MINUS: Can’t compete in the badge cachet stakes; interior doesn’t look as special as the exterior; not enough aural drama
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Volkswagen’s “Premium for the People” marketing mantra certainly makes for an ambitious mission statement. Almost as ambitious as the crisp, sleek and undeniably attractive Arteon that it’s attached to.
Priced at $65,490 and offered in a single, highly-specified configuration that throws VW’s most cutting-edge infotainment and safety tech together with the 206kW 2.0 turbo and AWD driveline of the Mk7 Golf R, the Arteon definitely exudes a premium aura. Ignore the badge, and the Arteon looks like it belongs outside a country club, not a Coles carpark.
But badge cachet matters when you’re selling a mid-size sedan for luxury money. Is the Arteon good enough to justify a premium price of entry? Is it good enough that you’d overlook a base model 3 Series, C-Class or A4?
It’s certainly got the visual presence to make you forget about entry-grade luxo-sedans, so the Arteon gets off to a good start. With sharp bodylines, a broad chrome grille that blends into the headlamp jewellery and clamshell bonnet that puts a furrowed brow over its active bi-LED headlamps, the Arteon’s snout is imposing and distinctive – traits few VWs have boasted before.
From the side, the neat shoulder crease stretches all the way to the LED tail lamp clusters, passing over dramatically pumped rear quarter panels along the way. The glasshouse is ringed in chrome and the door glass is frameless. The roofline arc is classic four-door coupe, but there’s no tapered bum like there was on the old Passat CC.
It’s a looker, but hopping into the driver’s seat puts you within an interior that’s much less adventurous. There’s a stronger Passat flavour here – no surprise given the Passat and Arteon are platform partners – and while it looks tidy and business-like, it’s a sober contrast to the flamboyant exterior.
At least it’s comfortable, sizable and has 45mm more rear seat legroom than the current Passat sedan. A roomy 563 litre boot is accessed via a power-actuated tailgate, making the Arteon a solid choice for long-distance road tripping – especially with the driver’s massage seat rubbing your back along the way.
And there’s plenty of technological wow factor to offset the sensible design. A 9.2-inch flat glass infotainment display is the Arteon’s tech centrepiece, and it’s backed up by an all-electronic instrument panel and a head-up display – VW’s first. A 360-degree camera view, gesture control, tri-zone climate control, and heated seats at front and rear number among the Arteon’s tech highlights.
The tech story continues under the skin. All Arteons ride on electronically-adjustable dampers that can not only be toggled between Normal, Comfort and Sport presets, but also have the ability to be fine-tuned to one of 43 individual settings.
Open up the custom drive setting screen and a slider appears with Comfort at one end and Sport at the other, allowing the driver to take their pick of which setting suits them best. Is the regular Comfort mode not cushy enough? The system allows you to dial up more marshmallow if you want, while also allowing the dampers to be cranked up firmer than what the ordinary Sport setting would allow.
At the softer end of its suspension spectrum, the Arteon irons out poor-quality roads with ease without feeling excessively floaty over longer undulations. There’s plenty of suspension travel for it to use, yet body control is good.
Bump it up to Sport and the ride becomes more brittle while the steering becomes heavier and the accelerator pedal more sensitive. It feels sporty, but that’s not exactly in keeping with its grand-tourer nature. Our preference was to use a custom recipe with the normal steering weight, sharper throttle calibration and the suspension slider somewhere between Normal and Sport.
And in that config, it ably fits Volkswagen’s own description of the Arteon as occupying the intersection between traditional sedans and sports cars. The steering may be lacking feel or feedback, but it’s hooked up to a grippy and responsive front axle that goes where you point it, while the rear tracks along faithfully. The rack ratio is also especially fast just off centre, which adds to the Arteon’s alert and agile feel.
The punchy 206kW/350Nm turbo two-litre and all-wheel drive gives it standing-start performance of 5.6-seconds to 100km/h: swift for a car this size. You certainly won’t be sprinting that hard in a BMW 320i, or even the V6-powered Lexus IS350.
At a cruise the powertrain shows off its flexibility by providing ample torque in its midrange, with maximum twisting force available all the way from 1800rpm to 5600rpm.
There are few real drawbacks, though we’d appreciate more aural excitement from the exhaust, a centre stack storage tray that can comfortably accommodate an average-sized smartphone, and less road noise.
Objectively speaking, the Arteon is an intelligent alternative for those shopping in the mid-size luxury segment. There’s a whiff of prestige about its design, it drives well, is positively packed with equipment and though it’s only sold in a single specification, it’s got everything you need and little that you don’t. If you can suppress your badge snobbery, it’s well worth a look.
Model: Volkswagen Arteon 206TSI R-Line
Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 206kW @ 5700-6500rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1800-5600rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 5.6sec (claimed)