Volkswagen's return to the premium sector - dominated by brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes - comes in the shape of the Arteon, the biggest Volkswagen you've seen in a very long time. But how does it stack up against those big names ?
The last time we saw a big, premium end of the market Volkswagen was the Phaeton, a rather lumbering 230 horse power beast that garnered criticism for having little unique to say for itself and for looking rather like a bulked up Passat. This time a lot more thought had gone in to the latest high-end Volkswagen in order to take on the more iconic competition. The real question therefore is whether the buyers of premium cars such as the Audi A5, the Mercedes C-Class and the BMW 4 Series will turn to a car more identified as mass market than truly upmarket ? As a thousand marketing texts and profit returns will attest, branding is a very powerful control.
19" wheels give the Arteon a big profile.
Firstly, the Arteon is a big car, especially when sitting on 19" wheels. It looks a great deal longer than the Passat, but it's not really and yet it still comes across as a very large road presence. In "tumeric yellow", as the test car was painted, it stands out in a profile that won't have it mistaken for any other car. The main styling cue is the sloped roof towards the back which gives it a coupe profile, rather like the CC which it replaces, but that does'nt mean you lose the practical attraction of a hatchback. This certainly gives it an edge over a comparable C-Class.
The interior space is very impressive. Most cars with a coupe-style profile compromise but the Arteon has acres of space and even in the back a six-foot adult won't have any difficulty with head and legroom. In fact, it is clear that VW has given a nod to their own group designers who came up with the rear layout of the Skoda Superb, which has the best rear space around. The Arteon manages to do the same. A question arises though. If you need that space it is a great benefit but what if you don't and you therefore don't really want the raher elongated profile of the car ? It's a matter of individual choice and one you need to think about in terms of its turning circle and how easily you want to park in a car park.
I found the car a treat to drive but not an exciting one. It has very good road manners and handles well but you won't have quite the same dynamic experience as you have with a BMW or an Audi. But it is a relative issue. The car has no serious flaws in this regard and its ride is excellent.
The car had a 2.0 litre diesel engine, mated to Volkswagen's impressive DSG automatic box and combining to produce seriously good high-mileage performance. But if ever a car proved that a diesel car needs high mileage to get the best out of it then this is one. Around town it could drink fuel and return as little as 15.4 litres per 100 km but on the open road it could settle in at a very impressive 6 litres per 100, or about 48 miles to the gallon in old money.
The dashboard and displays are function and practical.
The dashboard and general cockpit layout are typically VW and I think a bit more effort would have captialised on the impressive technology available inside the car, although ambient lighting and active information display did add something. All controls are as I like them - easily managed and without any recourse to over-sensitive and distracting touch pads and the like. The screen is big and clear and has very good graphics.
Add lots of other technology, like the ability of the car to nudge you back to the right side of a white line when you stray, really good dynamic cruise control with predictive speed control, LED lights, rear running lights, rear-traffic alert, adaptive chassis control and keyless entry and you have a car that is very well engineered.
But here's the rub. The Arteon costs €53,553 that is a premium whack. It's hard to compare like with like in this segment because of the number of extra items of equipment specified but an Audi A5 sportback will come in at around €47,000 (although it does not have the practical profile of the Arteon) and a comparable 4 Series BMW will come at around €58,000.
The questions are whether you need all that room and whether you would opt for the VW badge over that of an Audi or a BMW. Somehow, I don't see affluent buyers flocking to make that move away from that powerful force - branding - notwithstanding the considerable merits of the Arteon. After all, it took Lexus a very long time not to become known as the big Toyota.