End of an era for V12 engines
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As is the way with these things — car firms moving in mysterious ways — the CC has, however, been canned by VW and been replaced by a new machine, the Arteon, which is a stab at replicating the CC while moving it upmarket at the same time.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.