Long-term test (Introduction): Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

I have a confession to make: I adore sedans. As much as crossovers appeal with their do-anything ability and adventurous designs, few vehicle styles are as pleasant as four-door notchbacks (aside from station wagons, but that argument is dead in the water in SUV-obsessed South Africa). 

A well-developed sedan is spacious, refined, large of boot, a joy to drive and generally cheaper than a raised equivalent. Take Volkswagen’s Arteon as a prime example (I know it’s actually a hatchback but, for the purposes of this argument – and because it looks like a sedan – indulge me). 

Launched locally in the middle of last year, Wolfsburg’s largest non-SUV ticks a number of crucial boxes, as I’ve found out in my short stint behind the wheel of our new 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG. This is the midpoint in the range, bookended by the 2,0 TDI Elegance for a nicely round R50 000 less and the flagship 2,0 TSI R-Line for, you guessed it, R50 000 more. 

We tested the TSI in September 2018 and cocked an eyebrow when it hit 100 km/h in just 5,80 seconds. The TDI has a more laissez faire attitude to performance, taking about three seconds longer to reach triple figures. Straight-line performance isn’t the point, however. Here, mid- range brawn thanks to 350 N.m of torque – plus frugal drinking habits and impressive NVH suppression – make it a fantastically accomplished long-distance cruiser, as myself and three friends recently found out on a journey along the Garden Route. 

The two tall fellas seated aft could stretch their legs, while the 416-litre boot swallowed all our provisions for the weekend. 

The trip also afforded me a chance to familiarise myself with the R-Line’s wealth of standard equipment, from head-up display to a massaging driver’s seat (odd that the passenger chair lacks this function), adaptive cruise control ensuring we remained in the traffic department’s good books, plus sat- nav and smartphone mirroring. There are a lot more toys, which I’ll delve into in future updates. 

Quirks? Well, the ride is certainly firm on those striking 20-inch wheels (although body control is excellent, so the trade-off feels just-about worth it) and, measuring nearly five metres long, manoeuvring the Arteon in Cape Town’s congested City Bowl takes some care. 

Otherwise, Volkswagen’s sleek “sedan” has shown few vices. Unlike some of the crossovers that, ahem, cross our path... 

After 1 month
Current Mileage:
1 201 km
Average fuel consumption:
6,99 L/100 km
We like:
sleek looks; well-built cabin; standard specification
We don’t like:
ride a touch reactive on 20-inch wheels

Long-term test (Update 1):Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

The Arteon experienced a baptism of fire this month when it joined two premium-midsize sedans on a road trip. On paper, the BMW 320d and Mercedes-Benz C220d may not seem like direct competitors for the larger VW but all three sport 2,0-litre turbodiesels and cost similar money. It stands to reason anyone in the market for an Arteon might consider the others. While the 3 Series enthrals with its dynamism and the C-Class with its ride and refined power unit, the Arteon’s design, massive interior and generous kit tally ensure it remains part of the conversation in such illustrious company. 
 

After 2 months
Current Mileage:
 3 105 km
Average fuel consumption: 
6,71 L/100 km

Long-term test (Update 2):Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

You may have noticed a recurring theme across the board in this month’s long-term updates: fuel consumption. While I’ve made a concerted effort to source more affordable vehicles for the CAR garage, a related benefit has been a fleet filled with more fuel-efficient cars. While Ryan’s Fiesta 1,5 TDCi has been the star of the show, finally dipping under the 5,0 L/100 km average-consumption mark, the 1,8-tonne Arteon has also done its part to kerb our wallets haemorrhaging cash into the pockets of fuel companies. Despite a life relegated to urban commuting, which does a heavy internal-combustion car no favours, this 2,0 TDI has been averaging an impressive 7,49 L/ 100 km. And don’t for a second assume I don’t regularly revel in the engine’s powerful response from low revs and its quirkily appealing timbre... Diesel is quite clearly not yet dead. One aspect of modern cars that deserves a slow, painful death is that most maddening of dust magnets: gloss-black plastic.

The Germans especially love applying this finish to all manner of interior surfaces that most regularly come into contact with fingers. Just have a look at the images accompanying the road tests of the Audi Q8 and BMW 330i and Z4 on the previous pages.

Keeping the Arteon’s glitzy facia clean has become a personal crusade at which I will most likely fail. What’s wrong with matte plastic? Or, better yet, plastic finishes resembling metal? The rest of the cabin, though, is superb. It’s easy to use, generously proportioned (offering up to 100 mm more rear legroom than the 3 Series and C-Class) and lavishly equipped. It’s just a pity using those lovely features leads to a facia festooned with fingerprints... 

