Car reviews - Volkswagen - Arteon - 206TSI R-Line
Amazing looks, proven and potent driveline, loads of tech for the money
Room for improvement
Is there such a thing as too much tech? Can be too firm in Sport mode
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1 Nov 2017
By TIM ROBSON
As a brand, Volkswagen has long straddled the divide in Australia between quasi-prestige Euro and affordable mass-market – and sometimes uncomfortably so.
Now, though, a new catchphrase, ‘premium for the people’, resonates across the company’s various product lines. Gone, according to bosses, are the days of price-matching against rival brands for market share, while the local arm is – it says – working ultra hard on lifting the customer experience across both the shop floor and service bays of its dealer network.
This is where the new Arteon comes in. It’s unabashedly taking aim at people who might be considering a blue-and-white propeller or a three-pointed star on the nose of their next car, offering up an enticing level of genuinely cutting-edge tech at a bargain basement price that, according to VW, is not in any way a loss-leading exercise.
The Arteon – named, oddly, after artwork and the Chinese market Phideon sedan, the company’s largest – is sold in a single, highly contented spec level at a price designed to make BMW and Merc prospective buyers sit up and take notice.
Is it worth their consideration?
In truth, we’ve driven the Arteon’s driveline several times before. The 206kW EA888 four-cylinder petrol engine/seven-speed DSG/all-wheel-drive/electronic limited slip diff combo graces the Golf R, as well as the Passat 206TSI.
The platform, too, is familiar stuff an MQB chassis that’s 50mm longer than the Passat, with 45mm extra room in the rear and 46mm more between the front and rear axles. It’s also about 20mm lower, as well.
It’s a four-door, five-seater, with a large, powered hatch-like tailgate that reveals a tonne of luggage space at 563 litres, it’s 23 litres shy of the Passat sedan, but the 1152 litres of total space is eclipsed by the 1557-litre space in the Arteon when seats are flipped forward.
From the outside, the Arteon is striking, eschewing the more flowing, and occasionally underwhelming, subtlety of a Passat. It’s very bold, but manages to restrain itself and not look overly macho or sportscar-like. Riding on its optional 20-inch rims, it’s every bit a modern saloon car.
The front-end treatment, too, is apparently a big indication of where the brand is taking its design language. If you look carefully at the adaptive LED headlights, they are actually built into the horizontal bars that make up the grille. Foglights have been banished, too, replaced by cornering lights that add extra luminescence when high beams are used.
Stepping inside, the frameless doors separate it further from the Passat, and while it’s no secret you’re aboard a VW, it’s sufficiently high-tech that the similarities between the two cars in terms of layout are less obvious.
The Active Info Display digital dash is standard, along with a new-to-the-brand head-up display that shows speed and navigation. The HUD unit itself, though, is an oddly old-school design that uses a sliding glass screen to display its info. It can be retracted into the dash to clean up the windscreen view, though.
The standard seats are great, with a good balance between comfort and support, while the sunroof-equipped version doesn’t steal too much headroom from the interior. It does mean, however, that the passenger grab handle is deleted from the spec.
There’s plenty of leg and toe room in the rear, and a 12-volt port, USB port and climate control panel for back seaters. Headroom is slightly compromised for taller passengers, though the price to pay for that sleek silhouette.
The Arteon is also pushed upstream of the Passat by dint of its own bespoke suspension tuning, and the addition of extra sound deadening. Our initial test stint aboard a version equipped with 20-inch rims did reveal more road noise intrusion than expected, but a follow-up run on the standard 19-inch wheelset performed much better.
VW is pushing the Arteon’s sporting prowess, but the car actually falls out of its comfort zone when the adaptive dampers are switched into Sport mode. The ride quality becomes fussy quickly, and the Arteon doesn’t track as cleanly over more broken terrain.
Likewise, the Comfort mode can feel a little underdone, as well, but less so than the Sport mode. The Individual mode can now be preset to one of 43 locations between comfort and sport, but to us this new system removes the essence of the Individual mode. Want a car with Sport gearbox and engine response but soft dampers? You can’t have it any more, which is a shame.
The Arteon is actually best left to its own devices in Auto mode. Here, the well behaved – if slightly dim-witted – mechanical all-wheel-drive system can send torque to the relevant end quickly, the ride never deteriorates to be too brittle, and the engine response is more than adequate to punt the large saloon along at a brisk clip.
The steering is neutral verging on unfeeling, but it does a sufficiently good job of taming the front end as required.
We also briefly tested the Arteon’s semi-autonomous abilities that allows it to steer itself at speed, as well as operate in traffic without intervention from the driver, and while it’s not yet at the level of Mercedes-Benz, for example, it’s impressively close.
It is, however, flummoxed when no painted lines are available to guide it, and we’d be maintaining a close eye on the system at all times – at least until its peccadillos revealed themselves.
When the pace is backed off, the Arteon reveals itself as a car that’s a small but noticeable step above its donor sibling in dynamics and comfort. The level of technology is impressive, yet it won’t overwhelm an owner who’s not that interested in bells and whistles.
As a tech leader, the Arteon points to a more tech-heavy future for VW, which is bound to be echoed in forthcoming models like the all-new Touareg. It certainly won’t outsell the Passat, but as a flagship saloon, the Arteon hits the brief very well.
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