VW is eager that the spreadsheets don’t tell the full story, however, and while the heavy disguise of our test cars kept several secrets, it’s clear that the designers have been allowed to go to town in order to put the art into the Arteon (sorry). There’s the new family grille design, now more horizontal than ever and reaching between the headlights, with Audi-like indicators and big, broad shoulders. You need to squint at our pictures, but there’s enough to suggest it’s usefully differentiated from the Passat on the outside
The interior, though, looks entirely familiar, but that need be no bad thing, because the standard Passat is a lovely car to be in and here the cabin is even more commodious and well appointed. Spacious, upmarket and – especially with the Active Info Display digital dash display pioneered by Audi under the Virtual Cockpit name, which will be offered here as an option - very modern, it oozes the appeal of premium rivals.
The space is excellent, too, with two six-footers happily able to sit behind one another and with no issues of head room in the rear. The boot is also large, extending to a seats-down 1700 litres, which, with its hatch opening, rather shades the practicality of saloon rivals.
On this prototype drive in South Africa, where VW is completing a round of hot weather testing, we got to try a European-spec car powered by a 188bhp 2.0 TSI petrol engine and a US-spec one powered by a punchier 268bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine. Both cars were front-wheel drive, although four-wheel drive will be available as an option. After launch, the CC will be offered with a familiar range of VW's turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, with the most potent European petrol unit producing 276bhp.
The engine also uses a new seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which on our test car was fast-changing and smooth, and fired up from a start-stop induced standstill far more eagerly than the outgoing unit ever managed.
But while the engines were both refined, smooth and suitably sporty for a car claiming to be a sports coupé, the ride was overly firm, regardless of whether the car was on 18in or 19in rims, or equipped with the standard suspension or the adaptive Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system. There’s still time for tuning, of course, but you have to wonder if the pursuit of ‘emotion’ has resulted in an overly firm set-up to provide an overt sense of sportiness. There were mitigating factors, such as especially poor road surfaces, but the fact that smaller wheels and a full Comfort setting couldn’t solve the problem suggests everything has been dialled up a little too far for now.
Getting that trade-off between firmness and comfort won’t be simple though, because the payback of eager cornering and little body pitch or roll is evident. The steering is fine, too, if not feelsome like in premium rivals, but not so far behind, and the control weights are just so, which inspires a nice level of confidence