Volkswagen Arteon BiTDI R-Line
Tour de France
Volkswagen will sell you a Caravelle camper, but the Arteon is almost as roomy inside, although you’d have to improvise the sleeping arrangements and the cooking facilities are a bit rubbish. The Arteon is 4.8m long, 2.8m of which consists of wheelbase, resulting in palatial rear quarters.
France is also big, especially if you do an entire lap of it. Which we did, inadvertently: Cambridge to Aix-en-Provence, Aix to La Rochelle, then Calais… Factor in some cocking about in between, and you’re talking 2,000 miles and a total of 24 hours on the move. Look it up on a map. I wish I had before we set off.
That’s a proper test, and the Arteon is quasi-Merc S-Class/CLS, not just in terms of rear legroom but also in presence and its stately on-road gait. It’s an imposing machine, and with some stand-out design cues: the nose, clamshell bonnet and the swell over its rear arches are all strong. As is its motorway cruising game, at which point the BiTDI engine’s low-rev grumbliness has smoothed out into an unobtrusive industrial beat. Double glazing helps, as does Flight of the Conchords on rotation (especially French pop piss-take ‘Foux du Fafa’).
It was also an opportunity to test some of the functionality that wouldn’t get much of a look-in during the preview of hell that is the M25. The Arteon features much of VW’s latest thinking on the path to full autonomy, by way of its predictive and Adaptive Cruise Control, which automatically accelerates and brakes to maintain an appropriate distance to the car in front. It also uses GPS road data to adjust the car’s speed as it approaches bends, and lane assist stops you wandering into the Armco or a Romanian artic.
After a bit of fiddling, I got it all working, and sat back to let the car swallow the empty miles south. Of course, a chime every 20 seconds reminded me to keep my hands on the wheel, and it wasn’t long before I got bored waiting for the car to speed up again following another bout of deceleration. Nor did my insistence on my family watching the wizardry at work have the desired effect, other than my son also asking me to put my hands back on the wheel. Fail, as the kids say.