Upcoming Volkswagen Luxury Sedan
Volkswagen has fused stretched dimensions and fastback design into the sexy, spacious five-passenger Arteon sedan. When it goes on sale in summer 2018, power will be supplied by a 268-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four mated to an eight-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive and 18-inch wheels are standard with all-wheel drive and 19-inch wheels available. VW will also offer its new Digital Cockpit, which replaces the main instrument panel with a configurable display, on SEL and Executive trims.
As American buyers continue to snap up a veritable deluge of new crossovers, it seems that a car company would have to be either clueless or desperate to introduce an all-new sedan, especially into a niche like the one that the Volkswagen Arteon will occupy. Alas, VW’s U.S. operation is struggling to sell a dated lineup while trying to make everyone forget Dieselgate. The stylish Arteon will do little to address these problems—that’s the job of the Atlas and the Tiguan, VW’s dynamic duo of new crossovers—but at least when the Arteon replaces the CC a year from now, it will give VW customers something to gawk at in the showroom while they wait on the F&I guy.
When Volkswagen launched the Passat CC back in 2008, pseudo coupes were on the bleeding edge of automotive fashion, and VW seemed to have its finger on the pulse of public desire. Sales in the U.S. were brisk, rising to nearly 30,000 units annually by 2011, but after a mid-cycle refresh for 2013, sales fell off a cliff, dropping to just over 3000 in 2016. To make matters worse, German VW officials told us that they felt the CC did not achieve enough conquest sales, at least not as much as it cannibalized Passat buyers.
So the Arteon takes a dramatic step beyond both the CC and the Passat, not only in styling but in size. The wheelbase is stretched to 111.7 inches, more than an inch longer than the Passat’s and five inches longer than the CC’s. This allows for a rear seat that’s exceptionally roomy, so long as you have no plans to use the middle spot. Leg- and elbowroom are plentiful, and tall passengers should be able to ride in the back without bumping against the headliner. Interior accoutrements are similar to those in the new Atlas, with high-quality materials and a functional, if conservative, design that looks nice while stopping short of treading into Audi’s luxury territory. The luggage compartment sinks deep under the hatch and is roomy enough to accommodate a full-size set of golf clubs diagonally, while a low lift-over height reinforces a practical benefit of the inherently lower center of gravity of a car versus a crossover.
Indeed, the Arteon’s handling benefits from the car being lower and wider than the Passat. It rides on VW’s MQB transverse architecture, which gives the Arteon a stiff structure on which Wolfsburg’s suspension engineers can work their magic. All U.S.-spec cars will have VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control, which allows drivers to choose a base ride quality from among three settings (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) or adjust a virtual slider in the infotainment system that offers even more variability. Regardless of the setting, the dynamic system also adjusts automatically, and VW has tuned the suspension to be both comfortable and responsive, giving the Arteon the sorts of exceptional road manners we’ve come to expect from the brand. This is not, however, a GTI. The Arteon’s steering is precise and direct, but it lacks the feedback of its smaller brand mate.
It also lacks the verve of VW’s hot hatch. The Arteon is a big car with an engine that falls short of delivering the thrills promised by its styling. Our drive was in a Europe-spec car with a 276-hp 2.0-liter engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. While it was quick enough—VW says the Arteon will hit 60 mph from rest in under six seconds, and we had no problems keeping up with traffic on unrestricted sections of the autobahn—it wasn’t so exciting to drive. Our test car was equipped with the optional all-wheel-drive system, which helped push its stated curb weight to more than 3700 pounds.
A little math yields a power-to-weight ratio that is outmatched by V-6 versions of commodity cars like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, not to mention VW’s own Passat. We won’t see the same powertrain combination here, as VW says our version of its corporate turbo inline-four will make 268 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque and be available only with a conventional eight-speed automatic. The front-drive version will be lighter, of course, but with a base price near that of today’s CC (which sells for around $35,000), the Arteon is not going to land on any most-horsepower-per-dollar lists.
VW appears to be hopeful that an extensive list of available features—like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist—will justify the Arteon’s sticker, although it’s unlikely the headlights that use GPS data to direct their beams around corners will be offered in the States. The company’s new 8.0-inch infotainment screen comes standard, and its supplementary Digital Cockpit, a concept borrowed from Audi that replaces the main gauges with a huge TFT screen, is an option. This sort of equipment is getting to be standard issue on cars even a full class below mid-size, which poses a growing problem for would-be “premium” brands trying to wedge products above the mass market and below luxury purveyors, even as brands such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz push downmarket. While VW officials posit that the new Arteon is aimed at poaching customers from the last two, the reality of the U.S. market would indicate otherwise.
There’s still a year to go before VW launches the car here next summer, so some of this could change. Maybe VW will decide to lift the suspension an inch and add some cladding and an Alltrack badge to make it a crossover coupe. Probably not. With only one obvious analogue in the upcoming Buick Regal Sportback, though, the Arteon is sure to succeed in giving mainstream buyers an interesting alternative to the conventional. If that’s not at the core of the VW brand’s mission statement, it should be.
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