Art doesn’t have to be attractive. It can be brutal, confronting, dystopic. But in the automotive world, the 2018 Volkswagen Arteon 206TSI R-Line must appeal to our sight only as a starting point.
That is because the Arteon 206TSI R-Line is based on the $7500-cheaper Passat 206TSI R-Line medium sedan. Fine art can cost a pretty penny, of course, but this swoopy five-door liftback must be more than a pretty face.
It does add substance to its styling, though, with a 95mm-longer body providing an additional 45mm of rear legroom and greater loading practicality. It also gets more active safety technology compared with the sedan, to further tempt buyers upstream.
In a Volkswagen showroom it makes sense. But it’s also fair to say that in the luxury market there is no shortage of choice – and its showroom may not be first to mind.
Vehicle Style: Large liftback
Price: $65,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 206kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 7spd dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.5 l/100km | Tested: 11.0 l/100km
The Arteon 206TSI R-Line is mostly well-equipped at $64,490 plus on-road costs.
The LED headlights swivel and high-beam automatically flicks up and down, there’s blind-spot assistance with steering intervention to try and eliminate the chance of a side swipe, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) if response is delayed and a forward collision is imminent, plus active cruise control with lane-keep assistance that helps a driver stays within the freeway white lines.
In the latter case, in addition to a Passat’s features, the Arteon will even slow down, change lanes, and move into the shoulder with hazard lights activated should a driver not respond to several visual and audible warnings that the steering wheel must be held. Essentially, it assumes the worst – a heart attack, for example – and it recovers only if its myriad sensors and forward camera detects there’s no sideways traffic.
We start here because that’s where Volkswagen has chosen to most obviously differentiate its luxury liftback from its standard sedan. This more expensive 206TSI R-Line is also the only one to debut a massage driver’s seat, colour head-up display and heated rear seats for its $7500 extra fee.
So what does this $65K-plus model compete against? Is it the $55,990 (plus orc) Holden Commodore VXR and $59,990 (plus orc) Kia Stinger GT five-door liftbacks in the mainstream, or a $69,900 (plus orc) Audi A5 2.0 TFSI Sportback of the same bodystyle up in the premium-brand ranks? This test will indeed see where it fits.
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, Nappa leather with electrically adjustable front seats, heated front and rear seats, active cruise control, automatic on/off headlights/wipers, auto up/down high-beam, auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto reverse-park assistance, and keyless auto-entry with push button start.
- Infotainment: 12.3-inch colour driver display and 9.2-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, twin USB inputs, satellite navigation, voice control and eight-speaker audio.
- Options Fitted: 20-inch alloy wheels and 10-speaker, 700-watt Dynaudio sound system ($2500).
- Cargo Volume: 563 litres.
From the low nose with a cascading horizontal-bar grille design, to the clamshell bonnet, the character crease that gets thicker and bolder as it wraps around the swoopy rear, plus the integrated lip spoiler, the Arteon does look special in the metal.
Add the 20-inch alloy wheels (up from 19s) with their jet-turbine-inspired design filling the guards, and this 206TSI R-Line turns more heads than any Passat ever could.
Thumb the remote keyless entry and the rear LED indicators cascade sequentially from the inside of the bootlid towards the outside, the heavily tinted rear door glass adds a touch of intrigue and, finally, opening a door reveals a lovely pillarless design.
And in the rear is where liftback most differentiates itself from sedan inside.
There’s plenty of legroom, a rear temperature zone, and a gently-raked backrest – although the head of this 178cm-tall tester just misses the roofline. But the Arteon also feels narrow, so an adult-sized centre rider is out of the equation, while both roof and door trims remain plasticky and unyielding. A Stinger GT lines its roof with Lexus-esque black suede, and its plush door trims are brightened by stylish silver speaker grilles courtesy of the standard 720-watt Harman Kardon audio.
Even in the pricier Volkswagen, a 700W Dynaudio sound system is packaged with the 20s for $2500 extra – only no-name eight-speaker audio is standard – and that presents a segue to some of the issues facing this posh Passat. Up front and, despite the completely different and more stylish exterior, the front seats and dashboard are shared between that 206TSI R-Line sedan and this liftback.
The leather quality is nice, but the fake carbonfibre trim inserts seem as out of place as a skateboard would be streaming across an art gallery floor. The plastics can be basic, and sometimes mismatched, while that same description applies to the lower-resolution colour driver display clashing with the high-resolution centre touchscreen.
