End of an era for V12 en­gines

Irish Examiner - - News - DE­CLAN COLLEY

It’s sad that the Van­quish S could just be the last car As­ton Martin makes with a nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated V12.

THE Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat CC was an in­ter­est­ing take on the saloon-as-coupe for­mat pi­o­neered by the Mercedes CLS.

It looked as sharp as an Ar­mani suit and con­trived to make a nor­mal fam­ily saloon seem com­pletely dif­fer­ent and in­no­va­tive. It was rightly a hit, al­beit with a select band of ar­dent fol­low­ers.

As is the way with these things — car firms mov­ing in mys­te­ri­ous ways — the CC has, how­ever, been canned by VW and been re­placed by a new ma­chine, the Ar­teon, which is a stab at repli­cat­ing the CC while mov­ing it upmarket at the same time.

Now, Volk­swa­gen be­ing Volk­swa­gen — ie, the mak­ers of peo­ples’ cars, as might be sug­gested by the name — the com­pany is not nec­es­sar­ily an upmarket car man­u­fac­turer and most of their prod­ucts, even those aimed at wealth­ier buy­ers, are still very much every­man mo­tors.

They did have one crack at a true “ex­ec­u­tive lux­ury” ma­chine when they in­tro­duced the Phaeton at the Geneva Mo­tor Show in 2002.

The car was the brain­child of the no­to­ri­ously prickly Fer­di­nand Piech, the for­mer chair­man of the VW Group, who de­cided to at­tack Mercedes for hav­ing the cheek to stray onto Volk­swa­gen ter­ri­tory by in­tro­duc­ing the down-mar­ket, low-cost A-Class.

His de­ci­sion to pump so much money into the de­vel­op­ment of the Phaeton was a mys­tery, es­pe­cially as the VW Group al­ready had such a ma­chine on their books, in the shape of the Audi A8.

Thus, VW started com­pet­ing with the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 7 Se­ries, the Lexus LS, and the afore­men­tioned Audi. But he made a point, even if it was a touch ex­treme.

The car it­self was not a re­sound­ing suc­cess and, de­spite the money in­vested in it, its cu­mu­la­tive global sales had to­talled only 84,325 units by the time pro­duc­tion ceased in 2016. That its big­gest mar­kets were China and South Korea told its own tale about de­mand for the car in the crit­i­cal Amer­i­can and Euro­pean mar­kets.

The Phaeton was in­deed a very plush lux­ury saloon — and not cheap, ei­ther — but it was lit­tle more than an ego­driven, win­dow-dress­ing ex­er­cise.

The new Ar­teon is a move by Volk­swa­gen into ter­ri­tory above its pre­vi­ous range-top­ping car, the Pas­sat, but not too much upmarket and not too much of an idée fixe, like its OTT pre­de­ces­sor.

Aimed largely at the cor­po­rate mar­ket, but not nec­es­sar­ily the board­room, the Ar­teon is ac­tu­ally the new de­sign face of Volk­swa­gen, and its svelte looks presage much of what is to come from the Ger­man gi­ant, in terms of styling and look.

Of course, VW has an­nounced that much of its fu­ture pro­duc­tion will be elec­tric, as the com­pany moves on from the dis­as­trously ex­pen­sive diesel­gate scan­dal, but, for now, this car will only come with tra­di­tional, in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines, in both petrol and diesel form.

This has left Volk­swa­gen some­where be­tween a rock and a hard place, as the “ex­ec­u­tive” am­bi­tions of the car have been ham­strung some­what, be­cause the big­gest seller is most likely to be equipped with the 150bhp, two-litre tur­bod­iesel with which we are al­ready so fa­mil­iar and which we test here. But it may not ex­actly be the sort of en­gine that tyro ex­ecs have on their wish­list.

They may pre­fer the higher-pow­ered twin-turbo oil-burner (with 235 bhp) or the in-be­tween, 185bhp two-litre petrol, or even the swish, 275bhp TSI petrol. That all are mere four-pot en­gines may not im­press any­one look­ing for, say, a V6.

Thus, the Ar­teon runs into a metaphor­i­cal brick wall. It is like a boxer get­ting into the ring against proven op­po­nents — the likes of Katie Tay­lor, of course; or Joshua or Golovkin. Peo­ple at the top of their game, in other words. In this re­gard, the VW can stand its ground, but it doesn’t have a knock-out punch. Cer­tainly, the car is welladorned, in even its en­try level specs, and there is lit­tle fault to be found with its func­tion­al­ity, con­nec­tiv­ity, and safety set-ups.

Some of that lat­ter gear is very laud­able, but the brake-in­tru­sion sys­tem is too in­tru­sive and is as wel­come as a round with Andy Lee, if you’ll for­give the boxing sim­i­les.

Truth is, though — and while this in­trigu­ing ma­chine might yet at­tract fu­ture col­lec­tors — the Ar­teon, in the guise that VW hope to sell here in Ire­land, and priced at €50,000-plus, will be lim­ited to a few guys who might get mocked at the golf club, but for no fair rea­son.

There is much to love about this car. Stylish looks, de­cent spec and, if the bud­get stretches to R-Line, as tested, then some might be laugh­ing on the other side of their face as they see this sleek beast pass their front door.

It also has a huge amount of in­te­rior room and, de­spite be­ing based on the same ba­sic plat­form as the Golf, Oc­tavia, Pas­sat, Su­perb, A4, Ateca, etc., Volk­swa­gen have fi­nally taken a note out of the de­sign book of their col­leagues at Skoda and made a lovely, low-roof saloon with legroom in the back. But wait, hang on, didn’t they do this be­fore? Oh, yeah, the CC. But that was then and this is now and the Ar­teon is out there and it’s not bad.

The ba­sic en­gine is not quite silken and the DSG gear­box — nor­mally a paragon of driver-friend­li­ness — doesn’t seem at ease here. Maybe I’m a hard task-master, but I’d love to give the hairier-chested ones a go; they must be bet­ter than this.

Some­thing of a glo­ri­ous fail­ure, then? Well, no. The Ar­teon is a chang­inghorses-in-mid-stream car for the Ger­man brand, but it seems to have landed upon us without much no­tice and, in truth, without much fan­fare, which sort of tells us that VW’s heart isn’t in this the way it should be.

Nice and all as the Ar­teon is, and lovely and pretty as its de­sign is — herald­ing a glimpse of the fu­ture of other VW de­signs — the Ar­teon is still pretty tasty when it comes to price and not nec­es­sar­ily up to the class of oth­ers in this sphere, such as the closely re­lated Audi A5 Sport­back, the BMW 4 Se­ries, and the Alfa Gi­u­lia.

The Ar­teon is a lovely, low-roof ‘ex­ec­u­tive’ saloon, but Volk­swa­gen al­ready had one of those, the Pas­sat CC, which they mys­te­ri­ously dis­con­tin­ued.

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