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MOTORING: Volkswagen Arteon: The art of turning heads

A Volkswagen glamorous enough to turn heads? That’s exactly what the makers of the original people’s car – the immortal Beetle – have managed with the sleek and sexy Arteon. But is it enough to translate admiration into sales?

In a market where 2,000 or so different models compete for a slice of a shrinking car sales pie, it takes something special to attract attention. And I mean attention: the kind of attention that has people following you in traffic to get a closer look, or hanging out of windows on the highway to give you an enthusiastic thumbs up while snapping a cellphone pic. If I was behind the wheel of something achingly exotic, a pristinely-kept classic or an astonishingly futuristic machine I wouldn’t be that taken aback. But what I’m piloting bears a badge that’s the epitome of mass-market motoring: Volkswagen. Admittedly, the Volkswagen of today is a far cry from the Wolfsburg upstart that made its name churning out cheap and cheerful, bug-eyed, rear-engined cars. The Beetle would go on to become one of the best-selling cars of all time, nurturing entire generations of motorists around the globe in the process. Comparing today’s Polo or Up! to the classic Beetle goes some way to illustrating just how far the brand has progressed. It’s also gone from one-trick pony to parenting a comprehensive product portfolio that covers almost every conceivable segment. Is adding the new Arteon to the mix Volkswagen’s attempt to add a premium player to its model offensive? It wouldn’t be the first time: back in 2003, the Phaeton was built in a special ‘glass’ factory and sought to stake a claim of the S-Class/7-Series/A8 market. That experiment lasted 13 years and yielded just short of 85,000 sales, with China (where they love large limos) its biggest market. The Arteon approaches the premium market from a different angle. Compared to the Phaeton, it’s visually wieldier and financially more accessible. Volkswagen’s push upmarket might make its Audi stablemate feel a little uncomfortable. But then, considering the sophistication and equipment levels of the latest Polo and upcoming Golf, the quest for premium recognition runs much deeper than the Arteon. Vitally, the newcomer expresses a design language that, while proudly Volkswagen, is both smarter and forward-looking, setting a styling path that may well be followed by the marque’s volume sellers going forward. That makes the Arteon as much a brand builder as a luxury car contender. Up close, Volkswagen’s new crown prince is larger than expected. The low, wide stance, the wind-cheating shape and the coupé-like silhouette do well to disguise the car’s actual dimensions. Wide tracks and short overhangs contribute to an unmistakably athletic appeal, but it’s balanced by a strong sense of crafted individuality. Specifically, the way the front end showcases the grille’s strong horizontal lines and the tidy incorporation of the slimline LED headlights is a powerful design signature. And let’s get one thing straight: the Arteon isn’t just a Passat in fancy dress. Nor is it a successor to the CC, which was effectively a dressed-up Passat. The Arteon is a new nameplate, borne by a larger, sleeker and sexier machine than the humdrum CC ever was. It also exudes an instinctive desirability that doesn’t have to rely on brand loyalty, and exceeds expectations from every angle. The Arteon’s defining visual feature is its fastback profile, which endows the car with a sweeping, coupé-like shape. It’s another interpretation of the four-door coupé trend, but to Volkswagen’s credit, the execution is particularly balanced and convincing. Aesthetics meet practicality in this big VW, too. The fastback rear centres around a large tailgate that opens high and wide to reveal a cavernous cargo space. There’s 563 litres of luggage space on offer, while the maximum length of 1.18m is pretty impressive, too. Want to lug home a kitchen sink? Well, folding down the rear seatback boosts the cargo area to 1,557 litres … While we’re on the subject of space, the Arteon’s rear passengers can look forward to stretch-out comfort. The rear legroom approaches limousine levels, making the rear seating a standout feature, even for tall folk. And for once, headroom isn’t an issue, despite the curved roofline. Up front, it’s a mix of tech and luxury. The dashboard is an all-digital affair, with virtual instruments neatly arranged on a high-res TFT display, and a large touchscreen for the infotainment system dominating the centre stack. You can configure the virtual instruments to suit personal preference, while the touchscreen provides intuitive access to the infotainment system’s full feature