Strapping Art'on: VW Arteon Driven

Text and photos by Derryn Wong, Top Gear.

It's time to play 'what car' again. We don't lament the days when a man was a man, rainbow cakes were rainbow cakes, and a job was something only people of a certain gender could do. After all, if you love cars, then it's also likely a big component of that affection comes from the idea that cars are a personal symbol, and one highly associated with freedom.

However we do lament the days when a coupe was a coupe, and a GT was quite clearly, a GT. These days, it's hardly obvious what a new car is supposed to be, which is exactly quite a large bit of the entire motoring journalist job scope. It's not all sitting around eating parma ham canapes and pulling donuts, unless you're Editor Dave, in which case just add more real bacon-glazed donuts.

But we're not traditionalists, so we tend to welcome anything that disrupts the established hierarchy in a good way - like BMW's i3 or i8, or a plug-in Porsche Panamera Turbo S with a whacking great V8.

 

The car you see here isn't as disruptive on a structural scale, but we certainly like what Volkswagen's doing with the Arteon. The fancy name is a combination of uh, 'art' and 'eon'. We like it better than the combination of 'tiger' and 'iguana' at least.

I suppose 'timeless art' is what VW is trying to imply here, with the project personnel on the ground saying it took a mere two years to go from concept to reality. The fact that a replacement for the successful four-door coupe the Passat CC/CC would always have been on the cards notwithstanding, the Arteon is based heavily on the appearance of the Sport Coupe GTE Concept the brand debuted at Geneva in 2015.

There's no mistaking the link between the two - squint a little and they're exactly the same, unlike with some production cars that claim to have been inspired by a certain concept car, perhaps inspired in the sense that the designers looked at the original, had an all-night bender and woke up scribbling the production version's lines with their non-master hand.

We're all for radical moves, sometimes just for the heck of it, but we know slightly-staid VW wouldn't make a move like that without confidence (especially post-Dieselgate) and good reasons. The first is that the Arteon bodes well for the next generation of VW design and it's already a culmination of what we saw in recent VW models like the Tiguan: More clean lines, gentle angles, an almost Bauhaus approach without too much flourish, lots of 'because we can' body creases and more.

The second reason is that the Arteon is expected to sell especially well in China, with a long-wheelbase version of course, and will be joined by the A6-based Phideon luxury big sedan, though the latter is a Middle Kingdom exclusive.

The Arteon gets off to a good start in the eyeball-pleasing department. From afar it looks purposeful, there's lots of road presence too as it's longer, lower and wider than the already-enlarged eighth-gen Passat, but of course it gets the help of that wing-ed face, the 'widescreen' bonnet that stretches over the wheels (like the A5), the fastback rear door and the chunkier shoulders that flank it. The R-Line spec machine shown here adds the wider, grimacing sides with C-shaped piano-black trim elements.

It ties in neatly with what VW is calling the machine, terming it a five-door GT rather than a four-door coupe. In other words, it's signalling the intent for the Arteon to take on cars like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback, the former newly-facelifted for 2017 and the latter totally new and on the heels of the next-gen A5 coupe.

The interior is familiar and Passat-esque: Large, modern, airy and unlike the Passat CC, a proper five-seater from the get go. Keying the engine and idle is almost silent, as expected the car rides the same MQB transverse engine platform as almost all new VWs do, though naturally it's most closely related to the Passat.

Peeling away from our start point at Hanover Airport, the signs are good. It's refined, relaxed and roomy, and there's now even more scope for customisation. Our fully-loaded testcar came with adaptive suspension and progressive steering, so the drive modes changed those characteristics too. The suspension too can now be tweaked on a whole spectrum of soft to sporty, and even fussy drivers should be able to find a setting that's Goldilocks all-round.

Under the bonnet the familiar EA888 2.0-litre provides familiar thrills - it's 280bhp strong, and paired with the typically-quick DSG and all-wheel drive, it fires easily out of corners and delivers an un-boring soundtrack to boot, even in comparison to Merc's or BMW's turbo fours. We also had a short go in the 240bhp TDI model, which has a biturbo engine and 500Nm - it feels quicker at most speeds and the imperious, effortless torque was a better match for the Arteon's GT ambitions.

The only fly in our drying paint were the 20-inch wheels, which we felt delivered a bit too much thump, though there's no denying the correctness of appearance they deliver to the Arteon. Singapore cars are likely to get 18- or 19-inchers, which should ride better in terms of all-round dynamics.

There's not much by way of scenery in this part of Germany, it looks like one stretch of farmland to another, a little scrub or brush here, a cornfield there. We're not far from the border of the Netherlands - Hanover is just over a 100km from the border - so the terrain here is almost exactly alike. That is to say, as driving routes go, it's pretty boring.

So while we felt the Arteon was more than up for the challenge, we couldn't really tell thanks to the relative rarity of proper, sinuous bends and total absence of elevation changes. Over the single piece of unlimited autobahn though, we can say the Arteon's very composed and quiet at close to 200km/h.

All the better to test the adaptive cruise and steering then, all of which works very well, so if you do choose to slack off in places with utterly boring driving roads (i.e. Singapore) it's simple, and now it's even simpler.

One new feature the Arteon debuts is active cruise control that also takes into account navigation data. After you've punched the route into the infotainment system, the car not only takes into account speed and distance from surrounding traffic, it'll also slow down automatically as you approach a bend or roundabout. The system works well, and since a GT is about fast, effortless pace too, so this in our book is a welcome addition to the car's arsenal.

If you're a driving purist then you can simply opt out or not switch it on at all, but we suspect that sort of audience won't look at an Arteon at all. It'll gain more attention from upgraders or those who want German quality and design pizzazz at less cost or with less badge-baggage.

This article was first published on Top Gear.

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