Volk­swa­gen grad­u­ates from art class

Rotorua Review - - MOTORING -

Mak­ing head­way in the sedan mar­ket means go­ing up­mar­ket with the new Ar­teon, says VW. By David Lin­klater.

Volk­swa­gen New Zealand gen­eral man­ager Tom Rud­den­klau reck­ons he got some il­lu­mi­nat­ing ad­vice about the fu­ture mar­ket for four-door cars from a Ger­man VWex­ec­u­tive a few years back: ‘‘When it comes to sedans, you have to go pre­mium or go home.’’

That ex­plains the just­launched Ar­teon, then. It’s os­ten­si­bly a re­place­ment for the CC sedan and like that model, it’s based on the Pas­sat.

But Ar­teon aims to go a lot more up­mar­ket than its pre­de­ces­sor, with VWeye­ing up the likes of the BMW3-se­ries, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Jaguar XE as po­ten­tial ri­vals for this $74,990 new­comer. They don’t men­tion the sis­ter Audi A4/5; so we will.

That pre­mium think­ing makes more sense than ever in 2017, says Rud­den­klau: ‘‘There are 5000 sedans sold in this coun­try ev­ery year. When you look at the pro­file, there’s a large main­stream Ja­panese com­peti­tor [Camry] that dom­i­nates that sec­tor. But ranked at two, three, four and five are Euro­peans. It’s pre­mium that does re­ally well.’’

Main­stream sedans don’t do well at all as a rule, which is why VWNZ only sold 13 Pas­sat sedans last year. That body shape has now been dropped com­pletely, with the Pas­sat name con­tin­u­ing only in wagon form (es­pe­cially the SUV-like All­track).

All of the above also ex­plains why Ar­teon has been launched here in one, top-of-the-range model. The R-Line has a 206kW/ 350Nm turbo-petrol 2-litre en­gine, seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion and 4Mo­tion all- wheel drive. It can hit 100kmh in 5.6 sec­onds and re­turns 7.3 litres per 100km in the Com­bined fu­ele­con­omy test.

The Ar­teon has pro­gres­sive steer­ing, DCC adap­tive chas­sis con­trol with driv­ing pro­files and a slide-con­trol that gives you 15 dif­fer­ent set­tings for the sus­pen­sion (as used by Bent­ley), vir­tual in­stru­ment panel, 9.2-inch glass-cov­ered touch screen, ges­ture con­trol, head-up dis­play, Nappa leather up­hol­stery, 14-way ad­justable seats with heat­ing and driver mas­sage func­tion, three­zone cli­mate con­trol and 360-de­gree cam­era sys­tem.

The driver-as­sis­tance pack­age in­cludes adap­tive cruise with emer­gency as­sist func­tion and traf­fic-jam as­sis­tant, au­ton­o­mous brak­ing and lane-as­sist.

If we’re talk­ing pre­mium then the Ar­teon is still a strong value propo­si­tion. Its $75k price re­ally only gets you into an en­try-level 3-se­ries or C-class, but the VWis loaded with lux­ury and tech­nol­ogy. At 4862m in length it’s also more 5-se­ries/E-class size – longer and wider than the Pas­sat on which it is based.

But Ar­teon will surely sell mainly on styling. ‘‘Art’’ is in the name af­ter all, and it’s ar­guably the first se­ries-pro­duc­tion VW fam­ily car to be based around The Look first and fore­most.

VWGroup al­ready has a lux­ury brand that pri­ori­tises style, of course. It’s also one that also shares quite a lot of tech­nol­ogy with VW. It’s called Audi and glob­ally, it’s the up­mar­ket foil to VW’s ev­ery­man char­ac­ter.

Rud­den­klau reck­ons the Ar­teon’s grille badge will work just fine in the Kiwi lux­ury mar­ket: ‘‘You don’t see many Pas­sat taxis in NZ. There’s a lot more pre­mium-ness to the VW brand here [than in Europe]. You see it in the likes of Tiguan, where we have a mas­sive mix of high­end R-Line sales. The top-spec Ad­ven­tura V6 is also our strong­est Amarok model.’’

Ar­teon is a stun­ning-look­ing thing. It’s kind of a grab-bag of up­mar­ket VWGroup styling de­tail: there’s a lot of Audi A5 Sport­back in the pro­file, and the rear tail-lights and ‘‘Ar­teon’’ bootlid script owe a lot to the Porsche Ma­can and/or Panam­era. But it’s all co­he­sively done and re­ally quite im­pos­ing on the road.

Speak­ing of Sport­back, now’s a good time to draw at­ten­tion to the fact that Ar­teon isn’t ac­tu­ally a sedan. It’s got a tail­gate, so it’s re­ally a five-door. But ‘‘hatch­back’’ sounds a bit down­mar­ket (ask Audi) and four­door ‘‘coupe’’ or ‘‘fast­back’’ styling is very much in vogue at the mo­ment. So that’s what Ar­teon is . . . says VW.

There are some very fa­mil­iar bits un­der­neath, of course. The pow­er­train is stan­dard-is­sue VW Group stuff and once you get past that avant garde ex­te­rior, the cabin ar­chi­tec­ture is pure Pas­sat – al­beit with posh fur­ni­ture like Er­goCom­fort seats, dig­i­tal ev­ery­thing, shiny sur­faces ev­ery­where and LED mood light­ing.

A Pas­sat in­te­rior is a pretty nice place to be, no ques­tion about that. But if you’re fa­mil­iar with that model and travel by Ar­teon, the car­ry­over bits do un­der­mine the lat­ter’s claim as a be­spoke lux­ury car.

On the road, it’s a typ­i­cally pol­ished VW­ex­pe­ri­ence. The turbo en­gine has plenty of punch and you can choose be­tween three pow­er­train set­tings in the drive­mode se­lec­tor – there’s even a sep­a­rate menu for the sporti­ness of the ex­haust noise.

It’s swift but also sta­ble, with 4Mo­tion as stan­dard. The slide­con­trol for the sus­pen­sion (giv­ing 15 dif­fer­ent set­tings) sounds like a gim­mick, but be­cause it’s a lin­ear graphic and this is an en­joy­able car to drive, we ac­tu­ally found it quite use­ful over our day-long and quite var­ied drive route.

Dy­nam­i­cally, Ar­teon does still feel very sim­i­lar to other VW Group mod­els on sim­i­lar plat­form/pow­er­train ar­chi­tec­ture. But it also feels very good, full-stop.

If you’re look­ing to im­press the neigh­bours with a sub-$80k BMW or Mercedes-Benz, the Ar­teon should surely at least be on the shop­ping list. It’s a wor­thy al­ter­na­tive and a in­ter­est­ing take on this part of the mar­ket that will be rel­a­tively rare. It’s a to­tally new di­rec­tion for the brand, re­mem­ber, VWNZ has just 40 to sell this year, and an­nual vol­ume will likely stay be­low 150 even when sup­ply frees up.

For the truly dis­cern­ing buyer, per­haps the ques­tion should be whether Ar­teon rates against sim­i­lar mod­els from other VW Group brands.

A Skoda Su­perb Sport­line 206kW is a lot more main­stream, but it costs $66,990 and by the time you’ve ticked a few op­tion boxes to bring it to­wards Ar­teon-spec, the price could eas­ily start with a ‘‘7’’. The lat­est Audi A5 Sport­back (185kW) is very close to Ar­teon in styling and ex­e­cu­tion, but it starts at $98,490.

The Ar­teon is still look­ing pretty good.

VW says Ar­teon sig­nals its in­tent to move up­mar­ket in all kinds of ways. Sin­gle Kiwi model is $74,990.

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