New Volkswagen Arteon vs used Mercedes-Benz CLS: which is best?

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The new Volkswagen Arteon is a seriously desirable four-door coupé – but is a nearly new Mercedes-Benz CLS for the same price even more tempting?

The SUV may be all the rage these days, but it’s not the only type of car whose popularity is burgeoning. Quietly, and almost unnoticed, the four-door coupé is making its way into the mainstream, finding favour with family buyers who appreciate the practicality of a saloon or hatchback but still lust after the sleek lines of a coupé.

The Volkswagen Arteon is the latest to hit the market. It picks up where the old Volkswagen CC left off, but in place of that car’s saloon rear end it features a large hatchback, giving the Arteon added practicality. Five seats now come as standard, too, and there’s a smart interior and upmarket styling – all of which makes the Arteon look like a truly premium product.

New Volkswagen Arteon vs used Mercedes-Benz CLS

But why buy chicken when you can have steak? The Mercedes-Benz CLS was the car that started the four-door coupé craze and the second-generation version is one of our top used car buys. On paper, a second-hand example offers a lot more for the same amount of money – but, of course, it comes with the pitfalls of a used car. So which is the better way of spending your cash? Time to find out.

*** Note : £1 = $1.38 (correct at time of post)
Volkswagen Arteon 2.0 TDI Elegance
  • List Price £34,655
  • Target Price £32,202
  • Official fuel economy 65.7mpg
  • CO2 emissions 112g/km
  • Power 148bhp
  • 0-62mph9.4sec
  • Top speed 138mph
Mercedes-Benz CLS 350CDI AMG Line
  • Price new £50,695
  • Price today £30,000
  • Official fuel economy 51.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions 142g/km
  • Power 254bhp
  • 0-62mph6.5sec
  • Top speed 155mph

Price today is based on a 2016 model with average mileage and a full service history

styling

Styling is always a subjective thing, so which car you pick as your winner here is going to depend largely on your personal taste. Suffice to say, both cars boast lines that’ll make you turn back for one last look as you lock and leave them.

Whether it’s the Arteon’s snarling nose or the graceful sweep of the CLS’s roofline that floats your boat, either car will look the part whether you’re turning up for an important business meeting or simply arriving at the health club.

driving

Our favourite Arteon is, in fact, the petrol-powered 2.0 TSI – but since our preferred used CLS is diesel-powered and finding a petrol one is a needle-in-haystack business, we’ve opted for the 2.0 TDI. This is not only fairer for the purposes of this comparison, but it’s also likely the bigger seller.

What’s startling is that you can buy a two-year-old example of our chosen CLS, the potent 3.0-litre 350 CDI, for the same price as a brand new 2.0-litre Arteon. If you’ve already cast your eye over the spec boxes at the top of this page, you’ll have noticed the performance advantage this gives the CLS.

Out on the road, that manifests itself in an enormous shove that the Arteon, despite being smaller and lighter, simply can’t match. Where progress in the Arteon is merely adequate, in the CLS it’s muscular; on most roads, the former simply won’t see which way the latter went.

On standard Sport suspension, the CLS loses out on ride quality to the Arteon, although only just, because the latter’s standard suspension isn’t the most settled at town speeds. However, if you can find a CLS fitted with Comfort suspension – which was available at no extra cost – or, even better, the optional air suspension, it’ll waft away with the laurels in this area, and that’s the case even if you tick the option box for the Arteon’s adaptive suspension set-up. Happily, it’s not too hard to find a CLS equipped with air suspension; they show up in the classifieds with agreeable regularity.

What’s more, despite its extra size and weight, the CLS seems to have the edge over the Arteon in terms of handling. Neither is the last word in involvement, but whichever suspension set-up you choose the CLS delivers a smidge more involvement and comes with more pleasingly-weighted steering.

interior & equipment

The caramel-coloured wood and beige leather of the pictured car make the Mercedes-Benz CLS’s interior look rather old-fashioned. Fortunately, other combinations were available – not to mention more widely specified. And with these finishes, the CLS’s interior is altogether more appealing, with big slabs of wood and real metal as well as soft, supple leather.

By comparison, the Volkswagen Arteon’s crisp interior looks about a decade more modern – which, to be fair, it almost is. There are some gorgeous details here, too, such as the way the air vents sweep right across the dashboard. Notably, the Arteon has Volkswagen’s virtual cockpit – a huge screen in place of the dials that allows lots of custom information and sat-nav displays. The CLS is simply too old to have this feature. That said, the Arteon isn’t quite as well finished; the quality of the materials can’t quite match up to the CLS’s as you might indeed expect, considering the CLS originates from the class above the Arteon.

