With the VW Arteon, VPCM is gunning for the C-Class/3 Series – a stretch too far?

Hans · Aug 14, 2020 01:15 PM

With a sleek fastback silhouette and coupe-style frameless doors, the VW Arteon is one of a kind. Priced at RM 221,065 (without SST, applicable until 31-Dec 2020), there’s nothing else in the market at this price point.

The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe has been temporarily discontinued, pending arrival of the new generation model (yet to be announced) but even when it does, it will be priced closer to RM 400,000.

The Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 sits one segment too high and has an asking price of over RM 550k. The smaller Mercedes-Benz CLA is now only available in the overly intense 421 PS/500 Nm AMG CLA 45S form, priced at RM 433,802 – without SST.

So from where is the Arteon going to grab sales from? VPCM didn’t want to mention any rivals but the answer is obvious.

“The Arteon is a unique car. It’s very spacious - best-in-class when it comes to boot space. Driving performance is extremely good. It’s a true premium car,” said Managing Director Erik Winter.

When probed further on where VPCM intends to pull buyers from for the Arteon, Winter smiled coyly and said, “Well you’re very experienced and I think you know very clearly the competitors of the Arteon. They might be German, but not only Germans.”

The Arteon is priced comfortably below traditional premium compact executive sedans like the Mercedes-Benz C200 and BMW 320i, which are priced at RM 250,283 and RM 241,794 respectively, without SST.

Don’t the C-Class and the 3 Series sit in a different segment? Not really, many don't know that compact executive cars are a sub-set of the VW Passat/Arteon’s D-segment. Besides, few Mercedes-Benz and BMW models are ever sold at their list price so the price gap between the Arteon and the C200/320i is a lot less than you think.

The obvious question is who pays C-Class/3 Series money for a VW?

Actually, many will. The previous VW Passat CC was a serious threat to the C200/320i but of course, a lot has changed since then.

We have yet to review the Arteon but first impressions with the static car is very good. Mechanically, it feels a lot more premium than a Mercedes-Benz C200. Sacrilegious? Not really. Remember that the current W205 C-Class is already at the last legs of its model life (first launched in 2014) and obviously younger rivals are closing in on it.

Every inch of the Arteon’s exterior and interior suggests that it’s very costly to build.

The clam shell hood is one example. Clam shell hoods look cool but they are expensive to make and the one used in the Arteon is a proper one as it is integrated with the front fenders, not one of those regular hoods with folded sides to give it a clam shell-look effect.

Those creases and complex surface are not easy to stamp, and the details are mesmerizing. The clam shell hood is held down using double-latch hood locks, no poorer than a C200/320i. The complex curvature of the low clam shell hood necessitates it.

Look further up the engine bay and you will see even more complicated set of hinges, springs and latches. If you hit something in an Arteon, please don't try to send to your average panel beater to realign the hood.

Frameless doors

Grab the door handle and you will notice that the window will lower slightly with just a mere quarter-length pull of the door handle, which is more precise than most other coupes with frameless doors.

The side profile is executed better than the F32 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, which looks like an afterthought following the 4 Series Coupe.

Open the boot, and you will find that the fastback styling allows the Arteon to offer a far bigger, more practical boot than regular compact sedans. The loading height is low, which means it is easier to load/unload.

563 litres

The luggage net hooks are nicely detailed and so are the materials lining the boot floor, which you can lift up via a leather strap (nice!) to reach the spare wheel and sub-woofer underneath. Every detail of the car is properly premium, down to the boot floor – good enough to be an Audi.

Inside, you would naturally expect the Arteon to feel very much like a Passat that it is based on but you will be surprised that it’s not. Yes it looks similar in the pictures but sit inside one, and you will find that the experience is distinctly different.

You sit a lot lower and the frameless doors complete the effect. The steering wheel is different (R-Line item) and the analogue clock makes its return (removed from current Passat).

The ErgoComfort seats are definitely more comfortable than those fitted in the C200. You also get adjustable length lower thigh support too. Ergonomics is also better as you don’t get that slightly offset seating position vs pedal placement in our right-hand drive C-Class.

It’s definitely a lot more spacious than what the cramped C-Class/3 Series cabin can offer. Rear headroom isn’t bad at all despite the sloping roofline but entry/exit require a bit more bending of the neck. Not that different from entering a regular Honda Civic, really.

In short, you don’t feel shortchanged from the more expensive C200 or 320i. The only downside? You are looking at VW logo on the steering wheel instead of a three-pointed star or a blue-white roundel. For many buyers, that’s the deciding factor.

But if you want to break away from the crowd and be seen in something a little bit more special, the VW Arteon is compelling alternative.

Concerns of DSG transmission reliability is a topic that’s 10 years too old but of course, stigmas are hard to recover from. Dual-clutch transmissions are here to stay and the one used in the Arteon is the latest generation DQ381 7-speed wet-type unit, which is totally different from earlier generation DQ200 dry-type unit used in earlier models.

Is VPCM being overly ambitious to pit the Arteon against premium rivals? Not really but realistically speaking, the Arteon won’t cause too much trouble Mercedes-Benz Malaysia and BMW Group Malaysia.

On the surface, the Arteon looks like a good product but badge snobs, and there are a lot of them, will always buy what their peers and neighbours tell them to. For the remaining few who don’t want to just follow the crowd, the Arteon is worth taking a closer look at.