Review: Volkswagen Arteon
The vehicle delivers the "People's Car" brand firmly into premium car territory
Recently, we had a go in the top-spec R-Line version of the newly-launched Volkswagen Arteon. This is a car which VW boffins are calling an "avant-garde business-class Gran Turismo". Yes, it has been styled with a verve and has enough inbuilt technology to rival a space pod, but it is especially expensive for a Volkswagen. All these changes - including the revision of retail prices - constitute a deliberate move by the German automaker to find a place in the premium playground. The question is: does it work?
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
The "Theory of Evolution" doesn't seem too far-fetched when we consider the transformation of Volkswagen's mid-size family sedans. First, we had the utilitarian Passat (which we still do have); then came the sleeker CC; and now, we have the bold and characterful Arteon. The Arteon, as its name suggests, is a mix of the terms 'art' and 'eon'. The first time people saw it online, they thought it was nothing short of art on wheels. And unlike other VWs - be it the Golf, the Touareg and even the Phaeton - it showed the promise of flamboyance and an attitude. not the kind of a workhorse one, but of something beyond.
Come the regional launch, and we had a closer look at this specimen of deviant design from Volkswagen. It certainly is a snazzy-looking thing, but better in pictures. Like some people you may know on Facebook - it's photogenic.
This new vehicle is a mid-size sedan, a 4-door coupe with a fastback profile and a hatchback tailgate. It's got the edges rounded off for a smoother, more refined finish overall - with a lot of original detailing all around. Almost all of its face is its grille and slats of various lengths that merge seamlessly with the intricacies of the headlamps which, by the way, are LED in this top form. Some of those lines form the LED DRLs while others form dynamic turn signals (like in an Audi). The lights in the rear have complicated LED detailing too. Speaking of details: how cool are those 20-inch turbine-like powder-coated wheels? The turmeric paint and the charcoal colour on the wheels won't give the VW brand a cleanse but it's sure to rejuvenate it.
But thanks to its coupe-inspired silhouette, you can't deny that it looks eerily close to the cheaper CC it replaces, which begs the question: "Why is it so expensive?" So we turned to the interiors for answers, while opening up those doors with chic frameless windows. This is a pure 'German' cabin. Quality is high. Everything is built for a purpose and free of frowns - but it's all too familiar, which isn't something you want when you want to migrate into the premium segment. For a car, there better be a separation of the classes. Yes, the unique air vents that go across the dashboard (like the Audi Q7) is a neat feature, and the R-line package does put carbon fibre-like textures on parts of the nappa leather upholstery. But it isn't enough.
Where it differs is in its trappings of technology. It has a larger 9.2-inch infotainment screen (except in the base model) and, like all other luxury cars, the analog instrument cluster has been replaced by a customisable 12.3-inch screen. And there is space, plenty of it. While you may want to enjoy the lavishness of the 14-way power adjustability of the front seats that come with a massage option and cup-holders that can accommodate mugs, passenger will be swimming about in the rear thanks to limo-like legroom - "best in class" says Volkswagen. There are utilities such as A/C vents, a two-pin power socket, a USB port etc. There are ISOFIX points for child seats too.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
Under the clamshell bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. The R-Line is backed by 276 horses and 350Nm of torque which goes to all four corners via a quick-shifting 7-speed DSG from the high-performance Golf. Thanks to all of this, it gathers speed well and completes the run to a ton in just 5.6 seconds, with a moment's patience required for the turbos to spool up. Volkswagen also offers it in another state of tune, in a 190 horsepower format, which won't disappoint.
We left the car in 'Sport' mode for the most part, letting the powertrain manage ratio-swapping duties - which it does well. The DCC adaptive chassis control also alters damping levels. And thanks to the XDS electronic differential lock and the 4MOTION all-wheel drive, it delivers oodles of grip that you will learn to break as you put in the kilometres. Overall, handling veers towards neutrality. So, it is a sports sedan with an inclination towards luxury, which helps to make it a comfortable highway cruiser. except for when the 20-inch wheels crash into sharp tarmac irregularities.
This downsizing has its benefits. The last 3.6-litre V6 would consume 9.3 litres of gasoline for every 100km. This one will do it in 7.3 litres - at least that is what VW claims. And guessing from the intermittent inspection by our suspicion-driven eyes, we'd say the numbers second the claim to some extent.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
The boon of having that slanted hatch in the rear is seen when you want to haul luggage. And although we never shopped enough to fill the boot, we should mention that 563 litres is a lot. And it expands to almost three times - 1,557 litres - with the rear seats dropped; it's like entering crossover territory. Pull up the floor and you find a full-size spare under floor, which is a welcome inclusion. Not that anyone of us would want to sweat it out in 45 degrees.
This brings us to the air-conditioner. Like in a luxury vehicle, this one has a 3-zone climate control. In our short stint, it wasn't possible to gather performance remarks and this isn't necessarily a VW forte, but for the duration of the drive, it didn't fail us and we were comfortable.
The high asking price does put some gifts into the stockings in the form of 12 loudspeakers that will break out in music - using Bluetooth or pen-drive playlists - hitting high decibels thanks to a 700-watt amplifier. The gesture control on the infotainment screen isn't as responsive as you'd think, but the touch screen functionality and the size of the onscreen digitised buttons make up for it. Amongst other things, you have WLAN to share your data plan and other compatibility apps like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto etc.
There is plenty in terms of safety - after all, it is a people's car. There's the self-parking feature, a rear camera and the additional bird's-eye view too. And on the road, you can make use of the adaptive cruise control, cruise control and a customisable head-up display.
The Arteon is a well-written story by Volkswagen on how to breach the premium segment. The protagonist is played by sporty fastback looks, while quality, technology and performance have starring roles too. It's the price - at least higher up in the trims - that plays the part of anti-hero, if not villain.