Reader Review: David Festa takes a spin in the Volkswagen Arteon

Remember we said there's a full reader review coming for the Arteon 206TSI R-Line? Here it is. David Festa took the car for a week – here are his thoughts, accompanied by images from CarAdvice.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the Volkswagen Arteon 206TSI R-Line in Chilli Red Metallic. As I sit here in front of an open fire trying to keep warm, I thought a formal introduction was in order. Never before have I driven a car that was so unrecognised.

This car’s profile is so far under the radar it's positively subterranean. In the week I had this car, nobody – and I mean nobody – recognised the name, knew what it was, or remembered seeing one on the road. Even a good friend who works as a car-buying advocate and makes a living matching people to the right car had trouble remembering the name.

His brother, who until recently owned a Volkswagen CC – the car superseded by the Arteon – didn't recognise the name. If these two car enthusiasts failed to recognise it, what hope the general public?

Arteon, by the way, is an amalgam of the word Art, implying something stylish or innovative, and Eon, implying long-lasting. I'd love to know how much the marketing genius behind that gem was paid!

All of this is a bit of a shame, because I think the Arteon is a very good car. My daily driver is the latest Golf R, which has essentially the same drivetrain, and is built on the same MQB platform. When CarAdvice offered me the Arteon for a week my initial thought was it would just be a bigger, slower Golf. I'm glad to say I was wrong and pleasantly surprised. The Arteon has its own distinct personality, and is very good at what it does.

I collected the car on a day of torrential rain and freezing cold thanks to Melbourne’s first Antarctic blast. Even in the unfamiliar back streets of Richmond, the most treacherous conditions possible, the car immediately felt comfortable and easy to drive. I was very glad for the all-wheel drive traction and ample space, as my first task was ferrying my six-foot-six son and three wild drunken ladies (including my wife!) from an Irish wake.

All were comfortable and there were compliments all round. Later my wife would fall asleep in the comfort of the plush back seat and smooth ride. Due to the inclement conditions I hardly got a look at the outside of the Arteon, but initial impressions of the interior were positive. It felt lavish with high quality materials, a superb finish and generously-proportioned, supportive seats in soft leather – heated front and back.

The fully electronic Active Info Display is clear and stylish, and the analogue clock on the dash is an elegant touch. Sitting on a wheelbase stretched five centimetres over the regular Passat, which is already a generously-proportioned medium car, there's acres of legroom. The sloping roof does impinge on rear headroom to some extent but this is only an issue for passengers well over six feet.

Later in the week I gave a lift to my son’s basketball teammate and, at six-foot-two, he found the back perfectly comfortable. This particular car came with the “Sound and Style” option pack that includes 20-inch wheels and an excellent 11-speaker Dynaudio sound system which is both articulate and powerful, complete with a bone-rattling 700W subwoofer.

Although luxurious, there have been comments the interior is too familiar, as the layout is exactly the same as the Passat and very similar to any Golf.

The materials used are all first class, though, with the reviewer’s dreaded “hard plastics” only found low-down in the door bins. In isolation the interior is a lovely place to be, but is it enough to add premium materials to the same architecture as every other Passat and Golf?

A completely new interior would make the Arteon feel more special, but would also have added a lot of cost. Another consideration is that the interior is so good any change could make it worse. Certainly with nearly 8000km on the odometer the fact there wasn't a squeak, rattle or creak in this hard-working press car bodes well for build quality and durability.

The next day when it had stopped raining (well not as heavily at least) I managed to have a good look at the exterior. Perhaps a little nondescript in photos, the Arteon looks much better in the flesh, with the eye picking lots of little details and getting a much better sense of overall proportion.

Initial impressions are of a surprisingly long vehicle, but also the wide front grille gives it a squat purposeful stance that reminded one friend of the Audi R8. I like the integration of the front headlights, especially with the day time running lights on.

Although not usually a fan of big wheels, the 20-inch Dark Graphite Matte alloys set the whole car off beautifully, making the “Sound and Style” option pack a must-have.

People either love or hate cars in red, and you can put me firmly in the former category. It was a fascinating dark red that looked almost brown in dull overcast conditions but, as I discovered when the sun came out for the first time, it brightens to a rich, deep metallic finish in the sun.

The Arteon is VW’s technology showpiece and as such is bulging with every driver aid you could possibly imagine – I was still discovering things on the day I handed it back. Needless to say, if you can think of it the Arteon probably has it, and it all comes standard.

Bigger wheels, an upgraded stereo and sunroof are the only options available. A lot has been covered in previous reviews on CarAdvice but highlights include radar cruise control and active lane assist, for virtually autonomous driving over short periods.