set, including satnav, Bluetooth, hi-fi sound (courtesy of Danish experts Dynaudio), vehicle settings, and more. The parking assistance system is also linked to the touchscreen, and provides a reverse camera view in full colour, together with audible and visible parking prompts. The interior execution is luxurious without resorting to lavish overkill. The leather upholstery with carbon-look bolsters looks and feels upmarket, and the electric seats (with memory) provide ample adjustment scope. The soft-touch surfaces, metallic inserts and brightwork accents all conspire to confirm the big VW’s premium aspirations. Even more importantly, the finishes feel as smart as they look. The Arteon comes in TDI turbodiesel and TSI turbo petrol flavours. The test unit was powered by the latter: a specifically uprated version of VW’s 2.0-litre TSI turbo mill. For its role here, the four-cylinder mill gets 206kW of muscle, coupled to a lusty 350Nm of torque – the latter already fully on song from just 1,700rpm. Transferring the engine’s urge to the wheels is a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, while drive is to all four wheels via VW’s intelligently managed 4Motion all-wheel drive. Progress is best described as effortless. The Arteon’s engineers have done well to limit the four-door’s kerb mass to below 1.7 tons, and the result is sparkling acceleration, with the 100km/h mark coming up in well under 6sec. There’s nothing GTI-like about the way the Arteon hauls off the line. The all-wheel drive means there’s no rubber-burning drama off the mark, and there’s an inherent serenity to the way the car gathers speed that underplays just how rapid its progress really is. The gearbox goes about its shifting business with unobtrusive competence, either in full auto mode, or commanded by the driver via the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The latter option is certainly more involving, but it’s just more convenient to let the ‘box do its own thing. With loads of torque on tap across such a broad power band, the big VW’s effortlessness extends to most driving conditions. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, its inherent refinement cossets its occupants in comfort, taking the edge off peak hour-induced frustrations. Driven with intent, the Arteon seems to shrink around the driver, displaying a mix of poise and agility that makes fast cross-country driving a pleasure. It’s well up to the twisty challenges of a mountain pass, offering confidence-boosting composure while still ironing out the bumpy bits. Dial in the adaptive cruise control in flowing highway conditions, and you get some idea of what autonomous driving might be like one day. Admittedly, it’s no longer a novelty in modern car terms, but the Arteon adapts to the speed of traffic ahead with smooth assurance, and gathers speed with almost pre-emptive alacrity. An arm-long list of safety and driver assistance systems delivers further peace of mind. There’s really very little to criticise here: from concept to execution, Volkswagen seems to have hit the luxury nail on the head. Arresting styling, effortless performance, generous interior space, convincing quality and an air of exclusivity are all part of the package. What then about that badge displayed so proudly on the grille? Will the fact that the Arteon is a Volkswagen count against it? The instinctive answer is yes: despite its considerable strengths, the new flagship’s credentials aren’t as convincing as those of established premium brands – yet. However, the Arteon is the first, truly convincing expression of what Volkswagen is capable of in the premium context. That may already be enough to sway those VW loyalists graduating from mainstream to premium to stick with a brand they already love and trust. In the bigger picture, however, the real impact of the Arteon will be its halo effect on the rest of the Volkswagen range. More than merely turning heads, this aspirational four-door coupé is mapping an upward trajectory for the entire Volkswagen product family. DM PROS Distinctive and desirable, linked to serene dynamics. A lot of car for the money. CONS Still has to prove its worth as a true premium contender. VITAL STATS

VW Arteon 2.0 TSI 4Motion Highline
Engine In-line four-cylinder, 1,984cc, turbo
Power 206kW @ 5,100 – 6,500rpm
Torque 350Nm @ 1,700 – 5,600rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 125.53 kW/ton
Gearbox Seven-speed dual-clutch, 4Motion AWD
Wheels/tyres 20-inch alloy, 245/45 R20 tyres
0-100 km/h 5.6sec
Top speed 250km/h
Fuel tank capacity 66 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed) 7.3 litres/100km
Operating range (claimed) 904km
CO2 emissions 164 g/km
Retail price R699,000

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