2018 Volkswagen Arteon

DON SHERMAN | C&D

Phonetically, Volkswagen’s new flagship is AR-tee-on; philosophically, it’s ART plus three letters tagging along for the ride. Think of it as the arty one and you’ll mispronounce it but nail the idea.

Does a market crazy for crossovers and pickups need a high-style hatchback sedan on a rescue mission? No, but this Passat-plus storm trooper should be an effective means of shifting the brand from defense to offense. Even though the camouflage won’t be stripped off until next spring’s Geneva auto show, Arteon prototypes we drove in South Africa convince us that VW is resuming a fruitful path.

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Peering Beneath the Surface

X-raying the thin layer of disguise, we saw automotive beauty in the flesh. A low hood sweeps the full width of the front tires. At the front, six horizontal blades in the grille and wraparound headlamps further accent the Arteon’s width, while five longitudinal creases per side draw the eye rearward over sculpted vertical surfaces and the low greenhouse. Frameless door glass, muscled haunches, a spoiler neatly blended into the hatch’s trailing edge, and sequential rear turn signals make the Arteon the sexiest people’s car since the Karmann Ghia.

Previewing its arrival, VW teased us with a sports coupe concept to supersede the CC (née Passat CC) at the 2015 Geneva motor show, which, like the CC, had four doors in contravention of the coupe nomenclature. Without traipsing heavily on Audi A5 and A7 turf, designers have toed the line between beauty and functionality to sculpt this affordable grand tourer, which we’re guessing will have a base price around $36,000. Likely foes include the Buick LaCrosse, the Nissan Maxima, and the Toyota Avalon. Let’s hope that hatchback haters try the Arteon’s back seat, where we found near-limo-grade space for three adults. Before turning attention in the traditional-sedan direction, skeptics also need to consider the 60 cubic feet of cargo space available when the split rear backrests are folded.

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