Also, the new addition of a head-up display only shines a speedometer onto a piece of clear plastic that rises from the top of the dashboard ahead of the driver. Given that most rivals (Stinger GT, Commodore VXR) beam digits onto the windscreen, it’s a dud solution given the pod reflects badly under Australian sun.
All of which could be forgiven if the Arteon was fully loaded with kit, but it lacks even a digital radio or ventilated front seats standard on the Kia and Holden.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 206kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, AWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Volkswagen’s lane-keep assistance works superbly. The Arteon smoothly moves the steering around freeway bends without coming close to nudging a white line. Highlighting the pace of progress, a year ago a Passat was patchier in that regard.
Sometimes the active cruise detected a bit of Armco on a slight curve and incorrectly slowed the liftback down, but generally it’s a good operator too. The blind-spot system, though, panics when changing lanes even when plenty of room is given to the car beside you. We hope it’s the next in line to face the pace of progress.
Compared with Passat, the Arteon also gets an adaptive suspension setup with 15 driver-select indents between the usual Comfort, Normal and Sport modes.
Around town every setting tries to disguise the effects of low-profile wheels, and they certainly succeed more than other premium sedans do (like the BMW 3 Series).
None can ever fully erode the ever-so-slight jarring effect of them, and in a buyer’s heart of hearts it should be recognised that an entry Volkswagen Passat on 17-inch tyres rides better with its single fixed suspension and zero modes.
The Arteon delivers superb grip through corners, so when teamed with its punchy engine they are a formidable duo. But, really, at low speeds around town only cuddling up to Sport really works to avoid the slight float and pitching sensation that Comfort and Normal deliver, while on bad country surfaces Comfort comes to the fore with loping progress. And for anything in between, Normal is just fine.
Simple rename Comfort as Country, Normal as Arterial and Sport as Urban – there’s no need for 15 indents.
With its sharp and consistent steering, gorgeously refined yet raunchy engine, a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and Sport electronic stability control (ESC) mode, the 206TSI R-Line can be very entertaining.
It prefers a point-and-shoot cornering attitude compared with some rivals, though, defaulting quickly to understeer if pushed beyond its decent limits. A rear-wheel drive Stinger GT feels lighter on its feet and sharper at the front end, but its damping isn’t in the same league, while a Commodore VXR’s is, yet its V6 is awfully thrashy.
In addition to having the nicer interior and being the superior driver’s car overall, though, the Kia is also quieter on coarse-chip surfaces than this Volkswagen, which is near-silent for wind noise but not so for road roar.
As with the interior, there ultimately isn’t enough differentiation from the Passat 206TSI R-Line.
ANCAP has not tested the Volkswagen Arteon.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, rear-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, side collision avoidance assistance, and collision warning alert with low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Volkswagen’s capped-price servicing program extends for five years or 75,000km, the first three of which costs a high $443/$658/$759 respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
It may not be a performance match – 7.5sec 0-100km/h versus 5.8sec here – but a front-wheel drive A5 2.0 TFSI Sportback starts at $69,900 (plus orc). Load it up with equipment, and it’s still only around $10K more than this Volkswagen.
Meanwhile, for around $10K less a Commodore VXR delivers great ride and handling, but a dud V6 and a similarly downmarket interior.
All of which leaves the Stinger GT as the closest rival. More premium inside, better equipped, faster and more dynamic, its only deficit is with adaptive suspension not quite the equal to the Volkswagen. But there isn’t much in it.
- Audi A5 2.0 TFSI Sportback
- Holden Commodore VXR
- Kia Stinger GT
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There is a place for the Arteon 206TSI R-Line in Volkswagen showrooms. Far more stylish and practical than Passat, it deserves a pricing premium.
It also, however, deserves to have more kit packed inside an interior with more effort paid to trim quality. An evolution of the Golf’s interior is fine, but not quite at $70K.
Otherwise this Volkswagen is fast and finessed, with a nice blend between speed and sensibilities. It may not be the driver’s car its looks would suggest – rivals are lighter and more agile – but it blends good ride quality with solid dynamics.
It isn’t an artificially enhanced luxury car, then, but nor is the Arteon a piece of high art. Mostly its downsides are down to pricing, so this piece is worth bargaining for.
MORE: Volkswagen News and Reviews
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Volkswagen Arteon - Prices, Features and Specifications
- Interested in buying Volkswagen Arteon? Visit our Volkswagen Arteon showroom for more information.