Test drive: Volkswagen Arteon 2.0 TSI 4Motion R-Line

Good looking, spacious and well equipped, but it’s missing on that oh-so-important ‘buy-me’ factor...

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The Arteon is not, says Volkswagen, a replacement for the Passat CC, but instead a new contender that’s intended to elevate VW to new heights. VW describes the Arteon as an ‘avant-garde gran turismo’, to which we retort it’s a rakish hatchback, that’s big on looks and big inside. Those aspirations attached to it are pretty sizeable, too, because unlike the Passat CC the Arteon most definitely doesn’t replace before it, it’s aiming at some premium-badged rivals from Audi and BMW. Specifically cars like the A5 Sportback and 4 Series Gran Coupe, so, um, not an altogether design-led, upmarket or tough segment, then.

Volkswagen reckons the Arteon’s got the measure of them though, dimensionally. It’s a car certainly not lacking in scale. That doesn’t just give it presence, but space, too. It’ll turn heads: we’ve never seen anything from VW so obviously and extravagantly styled. It’s busy and interesting compared to Volkswagen’s more typically restrained norm. A deliberate move, considering the Arteon is going to have to stand out among those established, and desirable competitors.

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There will be two trim levels, Elegance, which as its name suggests shows a bit of restraint in its styling, or R-Line, which ups the assertiveness with sporting details around the wide front grille and drops some of the Elegance’s exterior chrome. It’s been developed from the outset to ride on 20-inch alloy wheels, which given they’re needed to fill the sizeable wheelarches is a good thing. The engine line-up at launch is very much focussed at the more potent end of the scale, with a pair of 2.0-litre units delivering either 240bhp or 280bhp depending on their taste for fuel – diesel for less, petrol for more.

Both those engine choices come mated to a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission, while VW’s 4Motion also features. There’s talk that smaller engines, without 4Motion, will follow, and even mutterings of a shooting brake too, but given this is very much an explorative jump into a new segment that will depend on the sales this early pair delivers.

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Two powerful engines, four-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic DSG transmission that’s quick to respond results in some fairly convincing performance figures for the Arteon. The 2.0-litre TSI petrol’s 280bhp allows it a 5.6 second 0-100kph time, and in its German homeland it’ll see the speedometer’s needle run around to 250kph. Quick then, but for all the engine’s decent low rev torque delivery it still needs wringing out a fair bit to shift the big Arteon with anything approaching vim.

Do that and it makes a suitably rasping sound as the revs rise, which, depending on your perspective is either welcome or intrusive. Keep it a little bit more dignified and the petrol unit’s nicely refined, and more in keeping with the Arteon’s somewhat grown-up feel. There’s some sophistication to the drive, VW claiming its chassis people developed the Arteon from the start to ride well on huge 20-inch alloy wheels, and for the most part they’ve done a good job of it.

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The suspension offers adjustment through the usual settings including Comfort, Normal and Sport, though via the slider bar there’s an option for the indecisive to select between them. That’s a lot of suspension choices, and, really, unless you’ve particularly sensitive of bottom you’re unlikely to notice any sizeable difference between them.

At no point when pitching the big Arteon into a corner did we think we needed more stiffness than Comfort provided. It’s just not the sort of car you’re going to chuck about for the hell of it, and choosing Sport only adds unwanted corruption to the ride comfort. The wide track aids its stability, the 4Motion four-wheel drive brings with it reassuring traction, the grip is high and the steering accurate, if lacking in anything you could describe as feedback.

At its best when you’re lolloping, rather than racing, the Arteon’s a convincing long-distance cruiser, in keeping with its brief. That’s fine, but in a class where it’s up against sharper driving alternatives like that BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe it wouldn’t hurt if away from its big mile munching ability and refinement it delivered just a little bit more excitement behind the wheel.

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The inside
Big, as in very big inside, the Arteon is hugely accommodating for four adults, and decently comfortable for five. It’s all very Volkswagen inside, that’s to say neatly designed and easy to operate, the centre dash dominated by a large touch screen containing plentiful info and entertainment options. There’ll be very little on UK cars that doesn’t come as standard, VW likely to throw equipment at it to up the value proposition against its premium rivals.

There’s a digital display in place of conventional instruments, configurable to show nav or entertainment choices as well as digitally-described instrumentation. The seats are comfortable, the driving position excellent, and the view out surprisingly good despite that tapering roofline. It’s in the back seats that the Arteon surprises the most. There’s loads of space back there, leg and foot room good, though if you’re taller than six foot you might start to feel a bit limited on headroom. The pillarless doors add a bit of class, and also ease access, while the small window in the C-pillar extends behind the shoulders of rear seat passengers, increasing the airy, light feel to the cabin back there.

Add a sizeable boot, which is accessed by a huge hatchback and the Arteon might be billed as a desirable, aspirational and indulgent purchase, but it’s not at the expense of practicality.

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Taking the fight to Audi and BMW in a niche marketplace is an ambitious move from Volkswagen even with a car as boldly styled and extensively equipped as the Arteon. To drive it doesn’t stand out against its rivals though, which is a problem, but, really, the greatest hurdle the Arteon faces is the lack of an upmarket badge. That it’s very spacious and usefully practical is to its benefit, but this isn’t a class where such things really matter, and it’s difficult to see the Arteon making a big impact against its intended competition. If a range of smaller, more efficient and, crucially, cheaper engines were added to the model mix it might have more of a chance, but whether that will happen remains to be seen.

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Author: TopGear
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