First Drive: Volkswagen Arteon

05th June 2017
Andrew English

"Don't say hatchback," says Elmar-Marius Licharz, head of Volkswagen's mid and large car programs, "it's fastback."


If that comes across as something that wishes it were something else, then so be it. For the new VW Arteon is a bellwether for the German car maker's attempt to shift its cars up-market to do battle with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and its own Audi brand. It's also the precursor of the new design face for the Wolfsburg carmaker.

"Never has there been a sexier Volkswagen," says Klaus Bischoff, VW's design director. 

Not entirely sure the world is ready for sexy VWs, but the points of note here are the grille and the way it sweeps into the headlamps, the bonnet creases which run up into the windscreen and the centre line round the car which holds the hatch, sorry fastback, onto the quite large four-door fuselage. 

Actually, make that very large. This is a 4.86-metre long car, riding on a 2.83-metre wheelbase and its 2.13 metres wide with its mirrors out. That's quite a bit bigger than the outgoing CC, which is based on the Passat and indeed was called the Passat CC when it was first launched in 2008. To be precise, Arteon is 6.1cm longer than the CC on a wheelbase which is 13.2cm longer. That means the overhangs are shorter and its looks are more in line with today's wheel-at-each-corner vogue. It's also wider, with the front track pulled out by 3.6cm, which gives it that lower, tougher stance. Can't say I found it in the slightest bit sexy, however, or indeed that good looking, especially since this style is supposed to do battle with Audi's elegant A5 Sportback and BMW's 4-series Gran Coupe.


Arteon is based on VW's transverse-engine MQB chassis platform strategy, which also underpins the outgoing CC model and the Passat. It's been designed around 20-inch wheels, although they'll only available on the top models. This and the car's size has meant there's been a fair bit of investment in the chassis, with new brakes, new dampers with adjustable valving and heavily revised suspension components.

"It was a lot of money," admits Licharz, who says that the investment has been justified as these subassemblies will be shared with a forthcoming saloon as well as a new five-metre long Multi-Purpose Vehicle slated for China. Inside the Arteon is a class act, with striated wood insert panels in the dash, nicely judged posh plastics and terrific fit and finish. The seats are big and comfy and everything's adjustable so getting a good driving position shouldn't be a problem. There are loads of storage space and well-thought-out cubby holes and the whole car exudes the sort of classy practicality which also marks out the Passat. In the centre console sits the VW Group's latest 9.2-inch colour display and sat nav.

The graphics are terrific, but it isn't that intuitive and it's a shame they've dropped the separate rotary knobs for the radio volume and satellite map zoom. In the back the rear bench will accommodate three large adults with leg room to spare, although the sloping roof restricts head room. It's nicely finished, but that perceived quality falls off as you move back in the car. The boot is huge with 563 litres available with the rear seats up and 1,557 litres with them folded and the capacity to swallow loads up to 2.092 metres long.


A lot of car companies have set their caps at the premium market in the past and haven't pulled up many trees. Licharz isn't naive about the scale of the task, but he's done his homework and isn't just throwing wood and leather at a Passat, but also some serious safety technology. So as well the sort of limited self-driving capabilities and intelligent braking options common to the class, Arteon gets a new rear-end crash protection, which aligns the seats and belts in preparation for impact, opens the windows slightly to optimise air-bag inflation and turns on the hazard flashers. 

The other feature is Emergency Assist, which monitors the steering, brakes and steering and if it suspects the driver has become incapacitated either through dozing off, or a medical emergency, will buzz, vibrate and flashlights before gently waggling around in the lane to warn other drivers and then moving to the left-hand lane and stopping with the hazard lamps flashing. In fact, Arteon has moved the technology game on quite a bit, even its cornering headlamps use sat nav map data to shine into a corner before you've even turned the steering wheel. 

It goes on sale at the end of this year and prices are expected to be between £38,000 and £40,000 with two trim levels: Elegance and R-Line, which is available with lowered sports suspension.


While there are nominally six engines available at the launch, the UK will initially take just two: a 237bhp/369lb ft, two-litre, twin-turbo diesel TDI; and a 276bhp/258lb ft, two-litre turbocharged petrol TSI unit. Both will be equipped with seven-speed DSG twin-clutch transmissions and four-wheel drive. The diesel is capable of 152mph, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, has an EU Combined economy of 47.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 152g/km; equivalent figures for the petrol are 155mph, 5.6 seconds, 38.7mpg and 164g/km.

We drove the diesel Elegance model, which if past sales are any guide will be the best seller. That biturbo engine pulls like an oat-fuelled Shire horse with a pleasing growl at low revs, it's smooth, but gets quite raucous at high revs. Not that you'll need to rev it since it does most of its best work below 4,000rpm and the DSG transmission keeps it in the zone, with steering column paddles to manually change ratios. On a route filled with stop/start motoring, we returned a consumption of 45.6mpg. 

The Golf's Dynamic Chassis Control system given a new twist with the Arteon, with the choice of individual settings for the variables on steering, comfort and throttle response, two clicks beyond the normal extremes - think of Nigel Tufnel's "The numbers all go to eleven," scene from This Is Spinal Tap. It's fairly academic, but the Comfort mode certainly feels pillowy on long undulations. In fact, the ride is one of the nicest dynamics about the car, or it would be, were it not for those 20-inch Pirellis, which pick up on every surface change, expansion joint and pot hole like having your teeth dinged with a steel soup ladle. 


The coachwork might have been designed for these wheels, but don't go there. Dynamically, Arteon isn't a patch on BMW's Gran Coupe, but then you wouldn't expect it to be with a transverse driveline installation and the sort of ride comfort it offers. It isn't a disaster and it grips well and imparts a confidence to the driver, but the electronically assisted steering doesn't convey any feedback to the wheel rim and while it turns in daintily at medium speeds, if you push it hard, there's just nose-on understeer, even if you ease the throttle. 

That Arteon is built for long-distance comfort rather than speed isn't in dispute. Notwithstanding those terrible 20-inch wheels, its refinement and practicality make it appealing but dynamically it doesn't cut the mustard against premium rivals. As a replacement CC, you can see owners being delighted; more space, more refinement at around the same price, what's not to like? But as a flagship for VW's new push into premium, Arteon doesn't seem desirable enough. 

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