If there’s anything lacking within Volkswagen’s latest crop of models, it's sex appeal. But the company has parked its normally austere design ethos with the new Arteon ‘gran turismo’, a German-made flagship successor to the niche CC.
And it’s high time, given the company’s stated aim to become more aspirational – necessitated globally perhaps by range-wide improvements from its Skoda subsidiary – depends almost as much on desirability as elements more quantifiable.
And let’s forget the Arteon’s strategic importance in Australia, where Volkswagen has invested millions in pushing the slogan ‘Premium for the People’. No other car in its range is tasked with exemplifying this concept more, or is better equipped, to do so.
Underneath the skin is the same MQB architecture (albeit stretched) as the Passat and Skoda Superb, and there’s nothing overly unfamiliar about the cabin’s design and layout, or the all-wheel drive and turbo-petrol-toting drivetrain.
But that body is something out of the box – the sculpted bonnet, pronounced shoulder line, wide stance, fastback tail and classic GT proportions. Finished in gold, red, blue, gunmetal grey or silver, it looks as glamorous as a Passat sedan looks staid. And that’s before you add the optional 20-inch charcoal turbine-shaped alloy wheels…
Only one variant is available, priced at $65,490 before on-road costs. By comparison, a Passat sedan with the same drivetrain and slightly fewer features costs $57,990, plus $2000 more for the bigger wagon. For further context, the MY15 V6-powered CC successor cost $66,990. Not bad then.
It’s a price-point rival to entry-grade Audi A5 Sportback, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe or Mercedes-Benz CLA models, both of which kick off around the same ballpark, though strip away the badges and you’ll find the Arteon to be more spacious, and more impressively decked-out with tech.
The caveat: badges matter to prospective Arteon buyers, and that VW logo ain't as sexy as its fellow Germans'. It’ll be a tough sell at times.
On first impression the VW’s cabin looks familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a high-end Passat. Perhaps too familiar. But the 9.2-inch centre screen (with great swiping, and naff gesture control) complemented by the digital Active Info Display instruments are top-of-class, but not surprising to behold.
Ditto the familiar touches like the metal highlights, the way the air vent crossbars continue horizontally along the dash, the analogue clock, flocked door pockets and Group steering wheel. VW is a byword for ‘modular’, after all.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming this is just a Passat in disguise with nothing new inside. There’s a pop-up glass head-up display for one, though it’s not as slick as a BMW’s embedded unit. And there are also Mercedes-style adjustable ambient LEDs in the cabin, though only three colours, and an area-view camera for challenged parkers.
Then there are the classic frameless doors like those from a coupe (or early 2000s Subaru Liberty), gorgeous leather seats that feel like an Italian tycoon’s lounge and are heated for front and back-seat passengers, and a 50mm longer wheelbase to appease China.
In fact, a key point-of-difference for the Arteon is the fact it comes verifiably loaded with equipment, quite unlike proper luxury cars where expensive options are used as badges of honour and assurances of exclusivity. The only extra-cost bits are a $2500 sunroof, or a $2500 pack with a better sound system and 20-inch turbine-shaped wheels.
Alongside that 9.2-inch centre screen, HUD and brilliant virtual cockpit are driver’s seat massage function, proximity key, satellite navigation and App-Connect, a potent Dynaudio sound system, power-folding door mirrors and full LED headlights with Dynamic Light Assist that prevents your high-beams from bugging other drivers.
VW is clearly also using the Arteon as a rolling test-bed for its active driver aids. For one, it’s equipped with the VW Group’s ‘Emergency Assist including Emergency Lane Change Assist’ system.
How does it work? It activates when you’re using the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems (the latter nudges you back between the road lines if you stray) in tandem, provided you don’t respond to prompting to take over the steering manually.
If you don’t respond to prompts, the onboard computer decides you may be asleep, or worse. So the car tries to wake you with an intermittent gong, puts the hazard lights on, commences brake and steering jolts, and theoretically keeps you in your lane while mirroring the car ahead’s road speed.
It then uses its cameras to wait for a gap, indicates, moves over to the far-left lane or emergency lane, and pulls the car up to a stop. Not quite fully driverless in all situations yet, but we’re getting closer…
One caveat: we found the lane assist’s cameras picked up clear road markings well, but less-used roads or corners tighter than 15-degrees threw the system out and necessitated a manual take-over. The tech needs fine-tuning, though we’d add that similar systems from Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have behaved similarly, or worse, when driven by this writer.
As befitting its status as a grand tourer, the rear legroom is suitable for adults up to two-metres, though the roofline does reduce headroom compared to a boxier Passat sedan or wagon. There’s room for four golf bags, matching four occupants.
The motor-driven hatchback opens high and liberates a colossal 563-litre luggage area that rivals a Skoda Superb, while offering a cargo net and full-size alloy spare wheel – not a common feature for any European brand – mirroring the Passat’s spec.
While the Arteon’s name and look are new, the drivetrain is familiar from the Passat, Superb, Golf R… the list goes on. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four makes 206kW of power from 5700rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1800-5600rpm. For reference, the old CC’s naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 made 220kW/350Nm, and sounded way better.
Volkswagen claims frugal fuel use on the combined cycle of 7.5L/100km, and a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.6 seconds. Brisk. The engine is mated to a seven-speed wet clutch DSG and a 4Motion AWD system with variable torque distribution.
It’s not exactly sonorous, but the engine has a super-wide torque band that allows effortless cruising and immediate rolling response, the gearbox is crisp once you’re on the move and pretty sorted around town, and the AWD gives you immediate traction off the line.
Like other premium Volkswagens, the various driving modes that adjust the throttle calibration, gearbox shift points and steering resistance also control the adjustable dampers, ranging from soft in Comfort to firm in Sport – not that any car on 19- or 20-inch wheels like this one is ever going to be the final word in plushness.
Nevertheless the Arteon does the comfort thing pretty well, rounding out nibbling, sharp hits and gliding over corrugations without ever feeling prone to wallow about or remain anything other than neutral against lateral loads. The sport setting is a touch firm for this car’s core demographic, meaning the middle setting is best.
Dynamic gripes are the steering which, even in its most resistant (heavy) setting, still feels inert and feel-free from centre, and the slight excess of road roar from the tyres over coarse-chip roads, which isn’t really what you want from a plush GT in this mould.
Those criticisms shouldn’t detract from what is a very fine car, though. The Arteon’s driving experience and cabin layout are pure Passat, meaning above average for the most part.
But the feature list is notable despite the creeping price point, if you can reconcile yourself to it, and the exterior design is just fantastic. Any imagined glamour shortage that Volkswagen’s hegemonic model range suffers from has been thoroughly scrubbed away by the Arteon – as the name’s first three letters denote.
It’s a worthy entrant. Don’t expect to see a heap on the roads, but you’ll stop and stare when, or if, you do catch a glimpse.