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The Arteon is a new name in the Volkswagen range, and – in a very indirect way – a replacement for the old Passat CC. Based loosely on the Passat saloon, it’s the sort of car you might buy if you fancy a slightly bigger, better value alternative to a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. Or if a Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia isn’t quite posh enough for you.
Volkswagen’s hope is that by endowing the Arteon with a distinct look; a so-called four-door coupe fastback body style, it will appeal to those with a little more discerning, premium orientated space. In short, it hopes buyers contemplating a BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe or an Audi A5 Sportback might be tempted. Should you be?
What the Arteon lacks in badge appeal, it makes up for with a mix of striking looks, high equipment levels, a massive choice of engines and large amounts of space. Spending a week with a ‘you’ll see me coming a mile off’ turmeric yellow coloured Arteon 2.0-litre petrol Areton certainly suggested they got the looks right – everyone we bumped into while in the Arteon, and all our neighbours, commented on it favourably.
They see me rolllin’
The Arteon is available in just two trim levels – the luxury-orientated Elegance model, or the sporty R-Line trim of our pictured test model. On 19-inch, modern-style alloys and in that (GBP595 optional) yellow paint, the Arteon really grabs the attention.
It looks elegant and sporty, and the slightly fussier metal surfacing and detail is a change from the traditional, simple approach of Volkswagen, but it works better on a car of this size than a Polo. We find the front-end to be overkill – too much horizontal chrome makes it feel too bling-y and aggressive – but you can’t deny that the integrated grille and lamp design is striking. Props also to Volkswagen, for making the car striking, as standard – nothing you see on the exterior of our Arteon is optional dress-up, beyond that yellow paint.
Cynical hat on for a moment.
It’s easy to question why you’d buy a car like the Arteon over a Passat, which we know to be very good – and which in many ways is the same underneath. The most obvious aspect is style, which we’ve already discussed. But an unusual benefit of the Arteon is space.
Despite its apparent style, the car is long – it’s over 4.8m in length, yet with that arcing, low roofline you could be forgiven for thinking it’ll be cramped inside. It’s not. At all.
In fact, it feels vast – particularly in the back, where even six-foot adults have space to stretch out, and impressively won’t be brushing their heads against the roof. This is true even with the optional panoramic roof (GBP935) that was fitted to our car, a feature notorious for stealing headroom. Then there’s the boot – at 563 litres with the seats up, it’s bigger than most mid-sized SUVs, and you get a full size spare wheel under the floor, which is an unusual bonus in this day and age.
The boot’s so deep it swallowed our stroller buggy long-ways, which very few cars manage. Up front, the dashboard is little different to the regular Passat. However, on this grade you get high-quality leather trim and Volkswagen’s ‘Active Info Display’ digital cluster display as standard, which lifts the ambience.
And every time you open the doors, you’re reminded you are in something more special than a boggo saloon – because the windows are frameless. Overall, it very much feels like a business class set-up compared to a Passat’s premium economy, and for the few grand extra you’ll pay for an Arteon over a Passat, that appointments feel more than acceptable.
A driving surprise
We’ve driven several cars from the Volkswagen range in the last year, and they have a certain similar quality. They aren’t the last word in fun, but all VWs tend to be good to drive – polished, refined, easy to drive from the get-go and they’re marked out by strong refinement and generally a good ride which comes from the fact that Volkswagen’s engineers do their testing on (appallingly broken) British roads.
So we were surprised to find that the Arteon is different. It’s the first Volkswagen we’ve driven for a long time that – despite (or maybe because of?) being fitted with the dynamic chassis control set up (an GBP820 option) which allows the damper rates to be varied – we couldn’t get to ride well. In the normal and sport setting, the Arteon crashed around, constantly fidgeting over broken tarmac and then inducing the occasional wince in passengers as it banged into a pothole sending shudders through the car.
So, we put the car in comfort mode, and then later dived into the individual settings and set the dampers to their softest position. Then the Arteon rode with acceptable comfort, but floated and wallowed around in a way that made some passengers feel sick and made cornering feel more like piloting a boat than driving a car. It didn’t completely ruin our experience – many cars we drive have a ride too hard for Britain’s broken roads – but it did surprise us, because VW usually gets these things right.
And although the 19-inch wheels of the Arteon R-Line are large, they’re fairly standard size for cars like this in 2018, so we’re not sure how much wheel selection had to do with it. The big caveat is that optional Dynamic Chassis set-up. Maybe if you don’t tick the option box, then the standard – fixed rate damper – system copes better?
Elsewhere, the Arteon is typically Volkswagen, which means its nearly all good.
It is brilliantly refined (helped no doubt by GBP535 optional acoustic, sound-absorbing glass). The 190hp, 2.0 petrol engine is refined, smooth and while not super-keen to rev out to 6000 rpm, makes for brisk – if not fast – progress. More impressively, it managed over 40mpg on the motorway and stayed in the 30s around town and rural roads.
