Available in the UK for little more than a year, VW’s up-market Passat-with-a-coupe body is a trendsetter for the German brand, states Iain Robertson, that illustrates the potency of the company but also its tightly reined-in and Audi-like aspirations.

Replacing the former Passat CC model, which was, firstly, never that popular a car, nor, secondly, ever sat happily in Volkswagen’s broader range offering, the Arteon, when it was launched in September 2017, was regarded with a degree of distrust. Not for the first time, VW had made an error of market judgement that might have a negative impact on the replacement car.

With another vehicle launch to attend to, in Frankfurt, I elected to drive, rather than fly, and VW was good enough to lend me a Passat CC for the exercise. It was a vile experience, exacerbated by the strangely enforced ‘coupe’ body styling, which restricted access to the cabin, especially for taller drivers and occupants. The potential embarrassment attached to ‘contortional’ entry and exit, which was rendered totally impossible, were a car parked normally alongside, was too much for me to take…thank heavens I used the Channel Tunnel, rather than a ferry, at least I did not have to escape from my ‘cell’.

To be fair to the CC, once ensconced, it was a most comfortable place to reside. Yet, it ought to have been so, being based on the already spacious and impeccably-built regular Passat, which, after the Golf, was and is one of the Group’s most popular models, for all the right reasons. However, at the time, VW was being whisked along by a niche-filling hubbub, on which neither its marketing, nor design people would reflect, until it was far too late. The CC was insufficiently researched and it was only by the volume of consumer complaints that change was affected and its replacement was lined-up.

VW’s Arteon five-seat fastback, which is how the company refers to it, was even received by the motoring media with nonchalance. My first question, when invited to test the car, was ‘could I fit?’. That I could and that it was much easier to access and alight from helped the procedure. Yet, there was still a ‘troubling’ issue related to the car’s position both in VW’s line-up but more importantly its close proximity to sister brand Audi’s recently enlarged A4 model.

For the past few years, VW seems to have endured much internal wrangling related to its position in the new car scene. VW is owner. Audi has to play a ‘premium’ role but it is a sister brand. Yet, VW’s insistence on high-quality, which does feature some engineered ‘chinks’, means that it wants to be Audi too. The dichotomy creates a rich seam that can be as confusing to some customers, as it is to the company that must internalise its problems.

Anyway, Arteon has gained a new range-topper engine and transmission set-up that is pure Golf R in detuned form. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged TSi petrol unit, it develops 269bhp from 5,100 to 6,500 rpm, accompanied by 258lbs ft of torque heft. It is an incredibly flexible power unit, no matter at which level it is asked to play.

While the lineage of this engine is lengthy, it is renowned for its reliability and also, regardless of installation, a wonderfully broad performance envelope. In fact, the new top-of-the-shop Arteon can accelerate from 0-60mph in a mere 5.3s, put into perspective, which is 0.8s quicker than a Golf GTi Performance model. Its maximum speed is given as 155 mph.

Both trim levels, Elegance and R-Line,  carry the punchiest motor in the range, which continues the Golf R pattern by driving all four wheels, through a DSG, twin-clutch, automated-manual transmission, complete with paddle-shifters. Having burnt its corporate fingers with the ‘dieselgate’ problem, VW dares not make wild boasts about its cars’ levels of frugality and exhaust ‘cleanliness’ anymore. As a result, its stated CO2 emissions level is a modest 160g/km but it can return 40.4mpg on the Official Combined test cycle and, knowing VW of old, this is not merely an achievable figure but it can be exceeded readily.

Naturally, getting that power to the road reliably demands the firm’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system be fitted as standard. It provides reliable traction and optimised directional stability at all times, both of which enhance the overall safety package. The system distributes the engine’s power to all four wheels via an all-wheel drive coupling, working together with the car’s ESC (Electronic Stability Control), ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation) and EDS (Electronic Differential Lock) systems to deliver optimum road-holding and handling. It works.

Minor suspension and brake system tweaks help to improve the Arteon’s overall balance and the responses at the helm are good. Of course, the Arteon is a name now synonymous with fluid performance, first-class style and practicality, and its boot can accommodate 563-litres of luggage, or goods, which can be expanded to a most practical 1,557-litres, when the rear seats are folded forward, which is very good for a sporty saloon.

Based on VW’s flexible Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform, it allows a broad range of powertrains and configurations, as well as immediate access to the very latest in both semi-autonomous and active driver aids and safety technology. The availability of a more powerful engine, without resorting to a gutsier V6 layout, helps to keep running costs within sensible bounds and to differentiate VW from Audi, where higher priced expectations are prevalent. Arteon benefits from efficient, lower-powered engines, at one end of the range, and performance-oriented petrol and diesel units at the top-end.

Prior to any dealer discounting (of which, you can rest assured, there is plenty), the Arteon line-up starts at £32,745 in Elegance specification and £33,530 in R-Line form, although the new top versions are a somewhat heftier £39,065 and £39,850 respectively, and the VW dealer network is taking orders right now for early-2019 delivery.

Conclusion:    VW has been straining at the bit to beat its own, in-house rival (Audi) but manages to create an essential bridge instead between the two brands, with Arteon. It is a handsome car, with great roadside appeal.