For that same reason, the CLS also comes with a huge equipment list. Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, LED headlights, satellite-navigation and a DAB radio are all standard. If you go for a CLS equipped with the optional Premium pack, as many on the used market do, you also get electric memory seats, a reversing camera, a sunroof and split-folding rear seats, while the Premium Plus package gives you keyless entry and an upgraded sound system.

That said, the Arteon fights back with an impressive kit list of its own. Our preferred Elegance version gives you LED headlights, sat-nav and heated front seats and builds on the standard CLS’s specification with that 12.3in virtual cockpit screen, three-zone climate control (adding controls for the rear seats) and adaptive cruise control.

space & practicality

The Arteon takes an easy win in this section for two reasons. First, you can fit an extra person in the back row; and secondly, because its hatchback tailgate and standard split-fold rear seats are far more versatile when it comes to loading larger items.

By comparison, the CLS’s smaller, saloon-style boot opening is much less practical – as is its rear bench, which consists of two sculpted rear seats with a storage binnacle in between that’s useful for stowing odds and ends but less so for carrying an extra person. What’s more, the CLS only gets folding rear seats as part of that Premium package and the boot itself is much smaller than the Arteon’s.

That said, the seating you get in the CLS does offer plenty of room and all four seats are extremely comfortable. Mind you, the same can be said of the Arteon; indeed, it actually offers a smidge more leg room in the rear, although the payoff for this is a little less than the CLS up front.

costs

Our Target Price of £32,202 for the Volkswagen Arteon suggests it’s possible to scrape a few thousand pounds off its list price of £34,655. And you should try, because that figure’s pretty steep. In fact, even at our recommended price, the Arteon feels a touch on the pricey side – especially when you consider just how much Mercedes-Benz CLS that amount gets you.

We reckon around £30,000 is all you need to get yourself behind the wheel of a two-year-old CLS 350 CDI with less than 20,000 miles and a full service history. And given the extra performance and prestige of this car, that sounds like something of a bargain – even more so when you remember that the CLS retailed at more than £50,000 when new.

That’s good news in more ways than one, because it means the CLS’s heaviest depreciation is out of the way, whereas a brand new Arteon’s has yet to come.

The flipside is that the CLS of this age will only have a year’s worth of its warranty left. However, extending the warranty at Mercedes’s highest level of cover and with £0 excess will cost you around £1000 a year – so were you to plump for the CLS, you could keep hold of the extra cash you’d have spent on the Arteon and use it to extend the warranty for two more years when the time came.

Where the CLS doesn’t stack up on the cost front is in terms of its day-to-day running. Its official fuel consumption figure of 51.4mpg is considerably less than the 65.7mpg the Arteon can lay claim to. While both cars will struggle to get anywhere near their figures in the real world, the difference between the two is likely to remain largely the same. In real terms, that means the CLS will probably cost you somewhere in the region of £50 more to run over the course of 10,000 miles than the Arteon.

The CLS will also cost you more to tax – although not by as much as you might think. That’s because a two-year-old CLS is still taxed under the pre-April 2017 system, which is based on CO2 emissions. As a result, it’ll cost £150 a year to tax.

By contrast, a new Arteon is taxed under the newer, flat-rate system, so it’ll set you back £160 in the first year, then £140 a year thereafter, despite emitting much less CO2. Keep in mind, though, that if you were to get a bit carried away with the options list and tip your Arteon’s price over the £40,000 mark, you’d face a £310 yearly surcharge on the latter tax figure.

alternatives

If the idea of a new Arteon floats your boat, the obvious alternative is the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé. A 420d SE is about the same sort of price and offers a more exciting driving experience, although it’s a smidge less well equipped as standard.

You could also look at an Audi A5 Sportback, which features the same range of engines and an even higher-quality interior. It’s actually cheaper to buy than the Arteon, like for like, but you also get less equipment as standard.

Or for something a little more left-field, you could try the Kia Stinger. Despite the budget connotations of the Kia badge, the Stinger feels upmarket enough to be a real rival to the cars listed above and comes with loads of kit along with a five-year warranty. However, it’s best served with a petrol engine, since the diesel options aren’t as polished.

Buying used opens up a selection of alternatives to the CLS. The BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé, for example, can be had for a little less money than the CLS. True, it isn’t quite as classy inside, but it is sportier to drive and has sharper handling. Plus, you get a fifth rear seat – albeit one that forces the passenger to straddle the central console rather awkwardly.

If practicality’s a concern, though, you’ll want to try out the Audi A7 Sportback. It can’t match the 6 Series, or even the CLS, for driving enjoyment but you do get a proper hatchback tailgate and three seats across the rear – the middle of which is more accomodating than the 6 Series’.

(whatcar.com, https://goo.gl/acipL1)

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