Flagship: it’s a term that confers prestige and, as such, it doesn’t always sit comfortably with the likes of Volkswagen.
The utilitarian if increasingly plush hatchback defines the brand and serves as its economic bedrock, but it is resolutely not flagship material for an organisation that manufactures more than 10 million cars annually. Which is why we now have this, the Arteon.
Although the Arteon might seem to be a direct replacement for the Passat CC of 2012 – both have five seats, sleek coachwork and a stretched roof line – that narrative is belied by a base price almost £10,000 more than that car’s £25,475, a significantly increased footprint and a hitherto unseen aesthetic that’s guaranteed to turn heads.
The inclusion of almost entirely digital instruments along with Volkswagen’s latest array of safety technology and an old-school approach that equates space with luxury strengthen the Arteon’s flagship credentials.
How will it fare? Well, the fate of VW’s previous flagship, the Phaeton, looms large. Superbly engineered and remarkably good value, it nevertheless struggled to earn our recommendation against rivals because of its soggy handling, dismal cabin and ‘airport taxi’ image.
With the Arteon, VW seems to have remedied the last of those foibles, but good looks alone are not enough at the level of the £40,000 GT.
Indeed, by forgoing an aggressive pricing strategy to tempt buyers away from more traditionally premium rivals, some with lasting reputations for handling dynamism, any shortcomings the Arteon exhibits in refinement, driver engagement and desirability are without extenuation.
So can a car that shares its architecture with a compact SUV (the Tiguan) and key parts of its interior with the model a rung or two beneath it on the VW model ladder compete at a level so far removed from VW’s established stomping ground?