After 3 months
Current Mileage:
3 326 km
Average fuel consumption:
7,49 L/100 km
We like: 
frugal consumption despite traffic-clogged commutes
We don’t like:
glossy interior finishes

 

Long-term test (Update 3):Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

 Every short-term test vehicle subjected to our road-test programme undertakes a 100 km fuel route incorporating a mixture of highway and urban driving. To ensure the results are fair and comparable to rival vehicles, the driving method is exacting: the tester is conservative with throttle and braking without aiming to shatter an economy-run record; and the test takes place roughly at the same time of day to replicate traffic conditions. 

Our long-termers, however, aren’t tested on the fuel route because, well, they complete a far more strenuous and in-depth assessment: three or six months to give an accurate, representative average fuel figure. However, curious what the Arteon and its 2,0-litre turbodiesel would achieve, I asked intern Jarryd Neves to take the big VW on our set 100 km route. My average to that point was 7,42 L/100 km, so I was at best expecting Jarryd to achieve a high six. What I wasn’t ready for was 5,0 L/100 km on the dot. That’s more thrifty than the brand-new BMW 320d was on its fuel run. 

Jarryd’s efforts have seen the overall consumption settle at 7,39 L/100 km. This could have been even lower had VW’s engineers equipped the six-speed dual-clutch transmission with a higher top gear. 

It’s easy to drown out the timbre by cranking the Dynaudio sound system. If you have the means, it’s a worthwhile addition at R15 100. While certainly not as powerful as top-end car audio systems, up to 8/10ths the reproduction and punch are first-rate. 

I must also mention the ErgoComfort front seats. Doing their name justice, they provide excellent support and even sport a massage function. They’re hoisted a tad high for my liking but otherwise they’re class-leading. 

After 4 months
Current Mileage: 
4 911 km
Average fuel consumption: 
7,39 L/100 km
We like: 
steadily improving consumption; fantastic front seats...
We don’t like: 
...that are set too high; short final gear

 

Long-term test (Update 4):Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

I pondered brand value this month when a Mercedes-Benz CLS400d arrived for testing at CAR. Similar in swooping design and size to the Arteon, the Benz nevertheless costs nearly twice as much. Granted, it runs a fantastic new 3,0-litre inline-six turbodiesel to the VW’s comparatively run-of-the-mill 2,0-litre four-cylinder, but it offers no more spec than the Arteon R-Line (in fact, quite a bit less) and isn’t noticeably more refined. I don’t mean to slate the Benz – it’s a great car – but only to make the point the Volkswagen is superb value, and that a product from a premium brand (with a suitably premium price) isn’t automatically better… 

After 5 months
Current Mileage:
6 001 km
Average fuel consumption: 
7,41 L/100 km

 Long-term test (wrap-up):Volkswagen Arteon 2,0 TDI R-Line DSG

 

Allow me a confession up-front: I love family sedans. They were a permanent fixture during my childhood, the best memories including napping and snacking on the backseat
of a Benz W124 as we made our way to the coast for our annual Steenkamp family holiday. To this day, I prefer these booted gems to heavier, more cumbersome SUVs. 

My excitement therefore ran high when Volkswagen SA’s PR manager confirmed an Arteon would make its way to CAR magazine for a six-month test. We’re rarely asked for input when speccing a long-termer so I was thrilled when I could select the Arteon we’d get. Back in September 2018, we road tested a 2,0 TSI and, while its 5,80-second 0-100 km/h sprint time was tempting, its 8,64 L/100 km fuel-index figure forced reason to overcome greed and I instead requested the 2,0 TDI in R-Line spec. 

Part of an original three-model line-up, the 2,0 TDI R-Line nestled between the entry-level 2,0 TDI Executive and the 2,0 TSI. I use past tense because VWSA has since pulled turbodiesel Arteons from sale, leaving the 2,0 TSI as the sole option. When new, the 2,0 TDI R-Line cost R682 500, or as near as dammit to a BMW 320d and Mercedes-Benz C220d. Offsetting the appeal of those vehicles’ distinguished badges, the Volkswagen counts in its favour a much larger cabin and a long list of standard-specification features. 

When a Reflex Silver Arteon was delivered to CAR’s offices, it was put into immediate service ferrying three friends and me to the South Coast. That was but one of a series of longer trips interspersing commutes to and from Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard and its congested roads. I would soon know whether that love affair with the sedan would continue. Here’s what I discovered about the Arteon over the course of six months. 

WHAT I LIKED 

Space: the Arteon is big, seriously big. Despite spending most of its six months trudging along my congested home-work-home route, the VW’s backseat was occupied often enough to confirm this is a fantastic family vehicle. Boasting a measured 780 mm of rear legroom, it’s larger in the second row than any German executive sedan, let alone their smaller brethren with which it competes on price. 

The boot, too, swallowed everything I could lift over the low sill, including a sideboard on one occasion. Offering 416 litres with the rear seatback fixed and 1 032 litres when it’s tumbled forward, the interior is as practical as nearly all the midsize SUVs you may care to mention.

