For a company more accustomed to building hatchbacks, estates and SUVs, Volkswagen is straying into unfamiliar ground by doubling the number of large coupes (meaning ones significantly heftier than the Scirocco or Beetle) in its portfolio. Like the CC, the new Arteon is never going to sell in great numbers – “don’t expect us to announce that it has become one of our top five models,” a VW spokesman told me – but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. As I hope to demonstrate here, it’s a very good car.
The Arteon looks snarlier than the CC, and although it uses the same MQB platform (also the basis of more VW Group products than you can shake a stick at) it’s quite a bit larger: 60mm front to back, 16mm side to side and 33mm up and down. The front and rear axles are a whole 127mm further apart.
You might think this means it’s roomier, and you’d be bang on the money. Oh yes. Like nearly every other car on sale today, it has as much space up front as a corn-fed couple of fellows could require. The surprise is that there’s even more room in the back.
This is not one of those coupes whose rear seats are useless for carrying anything other than a bag of shopping and a couple of jackets. Climb in (an easy process, since the Arteon is a five-door) and you’ll find, even if the front seats are set as far back as they will go, that there’s an almost limousine-like amount of legroom back there. Headroom is more limited because of the roofline, but there is still a more than adequate amount of it.
What? Yes, yes, I’m coming to the driving experience, but I have to tell you about the luggage compartment first. Capacity: 563 litres with the seats up. Seats down, 1557 litres. Good, huh? And this is in a car which, praise be, comes as standard with a full-sized spare wheel.
Several drivetrains are available, but at the moment I can speak from experience only about cars with 148bhp single turbo TDI diesel, 237bhp twin turbo BiTDI diesel and 276bhp TSI turbo petrol engines, all of them two litres in capacity, all with seven-speed DSG semi-automatic transmission (there is no such thing as a manual Arteon) and all with four-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is also available for engines producing less than 200bhp).
For me, the TDI is all the Arteon needs. As will be seen, this is not a car that tempts you to push hard. The BiTDI can be amusingly quick in a straight line, but I’m not sure I see the point. And although the TSI is the fastest, its engine does its best work long after you would have had to change up in either of the diesels. In a car like this I prefer to get the performance I want without revving too hard. Your mileage may of course vary.
A couple of surprises. The Arteon TSI should have a dynamic advantage because it has less nose weight, but in fact the diesels are so poised that all three cars feel very similar.
Also, I’ve tried a mix of 245/45 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres on 18″ wheels and 245/40 Pirelli P Zeros on 19s, and while I would have expected the former to give a better ride there’s really not much to choose between them. Once again, each car feels very much like the other two.
In both trim levels – Elegance and the more expensive R-Line, which differ mostly in the matter of interior and exterior detail – the Arteon has Dynamic Chassis Control with modes called Normal, Sport and Comfort.
While many owners will probably pick one of these (or perhaps continue with whichever one the car was in when it left the dealer) and never change, I think it’s worth switching from one to another as conditions dictate. For example, Comfort is absolutely splendid on a well-surfaced and not too complicated road, but it doesn’t serve the car well along a rougher, twistier country lane, where Sport tightens everything up nicely.
The major controls are all delightful. Volkswagen has become exceptionally good at providing smooth transitions from one steering, brake or throttle position to another. This is very evident in the Golf, and equally so in the Arteon. In each, you can go as quickly or as slowly as you like and still enjoy the car’s behaviour.
It’s even actively good, rather than passively acceptable, when you’re wafting through a residential area at very low speeds. Reversing is simple, not just because there’s a camera for that in the options list but also because, for a coupe, the Arteon has remarkably good rear three-quarter visibility. A lot better than the Golf hatchback has, certainly.
UK pricing starts at £33,505 for the front-wheel drive 187bhp TSI Elegance (not referred to above) and extends to £39,955 for the 237bhp BiTDI R-Line, with the 276bhp TSI R-Line a close second at £39,540. The fitment of many optional extras meant that each of the cars I’ve driven so far would cost just under £45,000.
You don’t need me to remind you that Volkswagen has inflicted deep misery on itself with the recent emissions scandal, and you may be put off its cars for that reason (though registration figures across Europe suggest that not many people think this way, or at least behave as if they do).
I can understand that, and largely sympathise with it. It doesn’t alter the fact that VW has done one hell of a job with the Arteon. No, it will never be the company’s most popular car, but it is one of its best.