JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – CAR editor Steve Smith samples the stylish new Volkswagen Arteon, which has been tasked with taking on some well-established premium players...

So, what do we have here then? An executive sedan from VW? Bit of a tough sell, isn’t it?

That’s true. As successful as these Germans have been in our market with hatchbacks and, to an increasing degree, SUVs, breaking into the luxury sedan market in South Africa has proved a tougher nut for Volkswagen to crack.

Where does the Arteon fit into the line-up?

It’s basically the successor to the CC that was discontinued here in early 2017 and will be sold alongside the existing Passat … at least, for the moment. It was a “let’s see what happens” message from VW and inferring from that, we may see the Passat exit stage left here at some future point, leaving the Arteon to carry the flag.

And it's up against?

The BMW 3 Series/4 Series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4/A5 Sportback are the obvious rivals, although with the Arteon, the Wolfsburg-based brand is looking to offer a highly specced premium product that’s nevertheless priced beneath its Teutonic rivals. The thinking at VW South Africa is that there are a lot of Golf GTI and Golf R customers who, once they are older, don’t have a VW product to migrate to and instead jump ship to those other three brands.

And that's why you see this range-topping 2,0 TSI R-Line 4Motion DSG in the line-up. It shares its drivetrain with the Golf R, albeit offering marginally less power than its 213 kW/380 N.m hatchback sibling. So, it would seem a natural move for a Golf owner into this bigger and classier car.

Right, let’s hear more about the actual car then. Good-looking vehicle, I’d say...

I would agree. Of course, it will remind you of the Sport Coupé Concept GTE shown at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. Although that was a 297 kW V6 plug-in hybrid, the Arteon is near identical in looks and I do like it when the production version follows the concept this closely. There’s something about the Arteon’s combination of conservatively handsome lines and avant-garde touches that really works for me. A mark of good design is how well it ages and I think Tobias Sühlmann’s exterior execution has exactly those qualities.

At 4,86 metres, it's also a long car – in fact it’s the longest wheelbase on the MQB platform – and VW’s design team has used those dimensions to sculpt a low, wide, coupé-like silhouette that sports VW’s new “premium grille” on its nose (as does the new Touareg and China-only Phideon). The R-Line gets 19-inch alloys as standard, though the press cars were all running on the 20-inch options.

The interior feels easily as premium as those of its more expensive rivals, with high-quality leather and a metallic-accented air band that mimics the grille design and wraps round the dash and door shoulders. Digital interfaces feature prominently on the R-Line’s facia, with the Active Info Display instrument panel and new Discover Pro infotainment system with its its 9,2-inch touchscreen display both standard fitment. The latter is intuitive, easy to connect to and navigate, and unlike a number of other systems I’ve recently sampled, doesn’t become unreadable in harsh sunlight.

Thanks to a 2,84-metre wheelbase and a transverse engine layout, it’s a particularly roomy sedan too, with plenty of rear passenger leg-, head- and shoulder room. Boot space is quoted as 563 litres, which is roughly double that of the Polo Vivo.

You mentioned that Golf R-like drivetrain earlier. That should offer some performance...

It does, but it doesn’t deliver it in the same way as the hatch. Even in sport mode, this is a far more refined version that delivers its 206 kW/350 N.m worth of grunt though a seven-speed DSG ‘box in a more progressive manner. Reflecting the Arteon’s sensibilities, it’s less shouty too and the Golf R’s exhaust bark is all but absent.

Make no mistake, it’s still pretty quick, with VW quoting figures of 5,6 seconds for the 0-100 km/h dash and 250 km/h for the top speed. Our launch route took in some freeway and urban driving, including a couple of traffic lights that allowed me to get a feel of that first quoted stat. While I’ve no reason to doubt the claim, it didn’t feel like 5,6 seconds, though I reckon that speaks more to the Arteon’s finesse than anything else. With maximum twisting force available between 1 700 and 5 600 r/min, there is lots of in-gear punch and planting one’s foot or manually shifting down via the steering wheel-mounted paddles makes overtaking an easily accomplished task.

While it can go fast, this is clearly not the Arteon’s primary function. Refinement and sophistication are more accurate descriptors and, underpinned by the excellent MQB platform, this fastback sedan offers a controlled and supple ride with its precise and progressive steering tightening up nicely at the end of its travel.

Sounds like an excellent addition to the VW line-up. But one question remains: will South Africans buy it?

Tough to answer. The overall sedan market is shrinking, but I like VW’s thinking in offering something to Golf GTI and Golf R owners looking for more space and sophistication. It's a smart move. Along with strikingly good looks, this 2,0 TSI R-Line Arteon offers plenty of performance and spec for the price (see pricing for the rest of the range here) and if you’re in the market for a sophisticated executive sedan, this is well worth a drive.

Notes:

Standard items on R-Line derivatives include LED tail-lamps (with dynamic indicators), LED headlamps, 19-inch Montevideo alloys, heated windscreen washer jets, keyless go, model-specific R-Line bumpers, a continuous chrome trim strip on the lower bodywork, chrome-plated tailpipes, a black bootlid spoiler, privacy glass and power folding side-mirrors.

Inside R-Line models, you'll find a leather sports multi-function steering wheel, the Composition Media infotainment system (with eight speakers, Aux-in and USB), a driver alert system, three-zone air-conditioning, aluminium pedals, front seat heating, Nappa leather seat upholstery and stainless steel door tread plates (front and rear).

Optional items on our test vehicle were the "Turmeric" pearlescent paint, an electronically detachable tow bar, the DynAudio Confidence sound system, Titanium Black leather trim, adaptive cruise control (with front assist) and 20-inch "Rosario" alloys.