Volkswagen’s new flagship seems to be intent on making up for the lack of outright prestige with pretence and derivativeness – a cause that isn’t aided by its clunky moniker.
Tiguan, Up(!), T-Roc – VW’s recent crop of all-new model names certainly invites unkind comparisons. Renault can get away with a Twingo, nobody minded Opel’s Tigra, but Volkswagen appears to be better served by less
exuberant designations. After all, VW owners are more likely toplay a round of golf than go hunting for tiguans in the T-Roc quadrant.
Which leads straight to VW’s all-new flagship model. Seemingly more moderate in its ambitions than its relative predecessor, the ill-fated Phaeton (another ill-advised VW model name, by the way), this new ‘best Volkswagen’ is intended to give the Mercedes E-class, BMW 5 series and its own Audi A6 cousin a fight for their collective money.
Another car this new VW replaces is, of course, the (Passat) CC, which was a slightly more upmarket and decidedly sleeker variant of the base Passat saloon. Albeit hardly a mould-breaker, the CC was a worthy entry to the four-door coupé (aka ‘sleek saloon’) sector and by far the finest offspring of the ill-advised tenure of Murat Günak and Peter Schreyer at the helm of VW design.
To make a long story short, the new top-end Volkswagen is supposed to be many things to many people. It also ought to exude an air of sophistication, which can be the only explanation why it was given the name of Arteon.
What sounds like the fake name of an invented ancient Greek god of the arts is probably the result of extensive, expensive research and creative musings, courtesy of some world-class marketing agency. ‘Arteon’, the name, not the car, was probably very, very expensive.
‘Arteon’ also sums up most of what’s wrong with the car’s appearance. For, although it may lack the contagious ‘Toronado’ line that’s blighted many recent VWs, the Arteon exhibits all the hallmarks of the Lower Saxonians’ recent ‘Heidesign 2.0’ foray.
It’s a busy car that’s trying too hard to be too many things at once: up-to-date, classically elegant, sharp, contemporary, imposing, sophisticated, impressive, aspirational, rational.
Where the Phaeton was too Volkswagen-y for a luxury saloon, the Arteon is too common for an aspirational product. It’s silly, crassly overstyled front-end aims for the kind of prestige neither its brand name nor its market positioning validate. It’s like a fifteen year-old getting a Glencheck three-piece suit in the hope of coming across like Sean Connery in Goldfinger: better luck next time, kid!
Just as Walter de’ Silva and Flavio Manzoni decluttered VW’s styling in the wake of Schreyer/Günak’s Plakettengrill rampage, incumbent brand chief designer, Klaus Bischoff, seems intent on establishing a heavily bechromed, character line-saturated style that’s half Plakettengrill Levantinian splendour, half Herbert Schäfer-era Heidedesign reloaded.
There are, of course, worse car designs around than the Arteon. Yet what’s so very infuriating about it is not just that it throws away the restrained class of the previous generation of VWs, but that Heidedesign 2.0 doesn’t even stand by its intention to throw away most of the values of German design. It’s the remaining faint layer of shallow rationalism that’s truly aggravating.
Trying to be all things to all people may work out alright for a while. It’s in the long term that skin-deep traits truly betray themselves.
The Phaeton, silly though it was in a great many ways, really was as timeless a piece of styling as they come. It never impressed, but it never turned into last season’s fancy dress either. Which explains why today, the Rich Volkswagen leaves far more dignified an impression than its contemporaries from Munich or Stuttgart.
Styling a busier, excessively ornate version of an Audi A7 will not leave posterity impressed. ’cause, you know, that ain’t very arty.
Better luck next time, Klaus!
The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com