IAIN ROBERTSON 

Having expressed concerns about the wider VW Group, Iain Robertson feels that a marginally costlier version of the Passat might be another niche model too far, although the firm’s fortunes do appear to be on an ‘up’ escalator, despite other issues.

Flexibility has been an apparent key to new product development across the entire European motor industry. It is a premise that starts with a notional ‘platform’, onto which additional body styles and much shared technology is applied. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the ‘smoke and mirrors’ aspects of this indulgent behaviour is geared not so much to adding to consumer choice but more to factoring in ever more confusion.

Of course, the product marketers love it. They wax lyrically about the inherent strengths of the new model, occasionally reflecting on whatever it was that initiated it but always insisting that a fresh proposition is at play, when the reality is significantly more mundane. Naturally, profits rise accordingly.

When you look at how BMW has created an odd-numbered run of models alongside an even-numbered line-up; or the manner by which Mercedes-Benz can sell a C-Class-related coupe at an E-Class-related price; or even the multiplicity of Range Rovers ranging from Evoque to the latest Velar that also take in Land Rovers of varying dimensions, all of which seem to be sold at an ‘attractive’ base price, even though personalisation can almost double the bottom-line, consumer need is ignored but marketing controls every aspect. While the majority of carmakers are ‘at it’, you only ever hear criticism from a smattering of reviewers, whose comments are soon forgotten, as soon as the consumer is parted, by various nefarious means, from his hard-earneds.

A few years ago, we would refer to certain cars as ‘parts-bin specials’. Now, there is a proliferation of them. The market is over-run by models that are no longer, S, M, L and XL, because each of the model lines includes them, some with XXL and XXS incorporated. It is the one aspect of market imbalance that has always worried me. By all means, provide choice, but, as fast-growing Suzuki GB shows with its model range, desirability is a key incorporating simplicity and inclusion, by means of limiting options and factoring-in heaps of equipment, thereby creating a more accessible route to vehicle operation/ownership.

Just reading the specification of the new VW Arteon reveals some truths. Yes. It is based on the Passat, one of the faltering but still popular family-sized European models. The test example is powered by the 2.0-litre TSi turbo-petrol engine. This is the same unit that powers various Golf, Beetle, Touran, Tiguan and many other models in the rest of the multi-model and multi-branded range. The engine is hooked up to either a 6-speed manual, or 7-speed DSG automated-manual gearbox. All familiar fayre from across the VW Group line-up. The digital instrument panel is available in Audis, VWs, Skodas and Porsches. The list just goes on…

However, VW is keen to highlight that the Arteon is showcasing heaps of autonomous and semi-autonomous technology, full in the knowledge that most of the hard and software will become standard equipment in the fairly near future on lesser models. Despite the company’s reported issues with diesel engines, it expects that around 60% of all Arteons will be diesel-powered, with a market split of 60% to fleet and 40% to private buyers…the problem being that only around 7.5% will actually be private, as the rest will have overheads written-off to tax returns. Early ordered examples are currently wending their ways to customers’ hands.

It will be easy for VW to accuse me of cynicism, for which I shall not blame them, although they would be wrong, as my stance is based on realism. The Arteon replaces the former CC model, a designation that I never comprehended, despite the coupe-like appearance of a four-door Passat in that guise. Fortunately, upon entering the cabin, I can state that it was not only much easier to gain access (I struggled with the CC) but, apart from the inevitable VW-ness of the interior, I gained an impression of a series of determined up-market nuances.

There is bags of room within the car, with lounging space available for rear seat occupants and an immense boot behind, where even the structural cross-bracing is unlikely to cause problems to the individual demanding the full-length platform, when the back seats are rolled forwards for load-carrying duties. With the rear seats erected and the parcel shelf in-situ, a whopping 563-litres is available; the space almost trebles to 1,557-litres with them flopped forwards, which demands access is available through the rear passenger doors, because you would never be able to reach anything forwards of the axle-line. Lack of practicality has never been a VW issue.

The tactility and finishes of the various trim surfaces is a step up from the Passat, while retaining a distinctive VW warmth, as opposed to Audi’s detached clinical approach. I harbour no single negative issue with any aspect of the Arteon’s interior décor. Although I expected it to clash with Audi, it did not do so and is of a different quality level. I am sure that there are myriad similarities beneath the skin, because economies of scale especially for immense brands dictate it, but, short of peeling back the layers, I could find none, which is a most positive thing.

The basic on-the-road price is a moderate £33,505 inclusive of the rip-off £855 delivery fee, £200 first year road tax, £55 first registration ‘tax’ and VAT. If you are a business, you will appreciate the 26% Benefit-in-Kind tax rating (for the 20% income tax band). However, a raft of goodies, including the extra-cost (+£595) for the Pyrite Silver paint-job and Nappa hide upholstery, means that the invoice bottom-line for this version of the Arteon is a more substantial £38,740, which equates to even more tax payable. As you know, I am not a fan of the on-cost levied by ‘any-excuse’ personalisation, of which the test car has 360-degree cameras, an acoustics pack, keyless entry, heated outer rear seats, dynamic chassis control, a heated steering wheel, TPMS and the Dynaudio sound system, of which at least four of those extras ought to be completely standard and not add to the invoice price.

I know VW’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine very well. In this mid-range model, it delivers a decent 190ps (187bhp) and fluent aerodynamics can whisk the Arteon to a top speed of around 149mph, having despatched the customary 0-60mph dash in a zippy 7.5 seconds. The engine emits a modest 135g/km CO2 but is also rated at 47.1mpg for the Official Combined fuel cycle, both of which are not bad figures for a 1.6-tonne family hatchback. Naturally, it is quiet and very refined, even when pressing on a bit, which is probably a good reason to opt for the acoustics pack (£535).

The standard adaptive cruise control is interesting, as it uses GPS-based road data to ‘see’ speed limits virtually and not only adjusts throttle depression but also switches on the predictive, dynamic cornering lights, before the driver even turns into a bend. The dynamic light assist program controls lighting intensity, taking traffic density and even weather conditions (rain, fog, or snow) into account. It automatically dips, or applies full-beam, as appropriate.

Despite my earlier comments, driving the Arteon is a thoroughly pleasurable exercise. Its ride quality is lovely, the multi-link rear axle providing a controlled fluency on almost any road surface. Believe me, I drove the car on a mix of fast, flowing country roads and tighter back doubles, where its responses at the helm were telegraphed delightfully to the driver’s fingers, all without raising the heartbeat. Carefully engineered chassis dynamics ensure that the driver is never left out of the equation, despite the ever-present (but switchable) influences of semi-autonomous technology.

The cabin provides a comfortable environment that feels impressively connected to whichever driving route is chosen but with enough detachment from the worst aspects of the daily grind to ensure that the driver and occupants arrive unflustered at their destinations. In that singular respect, the Arteon responds to most criticisms. It is not an oppressive machine, like so many luxury cars can be, and it retains the most positive of Volkswagen brand qualities, which make so many of that firm’s models an automatic choice for a great many consumers.

Conclusion:   If VW is to experience a problem in selling its Arteon model range, it will lie in a need for the potential customer to sample the car first, or to have an understanding of its Passat roots. There is an issue in that, as a lot of cars in this class are acquired without a demonstration drive. In fact, for the average company car driver, while Passat may represent something that is known, the Arteon does not. It is a lovely car, of that there is no doubt, but VW has a monster task ahead of it, breaking more new ground as it goes.

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).