Occupants in the front seats have it as good, unless you’re a lofty type, in which case head- room might be a bit tight (certainly more so than in a 3 Series). I’m 1,85 metres tall and my hair just cleared the lining. It seems to be a result of high-mounted seats rather than the sunroof cutting into available space. 

Speaking of the seats, they’re ErgoComfort items (I’m still not quite sure what that means) and are as snug at the end of a journey as they are at the start. They’re also heated – a feature I used surprisingly often, having never had it before in a long-termer – and the driver’s side boasts a (somewhat feeble) massage function I activated once and then never again. 

Standard features: R-Line grade offers nearly every desirable feature as standard. The big-ticket items are digital instrumentation, satellite navigation, LED head- lamps that swivel, Nappa leather, adaptive cruise control, front assist with auto braking, and the panoramic sunroof I mentioned. 

Added to this vehicle was a 360-degree parking package (R26 000), head-up display
(R9 650) and an 11-speaker Dynaudio system (R15 100). 

Engine: under the bonnet is Volkswagen’s familiar 2,0-litre turbodiesel developing 130 kW at 4 000 r/min and 350 N.m from 1 600 to 3 500 r/min. Coupled with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, the oil-burner propels the Arteon to 100 km/h in a claimed 8,7 seconds. Tardier than the TSI, certainly, but the TDI engine never felt bereft of punch, even when the heavy sedan-that’s-really-a-hatchback was fully loaded. It did display a tendency to easily overwhelm the front tyres’ grip levels (evidenced by the sub-par remaining tread depth), as this version of the Arteon is front-wheel driven. More measured pull-aways became second nature, a method the DSG transmission preferred as it occasionally hesitated before selecting a gear. Once up to speed, I found the changes seamless. 

Consumption: despite spending its life stuck in Cape Town’s seemingly never-ending traffic congestion, the Arteon’s average fuel consumption settled at 7,37 L/100 km. Highway driving at a constant speed sees that figure plummet, as I experienced on a 700 km weekend round trip where our average was 6,81 L/ 100 km (again, despite a fully loaded boot and four bums on seats). 

Refinement: a bit gruff at idle on a chilly morning, the 2,0 TDI faded into the muted hum generated by the large 245/30 R20 tyres and light wind whistle at the seals of the frameless doors. At 120 km/h, the Arteon felt as hushed as any equivalent Mercedes-Benz or BMW. There’s some diesel rumble present at that speed but only because other noise sources are so well supressed. I do wonder whether a taller top gear (or the TSI’s seven-speed ‘box) wouldn’t solve this, and enhance fuel consumption further. 

Fit and finish: while further on I express misgivings about the expanse of difficult-to-clean black-plastic trim covering swathes of the facia, there’s no denying the Arteon is very well finished and solidly constructed. Padded surfaces extend deep along the dashboard; the knobs and buttons all click with a satisfying sturdiness; and the body feels stiff on rough roads. 

Jobs for the facelift 

That black plastic: it doesn’t matter how often I wiped the Arteon’s facia, I couldn’t keep it clean. Dust and fingerprints love gloss-black plastic and the Arteon’s otherwise classy cockpit regularly looked a bit grubby. Why the sudden dislike for matte plastic, car industry? 

Active Info Display: it’s not as configurable as Audi’s equivalent Virtual Cockpit and doesn’t allow you to change the design of the dials. The display is crisply rendered, though. 

Headlamps: the beam from the Arteon’s LED headlamps shone too high, dazzling oncoming drivers and prompting furious flashing almost every time I used the car in the dark. They’re auto-levelling, so there was no way to adjust this short of visiting a dealership. 

And one other concern 

Resale: like most luxury cars, the Arteon depreciates at a worrying rate. I found a number of 2018 2,0 TDI R-Lines listed for less than R500 000, many of them available from Volkswagen dealers. Of course, now that you can’t buy a new 2,0 TDI model, it makes a great second-hand purchase, especially as it boasts a five-year/ 100 000 km maintenance plan. 

Test summary 

While I didn’t form as strong a bond with the Arteon as I did with some of my other recent long-termers, that’s no fault of the Volkswagen’s. While it may go about its business in a somewhat clinical fashion, its sheer competence is undeniable. It offers both a compelling alternative to the usual German Trio on the used market, and equivalent midsize SUVs and crossovers. The Arteon mimics the former group’s polish and the latter’s practicality, and so strikes a fine balance. 

After 6 months
Total Mileage: 
7 772 km
Overall fuel consumption: 
7,37 L/100 km
We like: 
luxuriously specced; spacious interior; well built
We don’t like: 
no longer on sale; sluggish DSG; blinding headlamps