Car Reviews

2018 Volkswagen Arteon Prototype Review: Volksballerhätch

At last, a big, sleek hatch-limo for working folks.

At last, a big, sleek hatch-limo for working folks.

Americans hate hatchbacks, unless the hatched back in question is also fast and attached to a badass baller sedan such as the Audi A7/S7, Porsche Panamera (at least the pretty new one), or Aston Martin Rapide. Well, leave it to Volkswagen to democratize the concept by bringing us the people’s baller hatch. Technically the new Arteon replaces the CC four-door coupe in VW’s lineup, but it takes a noticeable step up in size and prestige. It offers the style and charisma of an Audi A7 or BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe but with pricing that will undercut the newly introduced Audi A5 Sportback hatch.

Based on the 2015 Geneva-show star Sport Coupe Concept GTE, the Arteon production car ditches the concept’s electrification and arrives on the MQB platform with an overall length that is 2.0 inches longer than the CC on a wheelbase that stretches 4.9 inches longer. (Overall height and width match the CC’s.) Indeed, the 191.1-inch length falls almost halfway between that of Audi’s A5 and A7 hatches. The dimensions pay big dividends in rear-seat space, proportion, and stance. Style-wise, the Arteon is also revising the face of the brand with a more horizontal look that merges the grille bars with the headlamp LED graphics. In the back, there’s a nod to Audi in the dynamic sequential amber turn-signal bars. It’ll be the first VW to get this Audi hand-me-down.

Volkswagen Arteon prototype front three quarter 02

Inside, the horizontal theme continues with a narrow band of genuine wood wrapping around the interior. A 9.0-inch touchscreen incorporates elementary gesture recognition, where an approaching hand expands the bottom row of control icons to better describe each button’s function. A virtual cockpit–style instrument cluster like you’d find in a modern Audi or Airbus provides lots of customization options.

Globally, the Arteon will get three gas and four diesel four-cylinder engine options, manual and DSG transmission offerings, and the option of 4Matic all-wheel drive when it goes on sale next summer. North America will have to wait until late 2017 or early 2018, and we’ll only get the increasingly common EA888 2.0-liter TSI four in a 268-hp/280-lb-ft state of tune hitched to a six-speed Aisin torque-converter automatic with front- or all-wheel drive. Chassiswise there is a continuously variable damping option, and in Europe there’s an R-Line trim that lowers the suspension 0.6 inch and firms things up. There’s no word yet on whether R-Line is coming stateside.

Volkswagen Arteon prototype side

Motor Trend had the opportunity to sample both European- and American-spec Arteons on the thin, rumpled pavement around Upington, South Africa, in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Why come to this barren, largely flat, curve-free area to sample a sporty German sedan? Because the very day before our drive, the development team concluded its sign-off drive program here on a whole mess of new VWs. The environment precludes making any definitive handling assessments, but we can certainly tell you that the summer-spec 245/40R19 Pirelli Cinturato P7s on the Euro-spec car are a little crispier-riding and a helluva lot noisier than the all-season 245/45R18 Continental ProContact TXs fitted to the American one. This is especially true for those riding in back, where the hatchback body style with no rigid bulkhead presents a particular challenge. The Sport setting on the Yank version with variable damping seemed to add an undesirable busyness to the ride on these roads. Upingtonian Arteon buyers will want to stick to Comfort or Normal modes, or perhaps configure the Custom drive mode setting for comfiest shock and sportiest powertrain settings, if they’re looking to smoothen the ride and sharpen the throttle and transmission responsiveness.

Volkswagen Arteon prototype rear three quarter

It’s a lot of sporty-looking car for a 2.0-liter turbo to tug around. With four adults onboard, the performance didn’t quite deliver on the baller looks. Frank Welsch, VW’s board member responsible for car development, noted that improving the launch feel of the automatic was among the assignments his team was taking home from this sign-off drive. But even with a harder launch, the overall acceleration left us longing for V-6 oomph to justify the price premium VW is likely to ask relative to a Passat V-6. Any VR6 in the portfolio would fit, and those include a 2.5-liter single-turbo (rated at 300 hp but tunable to between 350 and 380) going on sale in China, a 3.0-liter unit that could do up to 400 hp, and a widely rumored 500-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo. Don’t hold your breath for the last two. Although VW has obtained permission for its heavier car to out-power Audi’s 252-hp A5 Sportback, trumping the 354-hp S5 variant surely must be out of the question. This is capitalist democratization, not democratic socialism. …

2018 Volkswagen Arteon
BASE PRICE $39,000-$42,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.0L/268-hp (est)/280-lb-ft (est) turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,350-3,500 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 111.6 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 191.1 x 73.0 x 55.8 in
0-60 MPH 5.7-6.1 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Calendar year 2018