Johannesburg - We don’t often advise readers to ignore the badge on the bonnet when they climb into a new model, but in this case I think it’s justified, because Volkswagen’s new Arteon comes as a surprise on a number of levels.

It’s the first seriously sexy Volkswagen since the Scirocco, but on a whole new level, with gravitas and presence that you wouldn’t expect from the company that brought you the Lupo and the Up.

It’s bigger than it looks in the pictures, close to five metres long and two metres wide, but less than one and a half metres high, and the two strakes that run across the grille and morph into the daytime running lights emphasise its sporty stance.

The outer edges of the clamshell bonnet (a single huge pressing that VW engineers admit was something of a challenge to production-engineer) becomes a razor-sharp character line, almost but not quite perfectly straight, all the way down down the side of the car till it meets the upper edge of the tail-light cluster, underlining the dramatic sweep of the roof.

It’s at the same time more luxurious and less showy inside than you’d expect, finished in top-stitched leather with smooth faux fibre and gloss black trim rather than wood veneer, boasting multi-memory power adjustable seats, three-zone climate control, a full suite of driver aids and a superb digital instrument panel.

It’s a lot more sporty than it looks; the 130kW turbodiesel has enough mid-range grunt to make it an entertaining drive and the 206kW all-wheel drive, two-litre TSI (straight out of the Golf R, says VW) is content to waft you around town as if to the manor born - and then rev like a race car when the time comes to put some GTI Joe in his place, hitting 100km/h off the line in a claimed 5.6 seconds, a claim I see no reason to doubt.

But the biggest surprise came when VW let us loose on the tight and twisty 2.5km Zwartkop Raceway in its new family sedan. The car’s progressive power steering takes just two turns lock to lock, compared to the 2.4 of most of its competitors. It steers like an Alfa (which is a huge compliment to the Arteon) and what VW calls its gran turismo car can be placed exactly where you want it on the circuit, to the centimetre.

And in the automotive war zone that is downtown Joburg at mid-morning, that precision translates to a car that threads its way through the traffic with confidence-inspiring ease, and plenty of torque in reserve for overtaking manoeuvres.

Volkswagen’s stated purpose in creating the Arteon was to retain the customers who, when the time comes to turn in their Golf GTI for a family car, tend to migrate to premium German brands. But that puts the Arteon in the invidious position of competing against VW’s own premium brand - Audi - while battling for a share of a dwindling market as family car buyers the world over ditch sedans in favour of SUV’s.

Which is why we say, forget the badge; judge this engaging and unexpectedly well-appointed family GT on its merits. It might just surprise you.

Click here for more details of the three-strong model line-up.

PRICES (including VAT and emissions tax)

2.0 TDI 130kW Elegance DSG R599 900
2.0 TDI 130kW R-Line DSG R649 900
2.0 TSI 206kW R-Line 4Motion DSG R699 900

These include a three-year or 120 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km maintenance plan.

DIESEL RIVALS

Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI 140kW/400Nm R647 000
BMW 420d Gran Coupe 140kW/400Nm R664 200
Jaguar XE 20d Prestige 132kW/400Nm R631 500

PETROL RIVALS

Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport auto 185kW/370Nm R781 500
BMW 430i Gran Coupe auto 185kW/350Nm R739 139
Lexus IS 350 F-Sport 222kW/378Nm R753 300

IOL Motoring