The art of the inspirational VW Arteon

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The car is certainly very well executed. Rakish lines, tighter gaps and some intricate detailing add up to an expensive and impressive look. Photos: Supplied

Having now firmly established itself as a car buyers' favoured lower-level premium choice, Volkswagen is looking upwards with the Arteon.

A new four-door fastback here in single 2.0-litre turbo-petrol TSi R-Line 4Motion format, the Arteon is a halo model that'll be seen as a successor to the similar-shaped Passat CC, though it's really a much better proposition, with more smarts to support even sharper styling.

Just as well. Any car aimed at upper management executives, entrepreneurs and other well-heeled and attention-hungry aspirationals needs to be as clever as it is chic, and this has been tough territory in the past. The low-roofed Passat, which became simply the CC from 2012, the Eos coupe convertible, and the Phaeton all drove confidently into the elite end. And all failed to make significant imprint.

However, VW NZ boss Tom Ruddenklau is certain the Arteon is going to be The One, for a number of reasons. The market has promise: while large car sales are dropping, it's the mainstream portion that is feeling pain, whereas top-shelf models are picking up (hence, as Arteon arrives, the Passat sedan falls out); and these days there's more disposable income around for high-end VWs and a lot less badge snobbery against them.

Even so, the sales forecast is tricky to nail, and initial supply is tight. Says Ruddenklau: ‘‘Our dealer network is confident and our first allocations have gone ... and we've only got 40 this year and most have names beside them already''.

Longer term, he and his team think it'll do significantly better annually than the CC; meaning at least 100 a year. Beyond that? A grey zone. They only know the sky is not the limit. Due to expected worldwide demand, 200 cars per year is the maximum the factory can deliver here.

Being built on the MQB Plus platform and thus meted a wheelbase that is some 50mm longer than the Passat's means Arteon is not a Passat in a party dress, as CC was, but a whole new model. Well, except on the inside. That instrumentation cluster is largely shared.

The car is certainly very well executed. Rakish lines, tighter gaps and some intricate detailing add up to an expensive and impressive look, albeit one that, in profile especially, might be confused with Audi's A5.

Considering those sleek, low-slung fastback proportions, the Arteon feels roomy and expansive inside. Occupants sit low yet comfortably. Head and legroom in the back is much helped by a slightly reclined seat and is decent even with the optional sunroof.

The raked wiper-less rear hatch opens to a practical boot that provides 563 litres of space, which can increase to 1557 litres, or only 212 litres less than a Passat wagon. And that's with something not often seen these days: a full- sized spare wheel.

High-end technologies, some new to VW product and a couple very likely making a first appearance in a sub-$100k setting, add to the appeal. Ingredients over and above the usual safety and luxury items expected in a top- flight European include adaptive cruise control along with a second-generation emergency assistance feature that can steer the car automatically into the slow lane while simultaneously braking the car to a stop.

The lane departure warning system has the ability to react to other vehicles, such as swerving heavy trucks. Also, the 9.2-inch (23.4cm) infotainment system has gesture control. It could yet become even smarter. The factory has yet to release for New Zealand predictive abilities for the lights and cruise control, enabled by its using sat nav data to read the roadscape ahead and react on the driver's behalf.

Standard gear includes 19-inch Montevideo alloy wheels (which can be upgraded to 20s), heated Nappa leather seats, an active info display, app-connect, adaptive chassis control with four driving profile settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual) and an area view camera.

There's vague talk of a six-cylinder petrol in the future, but for now the most powerful engine choice is the one selected for New Zealand, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four- cylinder, driving all four wheels via a seven- speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. T

he claimed 0-100kmh time of 5.6 seconds is just 0.7s off that claimed for the other VW with this drivetrain, the Golf R. This is quite gloat- worthy, given that Arteon is more a grand tourer than an outright sports model.

It feels the part of a high-speed cruiser from the moment you sit in, pull the frameless doors closed and survey a cockpit that's plush and also conforming to the tech leadership role in presenting a fully digital dashboard in place of traditional dashboard instruments.

Around town it feels like it is a big car but any sense of enhanced scale delivers positively on the open road, where it delivers an air of solid resolve. The refinement at 100kmh is really decent, too and even though the ride quality tends to some firmness, it's not as harsh as a typical high performance Audi.

VW recruited a former Porsche engineer to sort the steering, with the result that there's a more weighted feel to the wheel in Sport setting.

Arteon has no shortage of rivals. VW cites the Lexus IS, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XE, and while it pointedly steered clear of the A4/A5 models from its own stable, they also obviously figure. Ruddenklau also reckons the Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord and Skoda Superb as competition and agrees the impending ZB-series Commodore VXR could join this gang.

The art of the inspirational VW Arteon
At a Glance

VOLKSWAGEN ARTEON
Price: $74,990
Engine: 1984cc turbocharged petrol four-cylinder,
maximum power 206kW@5100-6500rpm,
maximum torque 350Nm@1700-5600rpm
Transmission: Seven speed direct shift,
all-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc
brakes, ABS, ESP, XDS, HAS, AEB
Safety rating: Five-star Euro NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 245/40 R19 tyres
Fuel and economy: 7.3 litres per 100km,
tank capacity 66 litres
Emissions: CO2 164g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4862mm, width 1871mm,
height 2172mm