|Some may think a luxury Volkswagen is a rolling contradiction, but the all-new Phaeton is proof that the company that got its start building the "people's car" knows how to build a world-class sedan. |
The Phaeton has a number of novel ideas, such as a revolutionary 12-cylinder engine whose pistons are arrayed in a W formation and a four-zone ventilation system that blows air through hidden vents. With all-wheel drive and either a 4.2-liter, 335-horsepower V-8 or a 6.0-liter, 420-horsepower W-12, the Phaeton is a bona fide competitor of luxury cars such as the BMW 7-Series, Audi A8 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Prices start at $66,515 for the V-8 and $83,515 for the W-12.
At first glance, the Phaeton looks like a big Passat, but upon closer examination it is considerably different. The 118.1-inch wheelbase is only 3 inches shorter than the Audi A8. Volkswagen owns Audi, so it is not surprising that the Phaeton compares favorably to the A8 even though the two cars are quite distinct. The A8 is all aluminum, while the Phaeton is made of fully galvanized steel with aluminum doors, hood and trunk. The Phaeton has an arrow-shaped nose, chrome grille and bold headlights. The coupelike roofline has a formal rear window. LED taillights give it a unique rear signature.
I drove a V-8 because it will be the most popular model. The W-12 will be available in much smaller numbers. Eventually, VW will have a 5.0-liter, V-10 turbodiesel option. The 4.2-liter V-8 is essentially the same as the one used in the Audi A8, and it has considerable legs. Power is smooth and consistent across a wide range, and although it is fairly thirsty, it moves the Phaeton with authority. It drives VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that can be shifted manually if the driver so desires.
Borrowing a page from Audi, Volkswagen has learned to design interiors that are warm and luxurious, models of high style and craftsmanship. The Phaeton's cabin has a look that Volkswagen calls "handcrafted". The gauges have chrome trim rings and delicate numerals. The instrument panel's texture looks like pebblegrain leather. The heated and cooled leather front seats have adjustable under-thigh support. Another feature of these seats is that they gently massage their occupants with the flip of a switch. Rear-seat legroom is very generous, and the trunk is gigantic. It's clear that the Phaeton is far more than a fancy Passat.
The center of the instrument panel has an LCD screen for the navigation system, audio system, on-board computer and telephone. The stereo's six-disc CD changer is located in the glove box, along with the CD player for the navigation system. A DVD-based navigation system will be offered in the future. The audio system is on par with fine home stereos, perhaps even better.
Front and side airbags for both front and rear passengers are standard, along with side-curtain airbags that cover the windows. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and a vehicle-stability system are all standard.
The Phaeton is equipped with General Motors' OnStar system. OnStar provides route guidance and concierge service, plus it summons help in an emergency.
The Phaeton is produced in an all-new, high-style factory in Dresden, Germany. Called the Transparent Factory, it is designed so that customers can watch their cars being built. Eight hundred people will produce up to 100 cars each day.