Sunday 18 February 2018

VW Arteon has style but is not a dedicated follower of fashion

For: It's not an SUV. Against: Price.

Volkswagen Arteon
Volkswagen Arteon
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

One of the things that surprises and pleases a lot me is how songs I grew up with are now being sung by my younger daughters. Not because I like them but because they're great songs regardless of their era. One of those we listened to - 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' by the Kinks - in the course of a memorable drive recently got me thinking about all the fads that have come and gone since that was a hit.

For me the transformation from drainpipe trousers to billowing bell-bottoms was my favourite era, not least because the latter covered up the contours of my wayward shins.

Clothes and cars are so similar in the trends they set and follow, I feel, but I've never seen anything like the current SUV/Crossover craze for sheer staying power. Instead of slowing and fading, it is catching on more by the day; and it is likely to do so for God-knows how long, the experts tell us.

So for Volkswagen to bring out a new large 5dr hatchback/fastback that is as far from SUV as today's trousers are from bell-bottoms, suggests there is a heavy disregard for what many see as the inevitable demise of the large 'saloon', a desperation to climb into a more 'elite' territory, or a sheer bloody-minded conviction that there are people out there looking for something of this size and stature. According to Volkswagen, the latter is the compelling reason; their market research has them believing 400 to 450 Irish people will buy one over a full year. Fair enough, I suppose, but there are pros and cons.

The Arteon is bigger, much bigger, than the Passat (5cms longer wheelbase). It has rear-seat room that puts the current Mercedes flagship, the S-Class, to shame. You could load a wardrobe into the runway-like boot and still have room for carry-on luggage.

It is demonstrably Volkswagen in the cabin, with virtually everything (except the excellent seats) taken from the VW pool. That's good and bad. Good because everything is familiar and easy; bad because if they really want to convince that this is 'half a class' above the Passat, you'd like to see more tangible proof of it. Where are the 'upmarket' trappings apart from some nice touches and a refinement of material, inlays etc in my R-Line test car?

They missed a couple of other tricks, too. The display area is far too low down and despite the nice touches mentioned, the cabin isn't premium enough on its own to make you want to have it. To many eyes it is a major step up on the old CC Coupe - but I think the comparison is spurious. Like the bell-bottoms of the 1960s, the CC has had its day for now.

I think of the Arteon as a mixture of the premium Audi A5 for styling and the Skoda Superb for space - not many SUVs will compete on the latter for this money.

I don't know if it was the design or the colour, a vibrant turmeric yellow, that caught the casual eye, but this car was looked at a lot. From the front, people assumed it was a Passat, but I had to answer quite a few questions about the side and rear.

To drive, it was largely neutral on dynamics. Thankfully tyre noise from a first-drive abroad was not replicated here, and I did find it genuinely easy to drive. For a non-SUV, I thought the driving position was excellent: high enough but well anchored. It was at best on the motorway, a smooth cruiser with a quiet 150bhp 2-litre diesel; not bad on poorer roads either where its lower centre of gravity was preferable to some taller SUVs. Despite its size I found it no problem to park either.

But what does it have that others, especially crossovers, don't? Volkswagen say it would suit people/executives of a certain status who, not overly enamoured with driving 'posh' or with what the current SUV craze has to offer, want it to double as a family car too.

Apart from so much room, it has enough drive appeal to meet such moderate tastes and is quite different to anything else out there at the moment. A counter culture perhaps? I'd welcome that.

It also has some technology worth highlighting. Called adaptive cruise control with predictive speed control it uses both GPS and radar to not only keep a set distance from the car in front, but slow you down when you come to turn-offs or bends along the route set by your sat nav. Really excellent.

I think it's appropriate to highlight this because it represents half a step up on what is generally out there and half a step back from what they call semi-autonomous driving.

For all that, however, the Arteon is not a straightforward buy. It involves you deciding to spend the guts of €45,000 on a Volkswagen which isn't that 'posh' and isn't an SUV. It's neither drainpipe nor bell-bottom - and yet I can see how it would be a comfortable fit for some of the non-SUV generation.

Facts & figures

Volkswagen Arteon 5dr fastback; 2-litre diesel, 150bhp, €390 tax; 7spd DSG auto.

Price from: €43,295. Tested €53,553.

Standard spec includes: 19ins alloys, adaptive cruise control/predictive speed control, dynamic light assist, poor weather light, ambient lighting, R-Line sport seat covers in alcantara/vienna cloth/leather, 'silver'/piano black inserts centre console, lane assist, rear traffic alert, winter package in combination with leather trim, LED headlights, separate daytime running lights, LED rear combination lamps, rear fogs, electric/folding, heated mirrors. Extras: Technology upgrade, panoramic sunroof, 'confidence' sound system.

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