Updates to brand’s flagship bring plug-in power and an exotic shooting brake body

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The subject of this week’s road test is nothing less significant than the flagship offering from the world’s second-largest car maker.

The Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake may not be the most expensive Volkswagen on sale – that status is now held by the £77,195 Volkswagen Touareg R plug-in hybrid SUV – but it is the most eye-catching, is arguably the most interesting and, in architectural terms, sits squarely in traditional flagship heartland: the four-door exec.

Shooting Brake body is different from that of the fastback Arteon from the B-pillar back. The rear wheel arches have been bulked up, too, to give the new derivative a slightly more aggressive stance.

The Arteon was first introduced in 2017, in saloon form. At the time, it felt like more than simply a replacement for the sleek Passat CC, presenting as VW’s attempt to finally fill the considerable space vacated by its old line-leading saloon, the Phaeton, which was mothballed in 2013 after two generations and precious little interest from Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series buyers.

Of course, the Arteon was very much a spiritual Phaeton successor, rather than a literal one, being a class and a half smaller, less expensive and endowed with a motor that took the form not of a 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 shared with Bentley but of a 2.0-litre in-line four. It would instead stand itself out with its striking looks and a combination of space, reasonable levels of opulence and, most of all, relative affordability for a GT-esque device.

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However, in the end it came out of the oven only lukewarm, and we concluded that it was “an interesting although slightly half-hearted crack at something genuinely different and appealing”. Duly, since then, the model has struggled to make an impact.

Four years later and the Arteon gets another bite of the cherry. We’ve invited it back for a full road test not only because of the appearance of its exotic new shooting brake body, but also because VW now offers the car with an economical but punchy plugin hybrid powertrain that enhances its on-paper versatility.

Is, then, the Arteon Shooting Brake eHybrid now a flagship VW worthy of that status?

The Arteon line-up at a glance

It might surprise you to learn that a car of the Arteon’s GT-lite aspirations is available in manual form, but the entry-level (and somewhat underpowered) petrol and diesel versions offer just that.

It is also surprising that there are no mild hybrids in the line-up, but that’s because the Arteon uses an older version of the MQB platform that doesn’t facilitate the technology.

The final surprise is that VW has launched an R version, with the same driveline as the 316bhp, four-wheel drive, torque-vectoring Golf R.



2 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT hero side

The resculpted rear bodywork increases the height of the Volkswagen Arteon by 19mm but leaves the overhang unchanged, so in length, this big VW continues to split the difference between the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, whether or not you opt for the Shooting Brake derivative.

As for the reason VW uses the term ‘shooting brake’ rather than ‘estate’, it comes down to the rake of the tailgate window, which is markedly shallow and akin to what we’ve seen in the past on the C218-generation Mercedes CLS, with the glasshouse extending similarly deep into the D-pillar. The effect is dramatic enough, and there’s no risk the load-friendly Arteon would ever be mistaken for the Volkswagen Passat Estate, or any other regular estate model. At the back, the LED light clusters have also been redesigned, as part of a raft of updates applied to the Arteon for the 2021 model year.

VW has ‘sharpened’ the front-end design, with new daytime-running LEDs and a more shapely front bumper. The changes are subtle, though, and telling the difference between this car and the pre-facelift version isn’t easy.

Fundamentally, the MQB-based Arteon is otherwise much as before, but for two significant additions to the engine line-up that we’ll come to. The 1.5-litre petrol (available with manual gearbox only) and the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel units (with a dual-clutch automatic) have been the carried over and the punchy but strained-sounding 237bhp twin-turbo diesel dropped.

The surviving engines have been lightly revised, mainly with emissions-related equipment, and now range from 148bhp to 197bhp, with their efforts delivered to the front wheels alone, except for the 197bhp 2.0 TDI, which is paired exclusively with four-wheel drive. Although it has yet to make an appearance on UK price lists, the old 276bhp 2.0 TSI is expected to reappear before too long and would also be paired with a clutch-based Haldex all-wheel drive system.

One of the newcomers is the eHybrid powertrain tested here. This is essentially the same PHEV powertrain found in the Golf GTE, only with a combined power output of 215bhp rather than 242bhp for some strange reason (given that the Arteon is the far heavier car). A 154bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine is paired with a 113bhp electric motor annexed to the dual-clutch gearbox, with electricity supplied by a 13kWh lithium ion battery beneath the boot floor. The Shooting Brake touts an official 35 miles of electric range (versus 37 for the 1kg lighter but more streamlined fastback).

The other new derivative is more exciting. A fully fledged R model has recently joined the Arteon’s line-up, with 316bhp and the same torque-vectoring AWD system found on the latest Golf R. Images show it doesn’t want for kerbside presence, either.


11 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT cabin

The Volkswagen Arteon comes in three trim levels: entry-level SE Nav, then Elegance and R-Line, which are roughly on a par in terms of price but tilt the car towards either luxury or sporting cues respectively.

In reality, the differences are subtle and every Arteon offers the kind of bulletproof perceived quality that was commonplace for VW until standards began to slip just a touch with the arrival of the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf. The Arteon hails from before that time, and while the steering wheel (with its slightly awkward flat-panel buttons) has been updated to VW’s latest, the rest of the cabin is mostly unchanged.

