Johannesburg - Volkswagen has taken quite a leap of faith in launching its Arteon at a time when a sedan is a body type that’s becoming ever more marginalised, with so many of today’s vehicle buyers going gaga over SUVs.
Even formerly popular executive sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 are struggling to find anywhere near the number of buyers they used to - which means that a R699 900 four-door Volkswagen will probably be quite a hard-sell. That’s a pity, because the new Arteon is a fine piece of car and in a world where vehicles were judged solely on their ability, rather than badge snobbery or the need to sit a few millimetres higher, it deserves to sell in decent numbers.
But the Arteon does have an ace up its sleeve: it turns heads. VW describes the Arteon as a five-door Gran Turismo which translated means it’s a sedan with a sexy coupe-style roofline.
At nearly 4.9 metres long it’s a large car and nearly as long as an Audi A7, but it avoids looking all bloated thanks to its fastback design and elegant long-wheelbase proportions. It has a striking frontal presence with its three-dimensional LED headlights and daytime running lights that merge with the chrome-plated crossbars of the radiator grille.
It’s the old beauty’s-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder deal, but judging by the appreciative stares of onlookers the Arteon’s designers have hit the sweet spot.
Under all that stylish show-and-tell is a spacious car with lots of practicality. The wide tailgate opens onto a large 563-litre boot that houses a full-sized spare wheel, and with the seats flipped down there’s ample room for bulky objects.
Space in the back seat is cavernous, and headroom isn’t compromised by the apparently low-slung roof.
The name, incidentally, is a mishmash of Art and Eon, the latter identifying it as a premium model in the same way as VW’s top model for the Chinese market, the Phideon.
The Arteon’s sold in a trio of diesel and petrol models and on test here is the flagship R Line 4Motion DSG, powered by the same drivetrain found in the Golf R hot hatch: a 2-litre TSI petrol turbo wielding 206kW and 350Nm (it’s detuned from the 213kW and 380Nm of the Golf R), driving all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG transmission.
Just as the styling of this large sedan isn’t swollen, so too does it not feel bloated or heavy to drive.There is predictably more reluctance in initial acceleration than the smaller and lighter Golf R, and first gear feels a little long.
But while the Arteon doesn’t exploit the power with the same excitement or the gruff roar of the Golf R, there’s still plenty of performance on offer here. Apart from some initial lag off the line, the Arteon TSI gets around in a big hurry, with hearty mid-gear acceleration that effortlessly slingshots past long trucks.
VW quotes 0-100km/h in 5.6 seconds and a 250km/h top speed, which places it squarely in sports sedan territory. Fuel consumption in our test car averaged 9.9 litres per 100km, which is quite frugal for the performance on offer.
The ride-handling balance is well resolved, and along with its comfortable suspension the Arteon has slick-cornering abilities for a big car.
There’s no wallowy or cumbersome nature and this large gran turismo carves neatly through bends. The all wheel drive delivers safe all-weather traction in conjunction with electronic stability control.
The wheel arches of our test car were filled by 20” mags wearing low profile tyres, which serve up style if not necessarily the best ride quality; they introduce a small measure of judder to the car’s otherwise smooth-gliding finesse. For a smoother ride, the higher-profile 19” tyres that come standard should make a better bet.
All versions of the Arteon are equipped with a touchscreen infotainment system, but the R Line has the larger 23cm system with a crystal clear tabet-like display. Navigation and gesture control come standard, as does the ability to connect your smartphone via Bluetooth or USB, but paying R14 527 extra gets you the sweeter-sounding 700w audio system with a subwoofer.
The high-tech infotainment is part of a smart and sophisticated cabin setting with a premium feel, and in the R Line it’s given a sportier vibe with Nappa leather/carbon style seats, aluminium pedals, and roof liner in ‘titanium black’.
In R Line trim the Arteon’s specced with premium features including a panoramic sunroof, three-zone climate control, front sport seats that are electrically adjustable and heated, and an Active Info Display digital instrument panel.
Some high-tech driver assistance is thrown into the bargain, including emergency auto braking when it senses a potential collision, and adaptive cruise control. Dipping into the extra-cost options menu gets you additional features like a bird’s eye view parking aid, and a head up display.
Placing a Volkswagen into the same league as a BMW 4 Series, Audi A5, and Mercedes C-Class coupe is a brave move. The Arteon has the style and refinement to cruise in this turf, and it’s also a larger and more powerful car than rivals that cost more money. But how will potential buyers accept that less premium badge? Perhaps, like VW, they need to take a leap of faith.