Premium pitch for VW Arteon raises eyebrows

But it’s sleek and surprisingly spacious, which can’t be said for many of its premium rivals

 

Vanity is a costly trait in the auto industry. Just ask any French car executive. Every few years some bright spark at a mainstream brand buys into the firm’s own hype and proposes a move into the “lucrative premium market”. Billions of euros later dealers end up with heavily discounted behemoths taking up space on the forecourt.

The Volkswagen Phaeton was a prime example, although the bright spark there happened to be former chairman Ferdinand Piech and in his defence, he has a remarkable track record for success. The Phaeton, however, will go down in history as an expensive sales flop.

So when VW executives talk of a new flagship and describe the Arteon as a car that can win favour with customers from premium German rivals, alarm bells start to sound.

Yet the Arteon is not an over-ambitious vanity project. This is a measured and really well-considered effort. It’s sleek and surprisingly spacious, something that can’t be said for many of its premium rivals.

You are probably thinking – isn’t that just a fancy Passat, similar to the previous CC variants, but executives at the German car giant are at pains to explain why the Arteon is much more.

First up is the styling. There is no question that this is a smart-looking offering and the coupe silhouette shares traits with the likes of the Mercdes CLS and even the Porsche Panamera. This is a good-looking car.

Next is its size. This is a big car. While it’s built on the firm’s award-winning platform – and certainly dips heavily into the Passat parts bin, it’s visibly more functional than any similar coupes on the market. Engineers added 5cm to the length and it shows in the cabin.

Not only is boot space an impressive 563 litres – increasing to a whopping 1,577 litres with the rear seats down – but rear seat legroom for three passengers claims to be best in class. The car is also noticeably wider than the current Passat, so three passengers can sit comfortably in the back without a squash, while even a gangly 6-foot-plus passenger will not be rubbing knees against the front seats. We’ve always been impressed with the Skoda Superb’s incredible rear legroom, but this car seems to be close to matching it.

For this sort of comfort to be offered in a car with these looks is rare indeed. The normal recipe is for function to take the lead over form in family saloons and the format to flip when a coupe is built. Not this time: the Arteon delivers strongly on both counts.

So far, so flagship. Prices for the new Arteon will start at €43,295 for the 2-litre 150bhp diesel. This is the mainstay engine in the range, though 190bhp and 240bhp versions are also on offer at the top grade R-Line specification. Opt for seven-speed DSG automatic over six-speed manual costs an extra €2,200, although your CO2 emissions only rises by 1gm to 116gm/km, so there are no tax implications.

For a price comparison, the equivalent Passat starts at €36,270.

We drove both the 150bhp diesel and a 2-litre 280bhp petrol. While VW engineers say the car was designed for 20-inch alloys, the ride on low profile tyres was disappointingly choppy in the diesel. However, the petrol was much smoother on the same-sized wheels. We will reserve judgement on the Arteon’s ride quality until the car arrives in Ireland later this month. In terms of performance, certainly the petrol was more peppy, but the diesel was up to the job, even in this big car. It’s a perfectly viable option for long journeys and most buyers won’t need to opt for larger output. And while it is significantly more expensive, the impressive DSG automatic is best suited to the Arteon’s Gran Turismo traits.

In terms of trim, standard features include LED lights front and rear, adaptive cruise control, a system that reads road signs, VW’s latest infotainment system and App Connect. It also has parking sensors and 18-inch alloys.

The adaptive cruise control is noteworthy, for it not only adjusts speeds in line with surrounding traffic, but also reads speed limit signs and slows or accelerates to stay within the limits. Of course you can adjust yourself from the toggle switch on the wheel, but it means cruise control is far more useful in urban areas. The system also ties in with the Sat-Nav so that it knows when a roundabout is coming up, or a bend or junction, and adjust speeds accordingly.

Elegance trim – for an extra €2,700 and starting at €45,995 – adds a rearview camera, active info display and voice control system, along with a few trim touches.

R-Line – adding a further €1,800 and starting at €47,795 – features further trim touches, including 19-inch black alloys. If you like the R-Line aesthetics you could probably justify the spend, but I think the money would be better spent on choosing your own preferred additions from the options list.

The Arteon’s interior is a weak point, for it doesn’t reflect the firm’s flagship ambitions for the car. Despite all the hype, the cabin is a mix of current Passat and VW Golf fittings. We would have expected better for the price.

It’s a shame because the Arteon delivers in virtually every other respect. But it’s a significant flaw, for the premium buyers Volkswagen are vying for with this car will also be perusing the Audi catalogue. There, an A5 four-door Sportback SE with the same 2-litre 150bhp engine starts at €47,350.

Premium buyers are flocking to the crossover market these days, but VW executives still believe there is plenty of room in the market for its new family coupe. Brand snobbery will be an issue and most mainstream brands have come a cropper trying to play in the premium market. Nevertheless, the Arteon’s impressive practicality should win out against rivals.

Lowdown: VW Arteon 2.0 150bhp DSG auto

Engine: 1,968cc four-cylinder diesel 150bhp putting out 340Nm of torque @ 1,750rpm

L/100km (mpg): 4.5 (62.8)

Emissions (motor tax): 116g/km (€200)

0-100km/h: 9.1 secs

Top speed: 220km/h

Prices: Starting at €43,295

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