Road test: Volkswagen Arteon
Taking a quick break to the Tasman Peninsula is a journey worth savouring in the VW Arteon.
The sedan is dead, long live the sedan. In a motoring era saturated with SUVs, which now account for around 50 percent of car sales in Australia, there’s almost a nostalgia to finding myself cruising out of Hobart in a new sedan, especially one as sleek and slick as the Volkswagen Arteon.
Modelled on its sibling Passat, but sitting lower and more elegant, there’s one surprising thing about this Arteon that sets it up as a perfect touring vehicle: space. Despite the sporty appearance, the car’s boot is cavernous, with 563 litres of luggage space. It’s more than enough for almost any road trip, especially a quick break like the one I’m making to the Tasman Peninsula.
As Hobart’s early-morning commuter crush heads one way across the Tasman Bridge, I’m disappearing the other way. On the road, the first impression of the Arteon is that it’s conveyorbelt smooth as I weave through the traffic, the blind-spot warning lights on its side mirrors flickering like a heartbeat.
Like all Tasman Peninsula drives, the day truly feels like it begins in Dunalley and the familiar metallic whirr as I cross the bridge over the Denison Canal, Australia’s only purpose-built sea canal.
The haul to Port Arthur – the Tasman Peninsula’s star feature – was a quick trip to hell for 19th-century convicts, but today it’s a journey worth savouring. I shun the direct route, turning instead at Taranna onto the road less travelled: the B37 through Koonya and Premaydena to Nubeena.
“Like all Tasman Peninsula drives, the day truly feels like it all begins in Dunalley ... as I cross the bridge over the Denison Canal.”
Out here, you wouldn’t know you’re on the road to one of Tasmania’s most popular tourist sites, with traffic thinning to a trickle and the Arteon taking the ever-present road bends like a slalom racer. Green hills fall into blue seas and, at the first hint of a rain shower, the VW’s rainsensor windscreen wipers flicker into action. They’re just one feature among the Arteon’s suitable suite of modern wizardry, from Park Assist – automatically steering the car into parking spaces – to a 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system, to a massage setting in the driver’s seat.
Time is no enemy this day, and I turn off the road to detour out to the Coal Mines Historic Site and Lime Bay. A short walking trail loops through the Coal Mines, Port Arthur’s companion convict site and Tasmania’s first mine, once housing the so-called worst of the worst convicts. The ruined cells, with their windows and chimneys still etched into tumbledown walls, now resemble a partly completed jigsaw puzzle.
The road turns to gravel beside the Coal Mines as I continue the couple of kilometres to the coast at Lime Bay, and the vehicle handles the change of surface easily, even if for an extra few grand you can upgrade to the Arteon R-Line, which adds all-wheel drive to the package.
On the corrugated road, the VW’s suspension continues to cushion the ride as I turn back past the Coal Mines, returning to the bitumen, where the pace picks back up. Rising over the Tasman Peninsula’s spine of hills, I’m treated to my first views of the Southern Ocean. Surfers often use this rise to take a measure on the waves, but this day the sea is rolled out flat and calm.
Soon I’m down by these waters, passing through Nubeena and heading out to White Beach and lunch at the ever-friendly Pickers Pantry. Set beside packing sheds with tables slotted between rows of pear trees, the cafe merges into an orchard. The clouds have parted and the farm dog snoozes in the sun beside my table. In the bay, gulls speckle the Brother and Sister Islands, and the sun pours down, turning White Beach all shades of colour.
From White Beach, it’s back over the hills to my day’s finish in Port Arthur. I settle briefly again into the Arteon’s Nappa leather seats, which are supremely comfortable (though not so comfortable that the car’s driver-fatigued detection system will be put to the test).
It’s a final chance to open the throttle for the pull up the slopes of Mount Arthur to McHenry Distillery. In that contemporary Tasmanian way, distilleries have been about as frequent as towns on this drive – Dunalley Bay Distillery, Impression Bay Distillery and now McHenry in just 55km since leaving Dunalley – with McHenry providing a suitable full stop to the day.
From the cellar door, I grab a bottle of whiskey for an evening on the peninsula, and continue up the slopes on a steep gravel road – a final bit of grunt work for the Arteon, climbing high above the farm-like distillery to McHenry’s elevated guest accommodation, and vast views over the peninsula to distant kunanyi/Mount Wellington, Bruny Island and the Southern Ranges.
Whiskey, views, sedan. I see nothing here that’s out of fashion.
Pricing: 140TSI Elegance $69,900 drive away
Body style: Sedan
Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km
Safety ANCAP rating: 5 stars
Engine type: 2.0 litre turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed DSG
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Max. power: 140KW @ 4200-6000rpm
Max. torque: 320Nm @ 1500-4100rpm
0-100km/h: 7.9 seconds
Luggage area: 563L
Luggage area with rear seats folded: 1557L