Arteon delivers on style and space, but loses out on price
Road test: The car is far more distinctive and impressive than the run-of-the-mill saloon
The Arteon is based on the same principle as the stylish four-door coupe variant of previous Passats
Welcome to the best-looking car to carry a Volkswagen badge in the current range. The new Arteon, flagship of the German car giant, may seem to some like a stretched Passat, but in the metal and on the road it’s so much more.
Volkswagen lost its head in the 2003 when it created the Phaeton, a luxury liner of a car, capable of challenging the likes of the Audi A8 from its sister brand. It’s often suggested that Volkswagen made the great leap into premium luxury in response to Mercedes-Benz moving into VW’s mainstream market with its low-cost A-Class. That may seem incredibly petulant, but the then boss of VW Group, Ferdinand Piech, was prone to petty feuds. He was the architect behind VW’s massive success and growth in the past 20 years, but he wasn’t averse to childish squabbles.
In any event, despite the billion-euro investment in the car – and some useful engineering innovation spin-offs – the Phaeton was a sales flop. It could have ran on air or come with an invisibility cloak and still buyers wouldn’t opt for it instead of an Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series. At the top end of the car market brand snobbery reigns supreme and “the people’s car” is far too plebean for the wealthy elite.
However, there is a fertile marketplace for mainstream brands to rub up against the lower echelons of the premium classes if they get their offerings right. And this is where the Arteon comes in.
The Arteon is based on the same principle as the stylish four-door coupe variant of previous Passats, known initially as the Passat CC before dropping the name of the family saloon in its second iteration. And arguably, the new name tag is meant to put further clear water between it and the Passat.
A marketing ploy? Perhaps, but the car is far more distinctive – and impressive – than the run-of-the-mill saloon. For a start, it’s a real head-turner. I’ve spent plenty of time in Passats over the years and I can assure you that they’ve never received the sort of admiring looks and passing compliments that the Arteon attracts. Thanks to its coupe lines and sizeable road presence, there is a real air of elegance about this car.
The noticeable length is reflected inside the car. Frankly, it’s enormous. The boot capacity is listed as 563 litres, and to put that in perspective we transferred the contents of an overburdened Volvo XC60 into the Arteon and still had room for a weekly shop. The rear seat legroom is on a par with what’s offered in the Skoda Superb, a favourite of Irish taxi drivers. Even with a six-feet-plus occupant stretching out in the front seat, there’s little chance that back seat passengers will be eating their knees.
So far a star. Yet the Arteon is not without its flaws. Staying on the inside, all that room doesn’t make up for the fact that it still seems like a stretched Passat. From door handles to controls, there is nothing distinctively “Arteon” about the car’s interior. Nothing that signals this is the flagship model of the Volkswagen brand.
The Arteon is loaded with the latest VW technology, including the dominant 8-inch clear glass touchscreen in the centre console. Processing speed is admirable and it syncs with many useful smartphone apps. The Arteon is also the showcase for an increasing array of phone apps that gives you remote info on your car. For example, with the new VW app you can track your recent journeys, fuel economy, or even set off the horn and turn on the lights to help you locate the car in a dark car park at night. This is only the start of what’s likely to be a world of car controls due to be available on smartphones in the very near future.
Another tech feature is the latest advances in adaptive cruise control. This 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. You do find yourself increasingly controlling the speed of the car with your left thumb, through the toggle switch on the steering wheel, rather than your right foot.
Our test car was the 2-litre 150bhp diesel with the firm’s impressive dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission. While that should be big enough to cope, it always felt underpowered and quite noisy when pushed. On longer commutes you really miss a little more potency. There is a 190bhp version coming on stream and for anyone regularly doing the cross-island commute, it’s well worth consideration.
The ride quality is clearly tuned for a softer, more comforting ride, but it means sacrificing some of the nimbleness normally associated with VW’s award-winning underpinnings.
The ultimate issue with the Arteon, however, is the price. Starting at €44,070 for a manual version, it’s nearly €10,000 more than the equivalent Passat, albeit with slightly different specification. That’s a lot of money for sleeker styling and more interior space. Clearly you are paying a premium for the Arteon name badge that stretches across the bootlid.
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.
Our test car was the mid-level Elegance, but it also boasted €3,527 of optional extras. It was the real deal for an executive saloon but landed on the road with a price tag of €52,947. That’s firmly into premium family car territory.
It’s a shame about the pricing because the Arteon does have premium appeal. The fact is that potential buyers will be perusing the premium catalogues, including for sister brand Audi. They will encounter the A5 four-door Sportback SE with the same 2-litre 150bhp engine starts at €47,350. Practically speaking the Arteon is a better buy. But in a market where brand snobbery abounds, I suspect most will opt for the Audi.
And these challenges are before we address the fact that most of its core market are moving en masse to crossovers rather than sleek coupes. The real future flagship for the Volkswagen brand needs to be more rugged off-roader than sleek sports car.
Despite the failings of the Phaeton to crack the premium market, Volkswagen has a better opportunity than any mainstream brand to crack into this lucrative segment. It has long been regarded as the most premium of the mainstream players. The Phateon was a silly stretch too far, but the Arteon would be far more credible if only it could get its value proposition right and turn its interior into a more premium offering.
Volkswagen Arteon Elegance 2.0 TDI 150bhp DSG
Engine: 1968cc four-cylinder diesel putting out 150bhp and 340Nm of torque
CO2 (motor tax): 115g/km (€200)
0-100km/h: 9.1 seconds
L/100km (mpg): 4.5 (62.8)
Our rating: 3/5
Delivers on style and space, but loses out on price