Business jet for the road
If you’ve wondered whether the name of Volkswagen’s new luxury five-door gran turismo with its avant-garde styling was derived from mythology and Greek and Roman temples like the Parthenon or the Pantheon, the answer is no.
It relates to the Phaeton, the German car giant’s previous attempt at the upper segment of the luxury car market (an unsuccessful one, by all accounts) and the Phideon, Wolfsburg’s current premium sedan in the Chinese market.
But what does it mean? According to Volkswagen, the name Arteon – with the emphasis on the first syllable– consists of two components:‘Art’ or ‘arte’ which describes the harmony and emotion of the coupe-like luxury car’s styling, and ‘on’, which distinguishes it as a premium model.
The name also alludes to the fact that in terms of styling (art) the Arteon moved from concept, as depicted by the Sport Concept GTE of 2015, which was very well received, to production virtually unchanged.
This is a good sign, as it was a lack of passion and excitement that led to the demise of the Phaeton. Technically and dynamically it was an excellent vehicle, but emotionally it made no impact on the market. And this is the challenge the more adventurously styled Arteon must overcome.
The Arteon leads in a “new era of design” for Volkswagen, according to the Head of Design, Klaus Bischoff, and the wide and deep new horizontally accentuated front-end with LED headlights integrated into the contours of the radiator grille, will be the “face” used on upcoming models (such as the new Touareg).
The big and wide clamshell bonnet (with integrated safety mechanism for pedestrian protection) with sharp lines over the wheel wells give the Arteon an extremely low and sporty look.
A character line that runs through the entire side of the car brings the volume even closer to the ground. At the rear, it develops into a sharp undercut, visually reducing the Arteon’s height. The muscular shoulder line is reminiscent of the smaller Scirocco, and above this, the long line of frameless windows (known as a DLO – daylight opening) extends into the C-pillar. The DLO gives the Arteon an elegant, coupé-like look and the rear has strong design influences from the Audi A5 Sportback.
Based on a lengthened version of VW’s Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform, the Arteon is 4,862 mm long (nearly as long as the massive VW Atlas in the US market), 1,427 mm high and 1,871 mm wide. This makes it 60 mm longer, 10 mm higher, and 16 mm wider than its Passat CC predecessor, and easily longer than both the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback.
With a long wheelbase of 2,841 mm, its overhangs at the front and the rear are short, and this helps to balance its dimensions and proportions. However, while dynamic and elegant, the five-seat fastback’s design still doesn’t convincingly position it as a sports tourer.
“A QUICK VISIT TO THE ZWARTKOPS RACETRACK CLOSE TO PRETORIA, EMPHASISED THE STIFFNESS AND RIGIDITY OF THE ARTEON’S CHASSIS”
It has class-leading legroom (a full 1,016 mm at the rear), ample headroom, and a big 563-litre boot (just 87 litres less than in the Passat), much bigger than the 480 litres available in the 4-Series Gran Coupe and the A5 Sportback.
Inside, the clean, Passat-inspired design, with a high level of ergonomic efficiency, such as the air vent band which create a visual link to the cross-bars of the radiator grille, and numerous interactive interfaces creates a calm, elegant and progressive atmosphere.
The interactive and digitalised interfaces include optional features such as the Active Info Display (standard on the R-Line) similar to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, and a head-up display. An ambient lighting strip creates a soothing wrap-around effect and pleasant ambience, and the steeply ascending centre console fits in well with the Arteon’s avantgarde character.
Two interior colour themes (black, dark grey and a combination of dark and light grey) match the range of expressive exterior colours, including the distinctive Curcuma Yellow, as well as Atlantic Blue and Chili Red. Two equipment lines are available – Elegance and R-Line – with the Elegance line focussed on sophisticated and classic styling features, while the R-Line emphasises sportiness.
ONLY 4-CYLINDER ENGINES
The new Arteon is now only available with either of two four-cylinder turbocharged direct fuel injection engines and dual-clutch gearboxes, but there is talk of a turbo-V6 petrol engine later (and perhaps even a Shooting Brake model).
The diesel 2.0 TDI, as also used in the Passat, delivers 130 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque between 1,600 and 3,500 r/min. In combination with the sixspeed DSG transmission and front-wheel drive, its combined fuel consumption is 5.6-l/100 km, according to VW’s marketing team.
The petrol model uses the same drive system as in the Golf R – a 2.0 TSI engine delivering 206 kW and 350 Nm of torque from 1,700 to 5,600 r/min (yes, it is 7 kW and 30 Nm less than the current Golf R, because the specification was finalised before the latest R upgrade), coupled to a seven-speed DSG transmission and 4Motion four-wheel-drive system.
This gives the TSI a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. While this may sound quite acceptable, it is sluggish compared to the performance of the 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Our test route, which included a quick visit to the Zwartkops racetrack close to Pretoria, emphasised the stiffness and rigidity of the Arteon’s chassis and its standard Dynamic Chassis Control, combined with four-wheel drive, boosted its handling dynamics around the track.
The fastback tourer was in its element on the highways, but while its long wheelbase and supple suspension ensured comfort in these conditions, it was badly caught out by short, sharp ruts, even in Comfort drive mode. The (optional) low-profile rubber on 20” rims just made it worse, and we would suggest sticking to the standard-size tyres.
In general, the petrol derivative felt decisively perkier than its diesel counterpart, but for a relaxed, comfortable long-distance cruise with excellent fuel consumption, the diesel is perhaps the better option.
When pushing on, the TSI’s DSG electronics also wasn’t always fast enough, and the brakes, while efficient and sharp, didn’t like too many hard braking exercises; accentuating the fact that the Arteon is more of a luxury cruiser than a sports coupé.
Coupé-type four-door cruisers from automakers outside the German triumvirate does not have a good sale record locally, as proven by the VW CC, the Ford Fusion (that quietly disappeared off the model list last year) and Hyundai’s Sonata.
However, the new Arteon has appealing traits. Its design is elegant, yet muscular and energetic; it is incredibly roomy, has a full suite of high-tech equipment as standard, all for a relatively affordable price.
Volkswagen is also realistic in terms of its expectations for Arteon, as it’s not seen as a conquest model, but rather as an aspirational choice for current Volkswagen owners who are looking for more space and luxury than a Passat can deliver, and more sportiness than in a Jetta.
With prices ranging from R599,900 (for the 2.0 TDI Elegance) to R699,900 (for the 2.0 TSI R-Line) the Arteon is a definite alternative in terms of well-appointed finishes and luxury, as well as more overt sportiness, and therefore should appeal to the rational buyer. But we said that about the Passat as well…