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2004 Volkswagen Phaeton Road Test

By Tom Strongman
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category:  -  
Who should buy this car: A person looking for the ultimate in luxury and sophistication in a roomy 4 door sedan
Comparable models in this class: Audi A8, BMW 745i, Lexus LS430, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes Benz S-Class
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.

Do you have any feedback on the Phaeton?  Any opinions or experiences ofyour own?  We would love to hear from you

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2004 Volkswagen Phaeton V8


Engine Type
Fuel Recommended
Drive Type
Tires - Standard
Overall Length "
Wheelbase "
Width "
Turning Diameter  ft.
Curb Weight  lbs.
Fuel Tank  gallons
Performance 0 to 60  seconds
Miles Per Gallon  mpg City,   mpg Highway
Base Sticker Price   plus destination charge

Standard Equipment

  • 4MOTION permanent all-wheel drive system with Torsen sensing center differential

  • Independent, 4-Corner adjustable air suspension with four adjustable damping settings, Electronic Damping Control (EDC), and auto leveling

  • Anti-slip regulation (Traction Control)

  • Electronic Differential Lock

  • Engine Braking Control

  • Electronic Brake Force Distribution

  • Electronic Stabilization Program with brake assist

  • Power glass sunroof with tilt, slide, power sunshade

  • Rain sensor, automatic wiper speed control

  • Heated windshield washer nozzles

  • Four-zone climate control

  • Driver and front passenger visor vanity mirrors with dual magnification

  • Premium 190 watt sound system with 10 speakers, 8 channel amplifier, sub woofer, AM/FM, and glove box mounted 6-disc CD changer

  • Driver, front passenger, and rear outboard passenger side airbag supplemental restraint system

  • 12-way power adjustable comfort front seats with heat, power adjustable lumbar support, and memory function for front seats, exterior mirrors

  • Navigation System. CD based navigation with visual and audible commands through color center console display and through multi-function onboard computer display in instrument cluster

  • Volkswagen Telematics provided by OnStar

  • Intelligent Crash Response System. Once a certain severity of crash is detected, all doors are automatically unlocked, the battery terminal is automatically disconnected from the alternator cable, fuel supply is automatically shut off, and high consumption electrical components are automatically shut off.

Major Available Options

  • 4-Seater Package Includes leather wrapped multi-function heated steering wheel, 10-way power adjustable rear outboard seats with heatable, A/C ventilation, memory and massage feature, power adjusted lumbar support, power adjustable head restraints, rear center console in wood with screen for 4-zone Climatronic, and rear controls for front passenger seat

  • Special Order Paint finishes includes a glass-like black finish that has absolutely no orange peel, among others.

  • Comfort and Cold Weather Package Includes leather wrapped multi-function heated steering wheel, rear outboard seats with heatable, A/C ventilation and massage feature, power adjusted lumbar support, power adjustable head restraints, and rear climate control display restraints and rear Climatronic controls with display.

  • Electronic Parking Assistance

  • Power opening/closing trunk

  • Keyless Access

  • 18" Alloy Wheels with All-Season Tires

  • Upgrade audio system Includes 13 speakers, 270 watt 12 channel amplifier, digital sound processing (DSP) with 7 adjustable simulated modes and dynamic sound compression.

For more information on the Phaeton, visit

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