CO2 emissions of 135 g/km might give even company car buyers enough pause for thought on the need to go for diesel. For such a big car, the Arteon seems exceptionally frugal. Steering and controls are well set up, and our car came with the 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
Its changes are smooth and fast, and only when manoeuvring on gradients does it come slightly unstuck, occasionally allowing you to roll back – although that’s something that can be overcome if you use the auto hold button. Other than the ride, it’s a perfectly decent drive and a really nice place to sit. It lacks the involvement of a BMW 4-Series, and the new Audi A5 Sportback is one of the more impressive Audis to drive but – ride aside – we found ourselves positively surprised by thinking that we wouldn’t feel short changed if you gave us an Arteon instead.
Ticking tech boxes
Sitting above the Passat in the range, and with only two grades on offer for now, standard equipment levels on the Arteon are high.
Leather seats, 19-inch wheels and the gloss black/satin trim as standard. On board, there’s the usual array of airbags, DAB, Navigation system, usb-ports and a three-zone air conditioning system. Heated seats (electrically adjusted on the driver’s side) are standard, there are LED headlamps which read the road – and that’s just the start of the Arteon upping the game when it comes to connected tech.
We’ve become familiar with VW’s 8-inch centre display system, and 12.3-inch digital cluster display, which is standard on all Arteon. The benefits of the digital display are mixed – a vast amount of reconfigurability, but a dizzying amount of information on show. Smarter smarts
But it’s the smarts that (mostly) impress. The Satnav system, front camera monitor and radar, along with the cruise control are all linked. So, the Arteon can do things such as predictively swivel its lights to help you see around a corner.
It can adjust its cruise set speed to adhere to the speed limit, should you wish. And when the cruise control is set, it will read the road ahead and slow the car slightly for a tighter motorway bend, just as you would as driver. We thought there was something wrong with the stop-start system at first – but it turns out that front radar system also detects when the car in front of you moves off, and automatically fires the engine back up – so you’re never caught out waiting for it to restart.
Added to all this, an optional (GBP525) driver detection system will steer the car to the side and stop it if it detects you’ve passed out, then call emergency services – meanwhile a standard front, rear and side assist system will try their utmost to stop you wondering out of a lane, hitting the car in front or running a pedestrian down. Of course, you get Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink functionality, too. All of this kit, except the driver detection system, is standard.
Which given our Arteon’s GBP33k asking price before options, impresses and adds to its appeal. Faults? The wireless phone charging tray which is intruded into by the USB port surround – and makes any phone larger than 5-inches, with a case, impossible to sit on the wireless charger.
Given that’s most modern smartphones, this feels like a bit of a facepalm moment. However, after 300 miles behind the wheel we were impressed by how well it all works. The assist systems mostly remain background – and that’s a good thing because it allows you to get on with driving, while not being overly burdened.
It doesn’t nag or fight you. But occasionally it intervenes, and you realise it’s saved you from an uncomfortable – and possibly dangerous – moment. The faults seem to happen more at low speeds, occasionally when backing into a parking space the car would over-zealously slam on the brakes – because an adjacent bush overhangs the area.
This is annoying and proves that assistive tech still has a way to go before it matches humans. But most of the time, the Arteon’s smarts are a good thing. From an options perspective, we’ve already questioned the dynamic chassis system’s contribution and so we’d leave it off; we’ve mentioned the panoramic sun roof (GBP935) and acoustic glass (GBP535) which are nice to have items, if expensive.
Other key things you may want to consider are the 360-degree aerial view and reverse camera – GBP765. Our car had a pop-up head-up display (GBP495), and we’d add the combined keyless entry and remote open/close boot system for GBP900, if splashing out.
The Arteon is a curious, but likeable beast. The four-door coupe body style – which Mercedes introduced when it launched the first CLS, has a clear appeal.
It retains the practical functionality of a four-door saloon car, while adding some much-needed pizazz and visual appeal. With the Arteon, Volkswagen leverages this idea further, making a car that isn’t so much a posh Passat, as a genuinely good value contender to the premium brands’ higher-end models. The best bits are the style – which is clever conceived so as not to impinge on space inside; an Arteon has way more space than the average SUV, so why not have one as your family car? (we’re only partly joking).
And then there’s the technology and equipment – which is abundant, and Volkswagen has taken to the next level in terms of its slickness of operation. Those two factors on their own, combined with a realistic asking price and good economy, make the Arteon highly appealing. It’s only that strange ride and dynamic set-up which knock the Arteon back.
If you can cope with that, then this big, cool Volkswagen makes a very tempting alternative to a 4-Series or A5 Sportback. Especially in Turmeric yellow.
Audi A5 Sportback
The car the undoubtedly wears the right badge, and which has the edge over its competition for interior design and quality. The A5 Sportback is likeable, and techy – but it’s not quite the looker it once was, there’s less space than in the Arteon and much of the clever you’ll need to pay extra for
Read the review: Audi A5 Sportback
The Stinger plays a similar game to the Arteon – it’s big, good looking, well equipped and good value.
If you can live with a Kia badge, it holds similar appeal to the Arteon in many ways – you lose slightly in tech integration, but it’s more fun to drive and has a better ride
Read the review: Kia Stinger