Volkswagen Arteon fires up the desire for elegant cars

The VW Arteon is a car of quirky sparks

Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake
(Image credit: TBC)

Volkswagen Arteon is one of the best-looking cars currently on sale, and in its ‘Shooting Brake’ configuration it represents something that’s slowly and inevitably ebbing away from the mass market – design for design’s sake. To the uninitiated, the Arteon range (available as both a Fastback and the aforementioned estate-like ‘Shooting Brake’ shown here) are uncharacteristically big for a Volkswagen – a company once known mainly for compact cars. The Arteon twins are also defiantly not SUVs, that unavoidable market segment that looms over all other types of car, threatening to smother the auto industry into chunky homogeneity.

Is this elegance enough? The VW Group is a global behemoth, so it can at least strive to be all things to everyone. With a portfolio that contains everything from ultra-luxury (Bugatti) to high-end products (Bentley and Lamborghini), premium products (Audi and Porsche), affordable but characterful (SEAT and Skoda) and everything else (Volkswagen), the company has a broad remit. However, the Arteon still sits in a weird niche of its own, capable of cannibalising sales from its sibling brands while simultaneously undermining Volkswagen’s core message of coherent, no-nonsense competence. 

Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake

Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake, photographed at the Zaha Hadid-designed Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg

(Image credit: TBC)

It’s also a good car. Underneath that elegant bodywork there is a handsome and spacious cabin with some of the best graphics and switches of any modern car, sensibly sober controls and screens and impressive room for passengers and luggage – it swallowed a flat-pack King Size bed with no trouble.

Beyond the good looks there are quibbles. The Arteon suffers from existing in the awkward twilight years of the internal combustion engine. There are several available engine options, none of which are especially special or distinctive save for the most powerful version – a common problem with many contemporary cars. So unless you opt for the OTT Arteon R model, there’s little to nothing to differentiate between the various sizes of petrol or diesel, apart from price, economy, and conscience.

The most interesting model by far is the Arteon Shooting Brake eHybrid, which squeezes VW’s excellent hybrid system into the mix, boosting overall power and giving you a useful bit of pure electric range for short journeys. VW are going out on a limb expecting people to let their hearts rule their minds and buy this car, especially as the model is unlikely to survive once VW finishing migrating to a pure EV strategy over the next decade. Right now, the ID range of EVs is still bedding in, led by the compact ID.3 with the ID.4 and ID.5 on their way. They’re all good, but crucially none of them have the quirky spark of joy you get from the Arteon. For now this remains the model’s trump card, for it’s going be a while before EVs have matured to the point where design for design’s sake can start to play a role.

Interior, Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake

The interior of the Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake is high-tech without being overwhelming

(Image credit: TBC)

Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake and Fastback

Available as both Shooting Brake and Fastback

(Image credit: TBC)


Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake R-Line. Price as tested £41,720

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.