I also like the different driving modes that adjust suspension, steering and drivetrain feel that make a real difference to the character of the car. About the only omission from a tech point of view is that VW do not seem to offer a digital radio on any of its cars. I suppose there's always the standard fall back of Apple CarPlay or Android Connect.

My week with the Arteon in Melbourne’s inclement weather reminded me of the time I spent three months in Scotland. It rained, sleeted or snowed every day I was there – it didn't snow during my week with the Arteon, but I swear it almost sleeted a few times.

During my week I managed to experience the car in all sorts of conditions. From family duties around the suburbs to sitting in traffic to and from work, and I even had a chance to chase a few apexes on winding mountain roads in the Yarra Valley. I was very impressed with how easily the Arteon handled all of these different tasks.

It's very practical, being able to seat four large adults in comfort, and has an enormous boot easily accessed through a power tailgate. Despite the 20-inch wheels the 'Comfort' suspension setting and long wheelbase endows the Arteon with a lovely limousine-like ride. You'll always feel bumps in the road on 20-inch wheels, but they're never intrusive or uncomfortable.

There is also a certain amount of “comfort” in the surety of all-wheel drive and having power on tap. In this respect, the Arteon is certainly more “comfortable” than a rear-wheel drive car. And when in Sport Mode the car managed to be surprisingly entertaining through the mountains, giving very little in fun factor compared to my Golf R.

Like all new VW products there is a subtle lightness and agility to the chassis. Turn in is very good with direct steering that has genuine feel and feed back. Body control is excellent and there is a great combination of ample power and strong brakes. The car always remained flat and neutral when pushed hard, with virtually limitless grip.

It has more than enough handling prowess and power to embarrass an equivalently-priced BMW or Audi on the road.

The Arteon features the latest seven-speed wet-clutch DSG gearbox and, in my opinion, this is an asset to the car. A lot has been written about DSG gearboxes, and here's my two cents worth: it used to be clear a traditional torque converter gave smoother more luxurious changes, while a DSG gave rapid changes.

Then, along came the incredible ZF eight-speed torque-converter, which went and blew the theory out of the water. I found the DSG in the Arteon also straddles the conflicting demands of smooth changes in traffic and rifle-shot rapid changes when pushing hard.

In traffic, the car will creep forward when the brake is released like a conventional automatic. With the auto-hold function engaged the car won't roll back, and it moves predictably as the accelerator is deployed, making manoeuvring so easy you could enter a motorkhana on Mt Everest without issue.

In Sport, the paddle response is immediate with a real sense of tactility, but frustratingly the car wouldn't hold a gear at the redline. A manual gearbox might be preferred by some for ultimate control at the rev limit but again this is no track car and the DSG suits it well.

Overall I found the Arteon stylish, practical and a fun, sporty thing to drive. It proved easy to live with and, at the drive-away price of $68,990 with the 20-inch wheels and upgraded sound system, I think is excellent value for money. In fact a big-three German prestige car with equivalent performance and equipment will set you back at least $20,000 more and, from where I stand, wouldn't offer an experience superior to this car.

Having said that, I know buying a car isn't an entirely objective matter. The Volkswagen badge comes with a lot of baggage, not just because it's perceived as a “lesser” brand, but also the shadow of previous DSG faults. We all suffer unconscious prejudice, but do you have badge blindness?

My last five cars have been a Volkswagen, Toyota, Mazda, BMW and Alfa Romeo, so I like to think I buy the car that best suits me at the time. But of course we're all influenced by badges – I've owned three Alfa Romeos! In some ways it's easier for a car like the Kia Stinger to move upmarket because Kia doesn't have much of a brand identity.

Exactly what does a Kia feel like to drive? Compare this with a BMW, Mercedes or Audi, all of which have a distinct and individual feel consistent throughout their ranges. Similarly, the Arteon has a personality all its own, but still feels very much like a VW to drive. This isn't a bad thing, as it drives very well. It just might not please the snobs who, in fairness, probably won't be cross-shopping for a VW anyway. Their loss.

For me the Arteon makes a statement, is entertaining, sporty and flatters the driver. It has a feel of luxury and sense of flair.

Might I suggest that if you are looking for a smart European executive sedan that you look beyond the obvious three. Before spending $70k on a BMW 320i, Mercedes C200 or Audi A4 S Line, consider the Arteon and take it for a test drive.

I think you will be surprised and delighted. And I speak from experience when I say a Chilli Red Arteon in your parking space will certainly garner a lot more attention then another ubiquitous dark-grey metallic example of the three German icons.