Volkswagen Arteon R review
The Arteon R is a hot version of VW’s style-focused large four-door and estate, offering a strong blend of everyday usability and performance
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It’s a bit like a chicken korma curry from an Indian restaurant: it looks like it’ll be a feast for the mouth senses, but actually it’s about as mild as they come. Happily, VW has now added a fistful of spice to the recipe in the form of the Arteon R – the proper Jalfrezi.
Available in both four-door and ‘Shooting Brake’ estate bodystyles, the Arteon R gives you exactly what it says on the tin – it combines the best ingredients from the standard Arteon with some fiery additions from the R performance division. These include some sporty visual upgrades inside and out, a torque-vectoring four-wheel drive system and a 320hp turbocharged petrol engine.
Other additions to the mix include bigger brakes, lower and stiffer sports suspension with adaptive dampers as standard and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with R-specific tuning for faster shifts.
The Arteon R is very capable, looks smart and offers lots of space, but are you really going to buy one over a hot BMW, Mercedes or Audi?
If you think this could make for a more raw, uncompromising road car in the Arteon R, you’d be wrong. Keep it in the more civilised drive modes and it’s pretty much as comfortable as a standard Arteon, save for the slightly firmer set-up and increased road noise from the bigger alloy wheels.
Configure your individual drive mode setting – or more simply thumb the R button on the wheel for maximum attack – and everything gets louder, sharper and more lively.
However, it doesn’t feel as fast as its smaller sibling, the Golf R, which is no surprise given it has the same power as that car lugging along a good deal more weight.
The engine itself doesn’t sound exciting or pull as strongly as the straight-six in a BMW M440i/M340i Touring, either. The trade-off, though, is that the Arteon R is an excellent long distance companion thanks to a smooth, controlled ride and low noise levels.
The Arteon R also offers more space inside than the equivalent BMW 3 or 4 Series. Step inside through doors with cool frameless glass and you’ll find loads of room whether you’re in the front or back – legroom is plentiful, while only those well over six foot might take issue with the more svelte roofline.
The boot is big, too, whether you go for the four-door version or the Shooting Brake estate. Oddly, the latter’s capacity is only two litres more than the former, so the main advantage of the Shooting Brake is its larger opening and (if you prefer it) the design.
The overriding problem with the VW Arteon R is that its starting price looks quite steep next to alternatives such as a Kia Stinger GT-S or the aforementioned BMW. Granted, the VW comes with a decent kit tally, but the Kia comes even more generously appointed, while the BMW counters by being nicer to drive.
There’s plenty of room for four adults, and five can get comfortable for shorter journeys
You won’t have to pay a penalty for the extra performance the R model brings over the regular Arteon – it’s still very roomy whether you go for the four-door model or the estate.
There’s loads of space to stretch out for front seat passengers, while the sporty new seats and steering wheel both have loads of adjustment to cater for drivers of all shapes and sizes.
Legroom is good in the rear, too – no surprise given the Arteon is quite a long car. Six footers won’t feel like they’re in economy class on a budget airliner; kneeroom is pretty generous. Only headroom is a little tight in the back for those of above-average size thanks to that sloping roofline.
If you’re planning on carting around taller passengers regularly, a VW Tiguan R is a better bet thanks to its raised SUV roof – although if you’re dead set on a performance saloon or estate the Arteon is still among the best.
There isn’t a vast amount of storage around the Arteon’s cabin but there is enough, and the Arteon R is no different in this respect.
So, ahead of the gearlever sits a flat area that’s perfect for holding even a large smartphone, although it’s a shame that a wireless charging pad for that phone is part of a pricey option pack.
Between the seats sit a couple of deep cupholders behind a sliding lid. These are great for big cups, but getting a small cup out of them can be tricky.
Below the central armrest is a smallish cubby that can hold small cans and suchlike, and there are a couple of USB-C sockets in there.
The door pockets in both the front and rear, meanwhile, are good, and can easily hold a 1.5-litre bottle. These are also felt-lined, so stuff won’t rattle around in there.
There’s also a decent-sized (and felt-lined) glovebox, and a small flip-down cubby by the driver’s right knee.
Unlike in some cars, the Arteon R doesn’t sacrifice boot space in its transformation to a hot model.
Even with its trick four-wheel drive system and beefier exhausts, VW says the Arteon R four-door offers the same 563-litre boot as the standard model. That means you’ll have no trouble loading up the kids’ clobber or cramming what seems like everything you own in the back.
Oddly, you only get two more litres of boot capacity with the Shooting Brake model. On the face of it there’s little point to it, but what the figures don’t tell you is how much easier it is to load items in and out with the estate’s large boot opening.
It doesn’t matter which bodystyle you go for, though – both of them have a fairly large load lip, meaning it isn’t always that easy to lug things out of the boot.
Doesn’t sacrifice the standard Arteon’s comfort and refinement in becoming an R model, but more excitement wouldn’t go amiss.
The Arteon R uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that’s found in the majority of other R models.
While a four-cylinder might seem a bit weedy next to the big V6 of the Kia Stinger and straight sixes found in alternatives from BMW, it’s not exactly underpowered. With 320hp and 420Nm of torque combined with a fast-shifting seven-speed dual clutch gearbox it’s capable of 0-62mph in under five seconds.
‘Under’ is the operative word there, as like many VW R cars it’ll accelerate faster than the figures suggest. It’s also a strong and flexible engine, pulling well from the middle of the rev range right to the redline. You’ll want it in one of the sportier engine modes, however – leave it in eco and the engine and gearbox respond so sluggishly you’d think the car was asleep.
Being four-wheel drive, it’ll also deliver its performance whatever the weather. It’s a very confidence-inspiring car to cover ground quickly in.
There’s a couple of issues with the Arteon R’s engine, however. The first is that it puts out exactly the same power and torque as a Golf R, yet has to contend with over 200kg of extra car, so it doesn’t feel as fast as its smaller and cheaper sibling.
The second problem is that it’s a bit…unexciting. Effective, yes, but if you’re after an engine that stirs the soul and has character you’d be much better off with six-cylinder alternatives such as the Kia Stinger or BMW M340i.
The Arteon R has a number of upgrades over the standard Arteon to help it put down its power and feel more sporting.
It’s four-wheel drive, for starters, but more than that it uses a clever torque vectoring system to split the power going to the rear wheels between each individual wheel to help fire you out of a bend.
Combine that with 20mm lower suspension over the regular Arteon, standard adaptive dampers, bigger brakes and an electronic limited-slip differential, and the R model is very composed and capable when you turn up the wick.
It’s extremely grippy, inspiring confidence in all weather and allowing you to carry a serious turn of speed. Unlike the smaller Golf R there’s no drift mode, however, so it loses a party trick. It’s effective rather than exciting, too: you don’t feel truly involved in what’s happening, and it doesn’t feel as poised or balanced as the equivalent BMW.
The upside is that the Arteon R is a very good cruiser. The larger wheels and sports setup don’t harm the ride comfort too much, while wind and road noise are commendably low. Our test car did come with the optional noise-reducing acoustic glass, however.
A few sporty touches liven up a solid and classy cabin, though VW interiors aren’t as easy to get along with as they used to be