Sunday Times

MO­TOR­ING

The new VW Ar­teon is hand­some, roomy, eco­nom­i­cal and com­fort­able, writes Thomas Falkiner

- Cars · Automotive Industry · Industries · Volkswagen · Volkswagen · CarPlay · Audi · BMW · BMW 4 Series (F32)

Meet the dad-mo­bile

Volk­swa­gen is the king of cook­ing up, uh, how should we say it, quirky model names and “Ar­teon” is prob­a­bly at the top of its achieve­ment list. Ap­par­ently it means “pre­mium model” in some ob­scure di­alect un­known to most. What­ever. In the me­tal there is no ar­gu­ing the fact that they’ve cre­ated one se­ri­ously at­trac­tive suc­ces­sor to the now de­funct CC that al­ways sold mod­estly here in SA. That, al­ready, was a pretty car in its own right but the Ar­teon takes things to an­other level. Es­pe­cially when you plumb for the R-Line model that gets a more ag­gres­sive bodykit over its more sub­dued El­e­gance sib­ling.

I had the mid­dle-of-the-range 2.0 TDI RLine on test and I can tell you that there isn’t a sin­gle bad an­gle to it. Par­tic­u­larly when you spec­ify (and you damn well should at a mere R9,950) the op­tional 20-inch “Rosario” al­loy wheels that look like jet tur­bines. Taut, mas­cu­line and un­der­stated in a way only the Ger­mans can get right, the Ar­teon is in my eyes per­haps the most hand­some sa­loon car re­leased in years.

It’s a sweet hunk of me­tal, that’s for sure. Quite big though — is that lit­tle diesel en­gine pow­er­ful enough?

I had sim­i­lar reser­va­tions. Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that said Ar­teon tips the scales at a hefty 1,619kg. That’s a size­able chunk of au­to­mo­tive fat for the 130kW / 350Nm 2.0 TDI mo­tor to deal with — es­pe­cially when ac­cel­er­at­ing from stand­still where the Ar­teon feels about as lazy as an old Labrador on a hot day.

Volk­swa­gen claims a 0-100km/h-sprint time of 8.7-sec­onds but in real life this feels closer to 10. Yep, if you dig par­tak­ing in the odd Traf­fic Light Grand Prix then look else­where now. Once you’ve built up some mo­men­tum, how­ever, things are ac­tu­ally much bet­ter as the Ar­teon has no is­sue main­tain­ing il­le­gal cruis­ing speeds for hours at a time. Its in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion is also quite good — I didn’t have any wor­ri­some mo­ments when it came to over­tak­ing slower-mov­ing traf­fic when out on the open road. Mated to a six-speed DSG gear­box, the most im­pres­sive thing about the 2.0 TDI en­gine is its fru­gal­ity. I clocked up 512km on half a tank of juice and still had, ac­cord­ing to the trip com­puter, an­other 520km to go be­fore re­fu­elling. Say what you will about diesel but in this day and age of ever-in­creas­ing fuel prices it makes more and more sense.

It sounds to me like the Ar­teon is some­thing of a GT car. Does the in­te­rior fol­low suit?

You hit the nail on the head there, son. The Ar­teon is ex­actly that — a laid-back Gran Turismo that’s hap­pi­est when steered down the high­way to some far­away des­ti­na­tion. It’s in­te­rior re­flects this phi­los­o­phy by of­fer­ing best-in-class legroom as well as some se­ri­ously com­fort­able (and sup­port­ive I might add) R-Line sports seats. This is a car that you and your pas­sen­gers will have no is­sue spend­ing a lot of time in. The boot is also mas­sive.

I don’t own any golf clubs but I was able to put two women in it (and shut the tail­gate) with­out any is­sues at all. For longer loads you can fold down the rear seats to free up even more space. As far as tech is con­cerned the Ar­teon R-Line comes stan­dard with Volk­swa­gen’s dig­i­tal cock­pit in­stru­ment clus­ter, 9.2-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion (and Ap­ple CarPlay) as well as adap­tive cruise con­trol and city emer­gency brak­ing. It’s a nice suite of kit. The only thing I would add in is the op­tional (R14,650) Dy­nau­dio sound sys­tem that packs some se­ri­ous mu­si­cal punch cour­tesy of its 11 speak­ers. Trust me, you’ll never want to leave the cabin.

Is it good to drive — or is it a bit of a tank?

This is an­other area in which the Ar­teon sur­prised me. For despite its size (not to men­tion that lengthy wheel­base) it han­dles re­mark­ably well for what it is. Sure, it comes across some­what ham­strung through tighter tracts of as­phalt but when fired down more open and flow­ing sec­tions of road this burly Volk­swa­gen feels for­ever planted, con­fi­dent and com­posed. The steer­ing is pleas­ingly di­rect while me­chan­i­cal grip, cour­tesy of those 245/35 R20 tyres, seems al­most lim­it­less. On the flip­side of the coin, ride qual­ity is equally adept. Dy­namic Chas­sis Con­trol comes stan­dard on the R-Line and when set to Com­fort Mode the dampers ad­just to a level where most street scars are ironed over with aplomb: quite an achieve­ment when you fac­tor in those planet-sized al­loy wheels and ul­tra low-pro­file tekkies.

So do you think the Ar­teon will sell bet­ter than the old CC did?

In my mind it de­serves to as it brings some­thing fresh to a niche seg­ment of ve­hi­cle that has long been the re­serve of the Audi A5 Sport­back and BMW 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé. Stylis­ti­cally speak­ing it’s more in­ter­est­ing than ei­ther of these two ri­vals and is, give or take, ev­ery bit as good to drive. Viewed in iso­la­tion the Ar­teon is also a fan­tas­tic all-rounder: one that’s equally at home plod­ding city streets as it is bound­ing down free­ways. It’s prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able and — once you skim through the brochure and see how many fea­tures come stan­dard for the price you’re pay­ing — ac­tu­ally quite good value.

Un­for­tu­nately, for sim­i­lar money you can ac­quire cars with a big­ger brand ca­chet be­hind them. Given the choice South Africans will al­ways pre­fer to have a BMW or Audi badge on their key fob. This is why I’m bet­ting that the Ar­teon, like the equally bril­liant Pas­sat, will be some­thing of a rare sight on our im­age-con­scious roads. What a pity.

The boot is also mas­sive. I don’t own any golf clubs but I was able to put two women in it (and shut the tail­gate)

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