The Volkswagen Arteon will look at its best in R-Line guise and maybe not in mustard yellow.   Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The Volkswagen Arteon will look at its best in R-Line guise and maybe not in mustard yellow. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

What makes a premium car? The car itself? The badge and company behind it? The looks?

Volkswagen is about to find out with its Arteon, which is a stretched, redressed Passat shot upmarket to chase 3 Series, A4 and C-Class buyers.

If looks were the deciding factor, the Arteon might already have won. But it’s not. You can probably expect to see more of this from VW. One model does well, so its engineers figure out how to make another one like it, but seemingly different.

The Arteon replaces the Passat CC, even if VW insists it doesn’t because it is repositioned quite a bit higher. To be fair, it’s not quite the same as the Passat, even if many interior design points prove the link.

It is due in SA later in 2017 and its interior layout and feeling of space are helped by adding 50mm to the Passat’s generous wheelbase, but that’s the end of the core hardware differences.

Its engine array includes two versions of the 2.0l TSI petrol-powered four-cylinder and a 2.0l biturbo diesel, plus the new 1.5l four, and there’s talk of a V6. We tested the 206kW petrol and 176kW diesel fours.

Increased dimensions and styling changes translate into more rear seat space.   Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
Increased dimensions and styling changes translate into more rear seat space. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

Fitted as standard with on-demand all-wheel drive, the 206kW version will do the legwork via 350kW of torque from 1,700 to 5,600r/ min. Its power peaks from 5,100 to 6,500r/ min, promising a broad spread of performance. It will shoot to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, sharp enough for most people, and tops out at a limited 250km/h.

The strongest of the Arteon’s diesels delivers 500Nm of torque at 1,750r/min and reaches 176kW of power by 4,000r/ min, shooting to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds, three seconds quicker than the base 110kW diesel.

The Passat CC had issues with rear-seat headroom and vision out of the rear glass, both of which have been sorted in the new car. Its overall dimensions are larger than both the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW’s 4 Series Gran Coupe. The 2,481mm wheelbase (up 131mm on the Passat CC) makes its rear seats roomier than both of them, too, offering a claimed 1,016mm. At 4,862mm, its overall length is 95mm longer than the base Passat and 65mm longer than the Passat CC.

It’s easily the biggest sedan we will see on the MQB architecture. The Passat carried that title, but the Arteon is 39mm wider at 1,832mm, though it has a 1,427mm roofline that’s 29mm lower. The Phideon is larger, but it’s a China-only car for now.

The Arteon’s liftback-style luggage area has 563l of standard luggage capacity (87l shy of the Passat’s cavern), or 1,557l with the rear seats folded flat. The rear seats have a 60:40 split and a sizeable through-portal.

The Arteon is big, inside and out. It is also refined to a surprising level. Laminated side windows rise from frameless doors, more sound and vibration deadening than the Passat, and its LED headlights are integral to its stretched-grille face.

The five-seat R-Line version uses its own custom-designed adaptive damping system, which moves it upstream from the already-comfortable Passat. The multilevel system lets the Arteon either waft along, or allows you to lean on the full potential of the tyres.

The dash is basically unchanged from the Passat.    Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The dash is basically unchanged from the Passat. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

Like most multilevel active systems, it’s best left to its own devices in Normal mode. There’s Sport mode, given the Arteon rips to 100km/h in five seconds of four-cylinder fury, but it is too firm for all but the most frantic driving. Potholes are a bugbear in Sport, but as a plus it has the best and most intuitive weighting and directness to the steering feel.

This is when you’ll push the engine, too, which is special. The hard-working four pots’ vibrations are neatly isolated from the cabin. There’s enough power to push the 1,716kg Arteon along nicely at high revs, but there will be times when 350 doesn’t feel like enough Newton-metres and you’ll have to go chasing more revs. Fortunately, the downshifts are fast and sharp.

There’s also Comfort mode, Eco mode and Individual mode, which lets you mix and match your pick of modes.

In a hint that VW may be further along the autonomous path than many commentators give it credit for, the Arteon seamlessly blends its latest generations of adaptive cruise control, road data and Emergency Assist.

Effectively, you can drive an Arteon on the steering alone, letting the car’s cruise control do everything else. You just tap the "resume" button on the steering wheel and it takes care of everything to do with going and stopping, even combining everything it knows from its GPS mapping to slow down for corners or roundabouts.

Significant changes to the rear give the Arteon  more of a liftback look. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
Significant changes to the rear give the Arteon more of a liftback look. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

It’s more sophisticated than it sounds, with the Arteon translating and combining data streams from radar, from the forward-facing camera in the windscreen and its own HERE-derived mapping data. It also uses the camera to determine how hard it needs to brake for each corner and how fast to accelerate out of it.

The steering has the capability to do the same thing, though VW demands you give the wheel a regrab every 15 seconds or so. It can also be fully autonomous in traffic jams, up to 60km/h, controlling the steering, braking and acceleration independent of any driver input.

If there’s an area where VW could have worked harder, it’s the interior design. The dash layout is very much Passat. The upside for VW in that is that the Passat’s interior is much more impressive to look at than its body shell, and the materials are high quality.

The top-spec 9.2-inch touchscreen multimedia display is sort-of gesture control, with its displays getting bigger and easier to use as your fingers approach. The climate-control air conditioner’s front vent runs across the full width of the dashboard, interrupted only by an analogue clock in the centre.

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