Volkswagen has given the Passat a stylish new outfit to create the Arteon executive car. Can it beat the badge cache of a Jaguar XE, though?
*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)
Jaguar XE 20t 200 auto Portfolio
List price £31,695
Target Price £28,912
Recognised as the best-handling car in the class and has strong badge appeal
Volkswagen Arteon 2.0 TSI 190 DSG R-Line
List price £34,290
Target Price £32,833
VW’s new flagship model puts a suave coupé body over proven Passat mechanicals
When making an entrance, don’t most of us yearn to effect some dash, swagger and panache? So, when it comes to motoring haute couture, you might not dream of a Volkswagen, but is that all about to change?
Say hello to the Arteon. It’s based on the Passat, a fine car but one you might describe as the automotive equivalent of a hardwearing, off-the-peg suit. VW has torn that off and gifted it some Armani evening wear pizzazz. It still has two rear doors, a big boot and sensible engines – in this case, a 2.0-litre petrol with 187bhp – so can the Arteon carry it off?
No need to introduce Jaguar as a builder of elegant cars. The XE is a regular saloon, but it has the badge and swooping lines to stand out, plus a new engine that so happens to be a 2.0-litre petrol with 197bhp. A near-perfect fit, then, so time to pick the belle of the ball.
Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Neither car will give Grandma the willies with its straight-line pace, but both are agreeably brisk, allowing you to hit the motorway or nip past a dawdling Sunday driver without any drama.
The Arteon is quicker when you want it to be, though, building speed with more urgency when you put your foot down. With the XE having the more powerful engine, one can only assume that’s down to its ponderous eight-speed automatic gearbox, which slurs through gears and hesitates when pulling out of junctions and on to roundabouts, leading to the occasional blasphemous outburst. The Arteon’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto ’box is jerkier in stop-start traffic but responds more promptly when pulling away and pings up and down through the gears more energetically.
Both engines transmit a little vibration through to the steering wheel at idle; that disappears when you’re under way in the XE but lingers until around 1500rpm in the Arteon. The engines are relatively hushed when worked harder, but they sound different; the XE’s emits a higher-pitched rasp compared with the Arteon’s more gravelly tone.
At a 70mph cruise, both engines settle into the background, leaving just a bit of wind noise in the XE. The Arteon has a touch less gusty fl utter (its frameless doors were fitted with £535 laminated sound-insulating glass) but more road and suspension noise.
Both cars ride well, but the Arteon is more comfortable – in the main. With optional DCC adaptive dampers (£820) fitted, it smooths over ripples better than the XE on motorways and irons out patches of broken asphalt more effectively around town. However, the XE is more composed over potholes that the Arteon slams into.
The Passat is a surefooted car around corners, but it’s hardly engaging. Bearing in mind that the same mechanicals underpin the Arteon, there’s been a heck of a transformation. With our car’s suspension in Normal mode (the second of three settings), it tucks into corners neatly with minimal body lean, and the steering is nicely weighted and precise.
That said, if you live for driving pleasure alone, the XE will tickle you pink. You can stroke it along intuitively. It leans a little more, but its steering is more feelsome. And if the road is wet, the XE’s rear-wheel drive layout delivers greater traction under acceleration than the front-wheel-drive Arteon, which scrabbles for grip out of tighter turns.
Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality
While both cars offer a fine driving position, they go about things differently. The XE is more intimate and sportier-feeling; you sit lower, cocooned by its higher window line and the tall centre console running between you and your passenger. In the Arteon, the driver’s seat is higher and you feel less enveloped.
It also means you can see out relatively easily, unlike in the XE. The XE’s thicker front pillars and high-bottomed rear screen compromise visibility quite badly; rear parking sensors are standard, at least. However, the Arteon has sensors at both ends of the car.
The Arteon has the better driver’s seat, too. It doesn’t get the XE’s standard multi-way electric adjustment (that’s a £965 option), but it’s wide and supportive and includes powered adjustable lumbar support. The XE misses this (it’s a £245 option), so while its seat holds you in place well through corners, the limited lower back support is far from ideal.
There’s no doubting which feels smarter inside. The Arteon’s interior fuses appealing trims and quality buttons with robust construction. The XE’s feels the complete opposite; for example, the centre stack of buttons rocks when you prod it, while the vinyl-wrapped dashboard looks like a sixth-form design project.
Analogue instruments and an 8.0in touchscreen are standard, but the screen is quite slow and clunky to operate. Upgrading to InControl Touch Pro (£1090) makes it faster, but it’s still not as slick as the Arteon’s. The upgrade also brings digital instruments, and you can add the 10.2in touchscreen shown (£625). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available; you can connect your phone via an app. Portfolio trim gets a 380-watt stereo.