GTE button isn’t easily visible (it hides behind the gear selector), but pressing it ‘locks’ the driveline into hybrid mode, with the engine and motor both on duty

It’s an environment of hard lines, glossy surfaces, metal-dipped trim and, in the case of our test car, a rather fetching expanse of eucalyptus across the broad dashboard.

It’s also a cabin that prizes space above all else. Even the perched front row seating makes the scuttle ahead of you and beltlines on each flank feel refreshingly low, and anyone who goes for the panoramic roof will find it only enhances the sense of expansiveness. Second-row leg room also remains at the very top end of the class, and the Arteon will facilitate families better than many regular mid-sized estates such as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Peugeot 508.

As for raw carrying capacity, the VDA figure (which is determined by filling the boot with one-litre blocks) for the Arteon Shooting Brake is 565 litres, versus 563 for the fastback. However, VDA measures up to the parcel shelf only, and it’s in the space above the load cover that the Shooting Brake makes its gains.

That said, the eHybrid loses out on 110 litres of carrying capacity, because of its drive battery, and all versions of the car go without an adjustable boot floor, leaving a substantial lip. Note also that the Volkswagen Passat Estate is usefully more commodious.

VW Arteon infotainment & sat-nav

The Arteon’s Discover Media Navigation system harks back to a time before the programming of Volkswagen’s infotainment offerings had been taken in-house and, frankly, messed up.

The system in the new Golf is plagued by glitches and latency, and the use of haptic controls for the ventilation and volume have proved unintuitive and at times unresponsive. VW is currently in the process of curing the new system’s ills, but software updates can do only so much.

Happily, the Arteon’s system is crisp and bright in its graphics and simple in its menu structure, and it benefits from physical controls for the important tasks. There is also a range of readouts relating to the hybrid system, including one that lets you set the charge state for the battery. (The engine can top it up on the move.)

However, wireless phone charging is not available, and the 10.3in digital instrument binnacle isn’t that sharp.


21 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT engine

You might think a rakish-looking car like the Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake deserves a longitudinally mounted engine of, oh, six cylinders at least, and we’d be inclined to agree.

However, the VW MQB platform that underpins this car permits only transverse mounting and four cylinders. And in the case of the eHybrid, that four-cylinder engine has a displacement of only 1.4 litres and on its own makes just 154bhp.

Sharp bends tend to highlight throttle adjustability, of which the Arteon has almost none at all.

Expectations relating to performance therefore need to be managed, even if the car does benefit from two sources of power, the electrical portion of which takes total output to 215bhp at maximum attack. As for weight, with 50 litres of unleaded aboard, our test car tipped the scales at 1783kg, which, although far from shameful in this class and only moderately above the claimed minimum kerb weight of 1734kg, is still considerable. The resulting power-to-weight ratio of 124bhp per tonne is comparable with what you’d get with only the quicker mainline hatchbacks, such as the Seat Leon 2.0 TSI 190.

In GTE mode – a setting that unifies both power sources for maximum performance and is selected via a dedicated button on the transmission tunnel – our test car turned in a 0-60mph time of 7.1sec, which beats the manufacturer’s claim of 7.8sec to 62mph but is leisurely by the standards of rival mid-sized PHEVs. Step-off is at least crisp and the delivery of drive generally linear, helped by slick full-throttle upshifts from the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, all of which makes the Arteon eHybrid an easygoing if unexciting performer.

Of course, the Arteon eHybrid’s brand of everyday performance is more relevant and, in this area, the car is generally more compelling. The driveline defaults to EV mode when you start the car, and while gearshifts aren’t quite so smoothly executed when the gearbox is channelling torque from the electric motor alone, the Arteon eHybrid has good driveability as an EV. When more power is required, the engine fires up gracefully and starts to quietly contribute, with only the faintest disturbance in the delivery of drive.


22 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT on road front

The Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake comes equipped with VW’s DCC adaptive dampers as standard, and these give the chassis a good breadth of ability.

In truth, though, there’s little reason ever to let the suspension stray from its default Comfort setting. Reaping the benefits of the increased damping force in Sport mode would require you to drive the Arteon eHybrid in a fashion that exceeds its dynamic sweet spot, because this is a car that prioritises secure roadholding and accurate, measured direction changes over the sort of agility and handling flair you’d expect from BMW or Mercedes and, to some extent, Peugeot.

It turns in easily, grips strongly and is utterly dependable, but you can’t fine-tune the cornering attitude with the throttle and it lacks the flair of its BMW and Peugeot rivals.

The VW can sustain good cross-country pace and is reasonably agile for its size, but this chassis lacks throttle adjustability and doesn’t have that ability to shrink itself around you on smaller roads. It never asks to be driven at all hard and doesn’t reward any efforts to do so.

That said, the Arteon Shooting Brake offers up more to the keen driver than the Volkswagen Passat and has more to chew on dynamically than the Skoda Octavia or Skoda Superb can muster.

