Back in the 1980s the five-door hatchback was the latest fashion in the European premium car market. The Ford Scorpio, Audi 100 Avant, Rover SD1, Renault 25 and Saab 9000 offered a new format for the executive buyer, a welcome alternative to the restrictive four-door bodystyle offered by BMW and Mercedes that typified the sector at the time. Since then, the premium hatchback went decisively out of fashion in favour of lifestyle estates, underlined by the total lack of success of the big Opel Signum and Renault Vel Satis hatchbacks a decade ago.
But now they’re back in vogue and the VW Arteon is the latest of this new breed. In essence the Arteon is the production version of the Sport Coupe Concept GTE seen here in Geneva two years ago. Based on the Passat, it also replaces the Passat CC which, although it shares a similar flowing profile, was only ever offered as a four-door coupe.
It’s interesting to note how this ‘Gran Turismo’ profile has gained status and evolved. By the 1990s the family hatchback body had sunk to being the sole preserve of mainstream fleet cars such as the Opel Vectra or Ford Mondeo, with no premium brands touching it. Even hatchback-warrior Saab abandoned it for the later 9-5. Then, cars such as the Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide and Tesla S adopted this low-slung profile with sexy hips as the latest twist for their flagship models and gave it a cachet that had been sorely lacking. Suitably redefined and reimaged, the Arteon now offers this stylish profile in a more affordable form, to compete with Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo, not to mention the new Kia Stinger - also launched at Geneva - which targets exactly this same formula.
The production Arteon has changed remarkably little from the Sport Coupe GTE. “The fact that the Arteon has gone into production with only minimal design changes from the show car demonstrates Volkswagen’s appetite for innovation,” says design chief Klaus Bischoff. “Exactly like the concept, the Arteon generates that ‘I want it’ feeling. It combines the elements of a classic sports car with the elegance and space of a fastback. An avant-garde business-class gran turismo that speaks to the heart and head alike.”
Bischoff’s new ‘progressive design language’ sees its production debut on the Arteon. Crisply executed lines with tight 2.5mm radii that VW can now achieve on their big presses are best demonstrated by the sharp undercut crease on the muscular rear fender that swells in plan, giving 50mm more body width over the Passat (just as it does on the Stinger). A fraction more tumblehome and frameless door glasses complete the look, which was executed by exterior designer Tobias Sühlmann.
The front evolves the VW visor mask DRG, with a step down in the centre section rather than running straight across as on the Passat. There’s a vast clamshell hood like the Audi TT but where the Sport Coupe GTE had a one-piece panel, the production Arteon adds a separate plastic strip to simplify the conjunction of the hood feature lines into the grille. Elsewhere, the tailgate surfacing is slightly softer but otherwise the transition into production remains remarkably faithful to the concept.
The interior shares the entire IP and centre console from the Passat, together with the majority of hardware and switches, which seems fine. In addition to the standard version, the Arteon line up will comprise Elegance and R-Line trim lines. Elegance models feature pale wood inserts with a blue accent line while R-Line offers ‘Vienna’ leather seats, warm silver inserts and a yellow accent line to compliment the sports steering wheel.
Alloy wheel designs on the Arteon are all spot-on, particularly the optional 10-spoke 20in rim. It is a development of the beautiful ’Interlagos’ wheel that was so popular on the Scirocco. Here, the twisted spoke design has evolved to become slightly edgier, with the spokes having a pronounced knuckle as they reach the hub. Available in bright silver finish on Elegance or satin black on R-Line versions, it is another classic wheel design from VW.
Whereas the Passat CC had a 3.6-litre V6 with 300ps as its top offering, the Arteon will stick with the familiar 2.0-litre 4-cylinder TSi petrol engines in 190ps and 280ps outputs, plus an entry model 1.5-litre 150ps version. In addition three 2.0 TDI diesels will be offered, with outputs from 150-240ps.
Pitched as a more affordable version of the Audi A5 Sportback and with far nicer proportions than the BMW 3 GT, the Arteon should prove a big success for VW, a kind of ‘Baby Panamera’ for the brand. In Asia it sits between the Passat and Phideon and should appeal to young, style-conscious urbanites in China who are far more open to this bodystyle than more traditional older generations.
It might push the VW brand into more upscale territory but it is not as silly as the ill-fated Phaeton, which struggled to gain acceptance even in China, where the package and price were not unreasonable. With the ‘dieselgate’ scandal still lingering, VW need some good news right now and the Arteon could be just that.