The VW Arteon R came out just a little too late. Back in 2017, VW was mulling over the idea of sticking in a 3.0-litre version of the turbocharged VR6 it uses for a couple of Chinese market specials. There were even a couple of VR6-engined Arteon prototypes, but fast forward to 2021, and the idea of sticking such an engine in a new car for Europe, where there are low fleet average emissions figures to meet, isn’t so palatable.
So, prodding the start button in this Arteon R shooting brake results not in a smooth, sweet six-cylinder song, but the familiar inline-four grumble of the EA888 that powers the Golf R and many, many other VW Group performance cars. One such vehicle is the Tiguan R we reviewed a few weeks back, which suffers from the same problem as this Arteon SB - despite the 2.0-litre engine being tasked with shifting around more weight, it’s no more powerful than it is in the Golf.
Granted, the weight gain is more modest here (about 150kg) and it doesn’t have to contend with a high ride height robbing the sensation of acceleration, but 316bhp still isn’t quite enough. Put your foot down, and the Arteon R feels plenty brisk while leaving you wanting.
In terms of the numbers, you’re looking at 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, making this two tenths slower than a Golf R hatchback. It’s an identical figure to the Golf R estate, at least, but as a ‘superior’ model in the line-up, shouldn’t it have more go?
The 2.0-litre TSI is also a much more polite sounding engine than it used to be, although that’s not strictly VW’s fault. Giving any engine a stirring soundtrack, let alone an inline-four, is easier said than done when you’re contending with petrol particulate filters. The gearbox is pretty middle of the road too, meanwhile. The seven-speed DSG auto shifts up briskly enough, but there’s a noticeable and frustrating pause before the car allows the throttle to open back up after downshifts.
Sticking with a smaller engine does at least mean the front end is lighter than it might have been, and sure enough, the Arteon R changes direction nicely. Aiding agility further, the new R Performance Torque Vectoring system features as standard. As you’ve likely heard us explain quite a few times now given the number of cars this is already fitted to, the setup allows for a full variation of the torque split between axles and the rear wheels.
In theory, the full fury of the 2.0-litre engine can be unleashed upon a single rear wheel, which might make you think power sliding shenanigans are possible. But they’re not. At least not on a good, dry surface - the only time the Arteon gave any sense of movement at the rear axle was on a corner that had a little loose gravel leftover from one of those crappy resurfacing jobs they often do in the UK.
Otherwise, it felt much like a typical VW R product, with healthy levels of traction that eventually give way to predictable understeer. For a lot of people, that’ll be just fine, but if you place a lot of importance on how a car feels on a nice country road, you might be left disappointed.
The R version of the Arteon sits 20mm lower than the standard car, and along with the snazzy torque vectoring system, you get adaptive dampers as standard too. They make the ride a little too firm for the road in R mode, with a better balance given in Sport. If that’s not to your liking either, you can use a sliding scale to choose from a ridiculous number of settings.
Leave the car softer, and it’s a fabulous cruiser. That’s where its true strengths lie, even if the cabin isn’t quite as nice as the old one, and even though it’s adopted the rubbish and fiddly steering button pad things VW is spreading across its range. Many miles can be dispatched with ease, and surprisingly frugally, with the 2.0-litre engine judging 40mpg if you’re careful. Boot space is similar to what you get in a Golf R estate, with 565 litres available with the rear seats up, and 1632 with them folded flat.
It is a pity the Arteon R doesn’t have more of its own identity, particularly when it could have been so much more interesting. As it stands, it’s far from the most exciting performance wagon out there. But I’m still glad it exists, simply because it’s not yet another fast crossover. When the Golf estate ticks a lot of the same boxes, it’s a surprise that VW bothered making any Arteon Shooting Brake, let alone this R version.
See also: Why VW Pulled The Plug On A 400bhp VR6 Arteon R
And what it lacks in spice it makes up for just by being a nice thing. It’s by far the most handsome thing VW makes, although it arguably needs the optional 20-inch wheels to look its best. Eye it up for a while, and you’ll soon forget what might have been.
VW Arteon R Shooting Brake stats
Engine: EA888 inline-four turbo
Torque: 310lb ft
Top speed: 155mph
Price: £52,435 (£57,200.19 tested)