You can enjoy the process of flowing the VW down an A- or B-road, secure in the knowledge that the suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multilink at the rear) will soak up the road surface without much fuss and yet isn’t vulnerable to excessive float.

Grip levels provided by the Pirelli P Zero tyres are unlikely to be surpassed by even committed driving. The uniformity of weight in the steering is disappointing but to be expected, and the tuning – this is an electrically assisted set-up with speed-dependent gearing – is at least accurate and consistent.

It’s not hard to get the car turned in to bends, after which it never strays from your chosen line, despite the conspicuous understeer balance of the chassis. Inert? Yes, but also dependable.

With its long wheelbase and broad tracks, the Arteon exhibits good natural stability on the Hill Route at Millbrook. As with the regular Arteon, the Shooting Brake offers little in the way of excitement or involvement but does possess good accuracy in its steering. Roll is generally well contained, although it lacks the control you would find with a BMW 3 Series or 5 Series Touring riding on M Sport suspension.

In short, the Arteon will tolerate being hustled and is comfortable making swift progress, but it begins to feel uncomfortable above, say, seven-tenths effort. You sense this most in the calibration of the ESP system, which acts upon the brakes long before the Arteon is in danger of losing grip at the front axle.

It’s a highly conservative set-up that wouldn’t be so necessary were the eHybrid also to benefit from a driven rear axle. As it stands, the Arteon is easy enough to drive fast, but it is also fairly staid.

Comfort and isolation

There’s little wrong with the ‘ergoComfort’ driver’s seat in the Arteon (the front passenger seat does without the same level of adjustability), beyond the fact that it positions its occupant a touch too high. BMW and Peugeot have the better of VW in this respect, with their lower, more heavily bolstered and generally sporting offerings, but in truth, a more relaxed set-up suits the Arteon, which doubles down with considerably more cabin space than either the 330e Touring or 508 SW Hybrid.

Unlike the R-Line Arteon, the Elegance is not fitted with the 20mm shorter suspension springs and wears only 18in wheels with tyres in possession of healthy sidewalls.

However, our test car has been ‘upgraded’ with 19in wheels and therefore isn’t representative of the Arteon at its most pliant. The car still rides with good fluidity at speed but certainly isn’t immune to bump-thump in town driving and generally doesn’t come across as being as sophisticated in its suspension movements as some rivals. It shouldn’t be the case that the red-hot 508 SW Peugeot Sport Engineered, with its 20in wheels, ultra-low profile tyres and road-hugging ride height, should deal better with the range of British road surfaces.

The VW is at least noticeably quieter than the French car on the move and is in general well suited to touring duties. At speed, it’s calm, with fine ergonomics and all that cabin space contributing to the sense of ease.


1 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT hero front

There’s a broad spread of prices among PHEV estates. At the top end, performance specials such as the Peugeot 508 SW PSE and Volvo V60 Polestar Engineered are closing in on £60,000. At the other, the pragmatic Skoda Octavia iV Estate slips in at less than £35,000.

In Elegance trim, the Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake sits somewhere in the middle, costing £41,330, with optional extras such as the nappa leather upholstery upgrade, panoramic roof and ‘IQ Light’ headlights then taking our test car to £46,820. For something so large and comfortable, with two power sources, and not without some sense of occasion, those figures don’t strike us as being unreasonable.

Arteon Shooting Brake generally does better than rivals from mid-tier brands like the Peugeot 508 SW, but can’t match the BMW 3 Series Touring for residuals

However, what makes life difficult for the VW is the existence of the BMW 330e M Sport Touring, which starts at around £43,000, feels more luxurious within, is comfortably quicker and is natively rear driven, with its longitudinally mounted four-cylinder engine. And we’d take fine handling and the extra performance over an extra 10% boot capacity any day.

As with any current mid-sized PHEV, the Arteon’s electric driving range is meagre, at around 25 miles in the real world. Neither is the economy potential of the 1.4-litre engine especially great, so unless you’re able to charge the battery frequently (or the car’s 14% benefit in kind is advantageous to you), consider first a straight petrol or diesel version.

The latter would be particularly well suited to long-distance duties, with the 66-litre fuel tank giving the car a touring range of around 900 miles.



25 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake 2021 RT static

Cast an objective eye over the Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake and it’s difficult to level serious criticism at this flagship Volkswagen.

It is priced sensibly in line with mid-sized saloons and estates but has a capaciousness that is easily a match for competitors in the class above. Topped off with what is an undeniably striking piece of exterior design, the Shooting Brake ticks all of the major boxes it should.

Striking PHEV appears radical but upholds VW’s traditions at heart

This plug-in hybrid version then offers good refinement and the potential for extremely low day-today fuel consumption, although both attributes are dependent on your ability to charge the relatively small drive battery frequently. If you can’t do that, you’re better off with one of the regular models.

Where the Arteon Shooting Brake falls down slightly concerns the more subjective elements. Considering the enticing – and athletic-looking – bodywork, the car offers little dynamically for the keen driver to get his or her teeth into, and given that the eHybrid has two power sources to play with, the performance is also underwhelming.

It’s a comfortable, attractive and useful cruiser, but it’s not at all an exciting one.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake First drives