New Arteon aims even higher to bridge ‘Four-Rings’ gap
VW needs a top-drawer offering to its present line-up, highlights Iain Robertson, one that hacks into brand superiority, rather than a feeble hope of it, and a five-door coupe executed right could be the solution in a far from strident market sector.
Gifted with such a multi-directional range of vision, we humans have forward sight, sixth sight, reflective sight and, quite possibly the most important of them all, second sight, in our physiological armoury. While the Volkswagen brand is like a cosy arm across the shoulders of those car-acquiring people needing comfort and a classy security blanket, it possesses enough strength of purpose to realise that not every observer is going to comprehend every new model it introduces from the outset.
Therefore, my most recent drive of the all-new VW Arteon allowed me to refocus on a car that I wanted truly to feel warmer towards, when I first drove an example back in September 2017 at the annual SMMT ‘junket’ held at Wetherby Racecourse. An hour-long test drive cannot be expected to result in a realistic set of conclusions, however valuable that exercise was. Its predecessor, the Passat CC, as good as it was, could never quite escape a ‘mainstream’ market position, despite swoopier looks and a clear aspiration to head into Audi territory. My second sight refined my views of a model about which I had been very insecure.
Look at the costly and largely senseless activities of Ford Motor Company, when it determined confidently that it could venture into Audi territory and set its sights accordingly, with the up-market Vignale version of the Mondeo. Poor old witless Ford! Tarting-up an existing mainstreamer with some bling and a beefier price tag, no matter how competent is its core, is most definitely not the best action to take. Well, VW has been there with Passat and, let’s face it, you would rather have a current version of the Passat in your driveway, than a natty old Ford, especially on the residuals front.
If anything, the Arteon is more about the dogged determination of a King of Carmakers that has arisen from its most damaging fallout period of recent history (emissions scandals etc.) to produce a genuine high-end contender, a halo product for the primary brand. Although there is a baseline version aimed at the fleet sector, Elegance and R-Line trim levels will constitute the bulk of registration numbers, with a larger proportion in the sportier, latter form.
Where this car’s predecessor was rather 2-D in its perspective, the Arteon is altogether more 3-D, perhaps even verging on occasional 4-D. There is a gorgeous sinuousness to its profile. It looks meaty and possesses great depth of design detail, with a strong swage-line running down its five-door coupe-like flanks. It is undeniably handsome, while displaying the gentle swagger of a company that knows it has managed its way back deftly from the brink and is looking forwards with renewed vigour to restoring consumer confidence.
Its sharp external visage is recognised as a fresh design direction for the entire VW range and, as a pinnacle product within that line-up it needs to lead from the front, a task it undertakes with equal vigour from the driver’s seat. Its expansive dashboard is clean, conservative and impeccably assembled, with what appears to be a full-width array of adjustable ventilation slots. Its VeeDub, Jim, just not as we know it!
In customary VW-style, both front seats are electrically powered and are branded as ‘ergoComfort’, with some justification, in that they are among the most comfortable seats into which I have placed my derriere for some years. Ally that to the steering column adjustability and the result is a first-class driving position that is not merely supportive and comfortable but also capable of providing an essential cosseting feel that makes every drive in the Arteon a consummate pleasure.
The quality of the materials used is subtle and singularly unoppressive, while remaining eminently impressive. The seats’ textured Nappa hide, with its ‘carbon-optic’ side bolsters, is unusual but attractive. Of course, VW does not miss a trick at highlighting the R-Line detailing, with sill protection plates, steering wheel and seat-backs carrying the logo, embossed, embroidered and emblazoned. A satisfying extra flourish (that is subtle thankfully) lies in the ambient illumination of front footwells and the light strips carried in all door cards and across the dashboard.
The test car features around £8,000’s worth of optional extras that includes an aerial overview and a complex rear-view camera display that appears on the otherwise conventional touch-screen in the dash centre. The most comprehensive Driver Assist packaging includes an ingenious ‘drowsiness alert’ that will ‘nudge’ the sleepy driver out of The Land of Nod should his eyes not be ‘seen’ working effectively, park assist and a head-up display, while VW’s long-standing sound system deal with premium German audio specialist, DynAudio, factors in a 16-channel digital amplifier, 700W of sound power and no less than 11 speakers for a concert hall listening experience. It is impressive.
As the 147bhp TDi engine is likely to be the best-seller in the range, it is worth exploring the backbone nature of that unit. It is a stalwart design that is as well regarded for its indisputable frugality, as it is its sheer dependability. That it can punch considerably above its on-paper specification is much to its credit. It delivers a 0-60mph sprint in 8.8 seconds (but feels swifter) and will top out at 137mph, which I accept is purely academic but can be useful on the remaining roads in Europe that still allow such velocities a legal edge.
However, for a car of this physical size, bearing in mind that it is almost five metres in length, over two metres wide and tips the scales at 1,643kgs, all of which are great statistics if you want stability for towing, its Official Combined fuel return is a fantastic 62.8mpg, which is a credible figure for a company that never wishes to be spotted ‘pulling the wool’ on that front again. Refined, seldom wrong-footed, especially when driving through the latest VW-developed DSG 7-speed transmission (complete with the customary paddle shifters), progress can be either as spirited, or stately as you ever require it be.
Listed at £35,090 (on the road; plus all the aforementioned goodies), it almost looks like conspicuous good value in the executive sector, especially once its fine chassis dynamics are taken into account, along with its intelligent LED lighting and the big 19-inch alloy wheels that look so good and enhance its on-road presence. Yet, one of its best features is something that all too few car manufacturers employ these days and it is the frameless side glass that places door and glass sealing technology under incredibly high demands but which never ceases to look less than sportingly elegant.
Conclusion: Volkswagen has managed the ultimate transition from the ‘ordinary’ Passat CC to the extraordinary Arteon with such professional zeal that you simply know that its heart is in the right place. It remains undeniably a VW, which is very important in brand terms, even though there is no longer a significant upwards hike in status to Audi, although potential owners/operators will have no issues confronting their class demons. Handsome, fleet of foot, refined, ineffably comfortable, economical in operational terms that includes its reasonable Group 22E insurance rating, Arteon is a value-packed proposition, which only serves to bolster VW’s ‘World No.1 status’. Job done!