► VW Arteon replaces Passat CC
► Two engines, two trims, lots of toys
► Up to 276bhp, here September 2017
Volkswagen has a new flagship, replacing the Passat CC. While the VW Arteon five-door coupe won’t quite be the most expensive VW you can buy in the UK – that honour goes to the (yes, still on sale) Touareg – once prices are finally confirmed in August 2017, it is set to be upwards of £38k.
That's a lot of cash for a Passat in a frock.
Oh, come on – that’s surely unfair…
Unfair? Too right it is. While the underpinnings are largely similar (MQB uber alles, etc, etc), the Arteon is not only lower but longer, wider and more expansive of wheelbase than its frumpy forebear. It’s also packed with tech – including 4Motion all-wheel drive and DSG automatic gearboxes as standard, plus a vast phalanx of the latest active safety kit.
UK engine choice is limited to a BiTurbo diesel with 237bhp and the TSI petrol out of the Golf R, albeit detuned to 276bhp – hence the 4Motion and twin-clutch transmission. UK buyers are also limited to a choice of Elegance or R-Line specification, though exactly what you get with each is yet to be fully confirmed. Expect lots of equipment.
But the Arteon also directly targets the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe and the Audi A5 Sportback – and as VW has discovered before (*cough* Phaeton *cough*), it’s tricky to take on that kind of competition when you don’t quite have the image for it. The all-guns-blazing engine and spec approach would be fine if it didn’t also remind us of Jaguar’s strategy with the X-Type…
So we find ourselves wondering who is going to buy this car? And judging by the low-key launch event, VW is also nervous enough to not want to spend too much money finding out.
Should you dare to be different? Well, maybe…
Is the VW Arteon as good to drive as it is to look at?
Volkswagen’s certainly gone for it with the Arteon’s design. Easily the most striking model in the brand’s portfolio, the way the all-LED headlights blend into the grille give it a mean (if slightly Honda-esque) visual presence on the road, while the general proportions and stance are all modern Jag meets BMW.
Like its A5 cousin, it also features a large clamshell bonnet – with the same clever cantilever hinges – while the lengthy wheelbase means there’s almost Skoda Superb levels of legroom in the back. Headroom isn’t quite so generous, however, and although it’s technically a five-seater, as an adult you don’t want to be lumbered with the middle-rear position if you can possibly help it. Less seat, more shelf.
Anyway. Slide into the commendably adjustable driving position, and you’re just desperate for the Arteon to perform with all the athleticism its appearance suggests.
Outright acceleration isn’t far off the mark – weighing in at upwards of 1.7 tonnes even the TSI isn’t quite urgent enough take your breath away, but it will stamp its authority on lesser traffic, sounding neatly metallic and purposeful in the process.
The diesel is less vocally alluring, but with masses more torque makes for a thumping companion, best experienced with the hi-fi turned up. Derv rattle aside, refinement from both versions underlines the premium promise – although the test cars were fitted with double-glazed windows, and at this stage its uncertain if this will be an optional extra. Sorry.
What’s the VW Arteon like in the corners?
This is where all that athleticism falls flat. It’s a nice car to drive, but never an exciting one – and this is on the (presumed optional) Dynamic Chassis Control suspension, which is possibly also the ultimate proof that VW has slightly lost the plot with this car. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
Like the Golf GTI and Golf R, the Arteon gets Progressive Steering as standard. This variable rate system successfully helps this big coupe feel stable on approach to its 155mph maximum on the autobahn, but also seems to rob it of any incisiveness when taking country road corners at haste.
Open that big bonnet and you’ll see most of the engine is ahead of the front axle line, which won’t help. Body control is good, though, with little roll, even in the softer DCC settings, which in turn do a decent job of soaking up bumps, and that’s as tested with 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels.
‘Settings’ was no slip of the keyboard. Rather than simply stick to Comfort, Normal and Sport for the adaptive suspension, fire up the Individual mode and you’ll discover VW has equipped the Arteon with a sliding scale offering no less than 43 increments – starting below the regular Comfort indicator and going beyond what the engineers have dubbed Sport.
This has got to be madness. While it is – briefly – quite amusing to be able to reach over and ‘fine-tune’ the suspension for every corner and straight like some kind of wannabe active-era F1 driver, the chances of you routinely wondering whether point 22 or point 23 on the scale is the best choice for that tricky Hounslow interchange is blatantly infinitesimal.
Couldn’t VW have spent the development cash honing a really good conventional ride and handling balance, and thus giving prospective enthusiast buyers a real reason to choose the Arteon over the 4-series? Ho hum.
Give me some better news about the Arteon
Well, the interior is pretty swish. And though having the exact spec levels still TBC means we’re slightly into the realms of speculation here, standard kit on both Elegance and R-Line is sure to be generous.
Head of the wish list is the Discovery Pro infotainment system, fresh from its debut in the Mk7.5 Golf. This is a 9.2-inch glass-screened wonder, with an intuitive operating system and modest gesture controlled swipe-ability for some functions. VW has sensibly avoided putting all of the secondary controls in there, too, so you can still adjust the air-con with a button.
What’s more, if you plan to have a near death experience at the wheel, this is a good car to experiment in. The Arteon is loaded with active safety, including a new generation of Emergency Assist that doesn’t just stop the car if it thinks you’ve passed out but goes further to autonomously pull over to the side of the road.
We tested this as far as it was legally possible during the launch drive, and it appears to work convincingly – first attempting to jolt you back to life with ever shriller warning tones and then sudden applications of the brake before gradually slowing the Arteon to a stop.
Then there’s the new Adaptive Cruise Control system, which uses cameras and GPS route data to not only react to changes in the speed limit but slow down for corners and other hazards as well. The self-steering Lane Assist system integral to this process is one of the smoothest we’ve encountered, easily capable of tackling quite sharp turns – as long as there are white lines for it to keep track of.
Suddenly self-driving cars don’t look so sci-fi after all.
If you like the looks and don’t care that people will worry you couldn’t afford a BMW, the Arteon is an attractive prospect. The interior is a delight, there’s loads of space for people, the boot (above) is huge and the drivetrains are basically excellent. The safety tech isn’t to be sniffed at, either, and if you want comfort you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
But you’ll be paying a lot of money to make a statement about how independently minded you are, and although it will likely cross continents with ease, it might just put you to sleep in the process.
Gladly, the Emergency Assist should ensure you wake up again.
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