The stylish Arteon will do little to address these problems—that’s the job of the Atlas and the Tiguan, VW’s dynamic duo of new crossovers—but at least when the Arteon replaces the CC a year from now, it will give VW customers something to gawk at in the showroom while they wait on the F&I guy.
The Arteon’s best face is quite literally that: a coupelike mug that looks as if it could grace a new Scirocco rather than a largish sedan to sit above the Passat in VW’s lineup. The Arteon’s hood is ridiculously low for such a car, rising to just below the waist for its projected average buyer, a 53-year-old college-educated man, according to VW. And it’s actually a clamshell hood, stretching as it does from one side of the 73.7-inch-wide car to the other. The rest of the Arteon’s four-door “coupe” styling eschews the sleek look of the old CC for a tough, fastback design with fat haunches and a quasi Kamm-tail hatchback.
When Volkswagen launched the Passat CC back in 2008, pseudo coupes were on the bleeding edge of automotive fashion, and VW seemed to have its finger on the pulse of public desire. Sales in the U.S. were brisk, rising to nearly 30,000 units annually by 2011, but after a mid-cycle refresh for 2013, sales fell off a cliff, dropping to just over 3000 in 2016. To make matters worse, German VW officials told us that they felt the CC did not achieve enough conquest sales, at least not as much as it cannibalized Passat buyers.
So the Arteon takes a dramatic step beyond both the CC and the Passat, not only in styling but in size. The wheelbase is stretched to 111.7 inches, more than an inch longer than the Passat’s and five inches longer than the CC’s. This allows for a rear seat that’s exceptionally roomy, so long as you have no plans to use the middle spot. Leg- and elbowroom are plentiful, and tall passengers should be able to ride in the back without bumping against the headliner. Interior accoutrements are similar to those in the new Atlas, with high-quality materials and a functional, if conservative, design that looks nice while stopping short of treading into Audi’s luxury territory. The luggage compartment sinks deep under the hatch and is roomy enough to accommodate a full-size set of golf clubs diagonally, while a low lift-over height reinforces a practical benefit of the inherently lower center of gravity of a car versus a crossover.
Indeed, the Arteon’s handling benefits from the car being lower and wider than the Passat. It rides on VW’s MQB transverse architecture, which gives the Arteon a stiff structure on which Wolfsburg’s suspension engineers can work their magic. All U.S.-spec cars will have VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control, which allows drivers to choose a base ride quality from among three settings (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) or adjust a virtual slider in the infotainment system that offers even more variability. Regardless of the setting, the dynamic system also adjusts automatically, and VW has tuned the suspension to be both comfortable and responsive, giving the Arteon the sorts of exceptional road manners we’ve come to expect from the brand. This is not, however, a GTI. The Arteon’s steering is precise and direct, but it lacks the feedback of its smaller brand mate.
VW appears to be hopeful that an extensive list of available features—like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist—will justify the Arteon’s sticker, although it’s unlikely the headlights that use GPS data to direct their beams around corners will be offered in the States. The company’s new 8.0-inch infotainment screen comes standard, and its supplementary Digital Cockpit, a concept borrowed from Audi that replaces the main gauges with a huge TFT screen, is an option. This sort of equipment is getting to be standard issue on cars even a full class below mid-size, which poses a growing problem for would-be “premium” brands trying to wedge products above the mass market and below luxury purveyors, even as brands such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz push downmarket. While VW officials posit that the new Arteon is aimed at poaching customers from the last two, the reality of the U.S. market would indicate otherwise.