Volkswagen goes grand with its new five-door GT, the fast, flowing and bang for buck Arteon
Volkswagen was the first to launch a car in 2018 with the Arteon – at first it’s a direct replacement for the old CC four-door coupe (and is indeed closely related to the Passat, just like the CC was), but VW has positioned the Arteon a step higher in the marketplace and would like you to call it a Grand Tourer instead.
In this top of the range R-Line form, its sights are clearly set on the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. That’s a pretty bold ambition, so let’s see if the Arteon has the walk to match VW’s big talk.
The Arteon’s exterior is a far cry from VW’s typically restrained form, is undoubtedly one of the most striking machines on the road, and ticks many boxes in the “how to make a car look sexy” checklist: it’s got a long and low side profile, swoopy fastback roofline, massive 20-inch wheels, and visually uplifting scallops and creases all down its length, particularly on the full-width clamshell bonnet.
All the above is neat, but the Arteon’s face is really the standout feature of its styling. It’s got the widest grille of any Volkswagen in recent memory with multiple chromed slats to make the car look even lower and wider. What’s really cool though is how those slats blend into the headlights, which give the car a brooding scowl.
Even more telling is the fact that the Arteon turned heads and invited smartphone camera salutes like no other more-than-two-door car I’ve driven.
It certainly helps that the test car was painted in a very distinctive Kurkuma (aka tumeric) Yellow, but you know VW is definitely on to something when even target-customer-segment 3 Series Coupe drivers fully turn around to snap a pic while waiting at the lights.
Unfortunately, that same visual extravagance doesn’t quite extend to the interior. The driving environment is virtually indistinguishable from the Passat – apart from carbonfibre-effect R-Line seats – and given the Arteon’s position as flagship of the VW range, a more unique aesthetic to the cabin wouldn’t have gone amiss.
That said though, a Passat’s interior is already solid as they come, you wouldn’t call it full of grace and flourishes, but Volkswagen’s clean, spacious interior design surely has its own legion of fans.
As is the case with most VWs, the build quality and materials are up there with the premium brands, and the frameless windows, analogue clock and dashboard-wide air vent exude a classy elegance. Ergonomically it’s very well resolved too, with a superb driving position and an infotainment display that’s responsive, intuitive to use, and has the most vivid graphics of any screen this side of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
This 9.2-inch Discover Pro unit has a multitude of different functions too, including a lap timer, G-meter and instantaneous power read-out. Adding to the high-tech feel at night is a Tron-esque LED ambient lighting strip that rings the dashboard and doors.
Equally impressive inside is the amount of space available. The MQB architecture’s flexibility has allowed it to be 39mm wider and 95mm longer than the already-spacious Passat, with a near 50mm stretch in the wheelbase. This translates into a limo-like amount of legroom – far more than any of its premium rivals can manage – and cavernous cargo-carrying capacity: 563 -litres with the rear seats up or 1,557-litres with them folded.
So, copious amounts of space mean that occupants will easily feel grand inside, but when it comes to touring, the Arteon’s a bit of a mixed bag. For starters, the 20-inch rims may look amazing, but out on the road the 35-profile tyres can struggle to cope with bumps.
It’s not unbearable, particularly at the softer end of the Dynamic Chassis Control (you can choose from 43 suspension settings on a scale from Comfort to Sport), but you’ll often be aware of what’s going on underneath you.
Similarly in the twisties, the Arteon is very capable but lacks sparkle – the all-wheel drive fires you out of corners with zero intervention from the traction control, and the wide track combines with the DCC to make for astonishingly high cornering limits, but it never goads you into pushing harder just for fun. In that sense it’s still very Passat-esque, erring more on ease of daily use than the sharp end of dynamism, but that’s perfectly within the VW brand brief anyway.
The Arteon does certainly go as fast as it looks though, the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine being in the same state of tune as that in the 2017-and-earlier Golf R. That means 280hp and 350Nm of torque, which, together with all-wheel drive, equals 0-100km/h in a brisk 5.6-seconds, which is way faster than all the usual suspects at this price point.
The key to the Arteon’s success then, lies in its perceived value against rivals. At $220,400 with COE, the Arteon R-Line is not a cheap car, slotting into the middle of its two main rivals’ model ranges: the A5 SB can be had with 190hp or 250hp, costing $202k or $267k, while the 420i and 430i GC, with 180hp and 250hp, come in at $204k and $257k respectively (all prices with COE). Those who are peering at the cars with smaller horsepower figures and prices, the Arteon will also be sold in less spendy 190hp Elegance form by the middle of 2018.
The Arteon definitely a lot more striking to behold though, and in classic VW fashion, makes an owner’s life easier with a lot of equipment as standard, such as an excellent surround-view camera, Dynaudio sound system, heads up display, Park Assist, a proactive occupant protection system (bracing occupants before an imminent impact) and front assist with autonomous braking function, features which are hard to come across in the low $200k range.
So, the Arteon makes for an excellent value proposition, but along that line it’s hard to argue with the sheer horsepower-per-dollar of the also-newly-launched Kia Stinger. The Kia though, can’t match the VW-level quality, nor its feature set, and badge perception is yet another thing altogether.
The Arteon has lots going for it : It’s plenty refined on the road, there’s more than ample performance if needed, everything in the cabin feels solidly built and premium to touch, and there’s been an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to toys and features. It shakes up the idea of what a VW can offer, though less than we expected, as it still adheres to all the best Wolfsburg has to offer. It’s not a sports car, nor a sedan, but having an Arteon is a grand thing indeed.
Volkswagen Arteon 2.0 TSI R-Line
Engine 1,998cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 280hp at 5100-6500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1700-5600rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.3L/100km
Price $220,400 with COE
Agent Volkswagen Singapore
Verdict: Grand in many senses of the word – it’s not Golf R type mania, but fast, composed, useful and a beautiful bargain too.