The graphics on the Arteon’s 8.0in screen look sharper than the XE’s systems. The menus are easier to fathom and the screen reacts more quickly to inputs. For £895, you can get a 9.2in screen with more functions, but the standard system is good enough. It has smartphone mirroring plus CarNet, which lets you¬ find parking spaces and traffic information online. The standard stereo sounds good, but the £1010, 700-watt system is even better.
Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot
There’s plenty of leg room in the front of both cars, and while six-footers won’t find head room to spare with the cars’ optional panoramic roofs fitted, it’s good enough. Each offers good separation between you and your front passenger, although the XE doesn’t provide as much storage for knick-knacks as the Arteon.
Move to the rear seats or open the boot and these cars are chalk and cheese. Two tall adults will struggle for leg room behind lanky front-seat occupants in the XE. And seating three abreast? That’s nigh on impossible. Sit in the back of the Arteon and, although head room isn’t much better than in the XE, leg room is up there with the class best, plus there’s room for three adults to sit side by side.
The XE’s boot opening is narrow and shallow and the space relatively confined; we squeezed in only five carry-on suitcases. You don’t get split-folding rear seats, either, unless you pay £420. In the Arteon’s boot, the hatchback tailgate means you can get larger items inside than you would in the Passat saloon, let alone the XE, and we managed to load eight carry-on suitcases. If you need more space, the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split.
Official boot capacity 455 litres Suitcase capacity 5
Both cars offer similar room up front, but the XE is tight for tall adults in the rear; a high central tunnel makes sitting a third rear passenger very tricky. The boot is small, with an angled floor and other intrusions that limit space further.
Official boot capacity 563-1557 litres Suitcase capacity 8
Rear head room is similar to the XE, but leg room is vastly better – easily fine for six-footers. While the width is the same on paper, in reality the Arteon can fit three abreast in the back. Hatchback gives better access to huge boot.
Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
On PCP finance, the Arteon offers cheaper monthly repayments. However, despite pumping out less CO2 than the XE, the Arteon is the more expensive company car; it will cost a 40% taxpayer just over £550 more over three years in benefit-in-kind salary sacrifices. And with dealer discounts not as enticing as they are for the XE (that might change in a few months), the Arteon will cost cash buyers more to purchase and run.
To offset that, the Arteon is better equipped, with additions over the XE including a heated steering wheel, digital instrument dials, power-folding door mirrors, privacy glass, adaptive LED headlights and 19in alloy wheels.
You also get additional safety kit with the Arteon, such as blindspot warning and adaptive cruise control, although both come with automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning.
Which one you’d rather be seen in is up to you, but we can tell you which is objectively the better car: it’s the Arteon.
More fun to drive but just as comfortable as the Passat, the Arteon feels like a premium product. And if you thought that sleek roofline would ruin its practicality, you’d be wrong: it’s surprisingly spacious for passengers and luggage. But it is pricey – not just next to the XE, but also the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.
If you simply must have the best-handling car in the class, buy the XE; it’s truly sublime. But you’ll have to put up with a lot that isn’t: iffy interior quality, a fiddly infotainment system and poor practicality. And that’s too much of a compromise.
1st – Volkswagen Arteon
For Peppy engine; fine ride; huge boot; spacious rear seats; lots of equipment
Against Costlier to buy and run; gearbox jerky in traffic; lacks premium-badge cache
Specifications: Volkswagen Arteon 2.0 TSI 190 DSG R-Line
- Engine size 4cyl, 1984cc, turbo, petrol
- List price £34,290
- Target Price £32,833
- Power 187bhp @ 4180-6000rpm
- Torque 236lb ft @ 1500-4180rpm
- Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
- 0-60mph 7.4sec
- Top speed 149mph
- Claimed fuel economy 47.1mpg
- CO2 emissions 135g/km
2nd – Jaguar XE
For Sweet handling; composed ride; nice discounts; cheaper company car tax
Against Iffy infotainment; poor perceived quality; cramped rear seats; small boot
Specifications: Jaguar XE 20t 200 auto Portfolio
- Engine size 4cyl, 1998cc, turbo, petrol
- List price £31,695
- Target Price £28,912
- Power 197bhp @ 5500rpm
- Torque 236lb ft @ 1200-4500rpm
- Gearbox 8-spd automatic
- 0-60mph 8.0sec
- Top speed 148mph
- Claimed fuel economy 45.1mpg
- CO2 emissions 144g/km