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New Arteon arrives in SA: A legacy of VW’s fast sedans

2018-05-10 07:00

Image: Quickpic

Lance Branquinho

VW’s stunning new Arteon  is the maturing of a local performance sedan heritage started in the 1980s. 

The South African appetite for hot hatches is well known, but there was a time when South Africans were just as keen on affordable four-door performance cars. 

Room for a family, with a massive boot and keen performance. VW’s always had a family-friendly performance sedan in its product portfolio locally.

Legacy of sedans

You’d expect nothing less from the brand which established the hot hatch with original GTi and provided South Africans with their first taste of front-wheel drive German four-door performance motoring in the late 1980s.

We drive the new Arteon in Joburg

Tracing the history of VW’s fast four-door cars in South Africa is easy, you simply follow the parallel presence of its period hot hatches. By the time second-generation Golf arrived in the mid-1980s, there was a four-door performance car twin in the form of Jetta CLi.

Although these second-generation Jettas were initially powered by a 1.8-litre 16-valve engine, it’s the later 2-litre which became the most desirable of quick Jumbo Jettas.

Available in both eight- and sixteen-valve configurations the 2-litre CLIs had power outputs which appear laughable in 2018, it’s worth remembering that 85- and 110kW were plenty two and a half decades ago.

The rest is history

Jetta CLi 16-valve will forever be remembered for its unique leather seats (with those characteristic rectangular headrests) and because cars were much lighter in the late 1980s, it made very good use of all 110 of those kilowatts. Weighing only a bit more than 1100kg, Jetta CLi 16-valve was a spirited performer.

It proved to become a cult performance car, capable of embarrassing larger German luxury rivals from BMW and Mercedes, whilst also featuring an extraordinarily deep and voluminous boot for the time at 424-litres. 

The third-generation performance Jetta was a very special car and one which is cherished as a collectable VW. In the early 1990s, VR6-engined Golfs and Jettas elevated the performance credentials of VW handsomely, with 128kW of power and narrow-angle V6 acoustics which still rouse enthusiasts even today.

Getting better with age

Although the comparably heavy engine reduced some of the fabled Jetta agility, its power (and fuel-consumption) was unlike any VW previously. 

VW’s strategy with the VR6 would pay huge dividends in future. Engineers desperately wanted to develop a narrow-angle V6 engine, one more compact than any other V6, which could be scaled to power larger cars. But they needed to test and amortise the R&D costs in a volume model to ensure a balanced business case.

                                                                          Image: Quickpic

The solution was to build Golf and Jetta VR6, which would sell the narrow-angle V6 engine in sufficient volumes to subsidise the later development of VW’s renowned W12 engines, which powered Bentleys and Audis. 

In reference to South Africa’s market, VR6 remains the zenith of VW’s local Jetta performance cars. The fourth-generation Jetta prioritised turbocharged performance variant. Although the performance of these turbocharged Jettas was credible, then the drama of VW’s V6-powered Jettas was missing.

Goodbye CC, hello Arteon

The transition in VW’s local four-door performance offering came as Jetta defaulted to a high-speed cruiser whilst the traditionally more conservative model, Passat, was rerolled as a performance sedan.

For the last five years, it has been Passat which has taken responsibility for running with VW’s four-door V6-batton. Passat CC launched in 2012 and ushered in an era of sloping roofline style for VW’s four-door performance cars, powered by a fantastically characterful engine, the 220kW 3.6-litre V6. 

Featuring all-wheel drive and a DSG transmission the Passat 3.6 V6 4Motion could be classed as the ultimate evolution of what VW had started with Jetta VR6 in the 1990s. Arteon continues the tradition of fast four-door VWs, with some repurposed GolfR drivetrain bits.

The V6 engine configuration is missed, but Arteon remains true to the tradition of VW’s sedan-sized performance values.

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