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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jun 10, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff



Any new anything out here in LA-LA land becomes an instant target for commentary, reviews, and the ever-popular hot tip.

Comments that seem to stick in my head (paraphrasing the masses) “Who makes that?” “It costs that much!” “That looks awesome!” And the car that is being referred to is none other than the Dodge Viper in its original formula way back when. I can’t help but remember those gems. It is easy enough to see the parallels between that automotive icon and the new Volkswagen Phaeton. Both are hardcore renditions of their respective genres. Neither company is considered the most likely to produce such distinct vehicles. Both auto companies want(ed) an image vehicle to cast a halo effect over their entire brand. Both have something to prove.

The Viper is now one for the automotive historians, which I freely admit that I am not. The VW Phaeton is one for today’s auto media to pick apart, as only we can. The Phaeton is a remarkable achievement for the German company. With a base price of $65,000 for the V8, and at a price of double that of any of its other products, the W12 comes in at $94,600 (base).

The motorcar is loaded full of all the best bits one desires, like a twelve cylinder motor, adjustable suspension, near limo-size cabin, wood, leather, and electronic gizmos. The Phaeton is VW’s response to the Mercedes Benz S class and the BMW 7 series. Now it gets murky with regards to the Audi A8. Why does VW/Audi compete with itself in such a small niche? As we see it, the Audi promotes Audi and has little if any carry over halo effect at VW. Even the extended warranty doesn’t completely quash the concerns of many regarding quality issues that might be associated with the lesser VW cars. Perhaps the Phaeton can do what a warranty can’t. This is a flesh-and-blood (metal and rubber) embodiment of the direction and emphasis that VW is exhibiting lately.

Volkswagen doesn’t want to give the impression that it builds cheap cars. The correct mindset is inexpensive, affordable cars - cars of real value. As far as the Phaeton goes, this is indeed a value. Unlike purchasing a Mercedes or BMW, the Phaeton offers the rare commodity of exclusivity. While many opt for other brands, VW rewards its driver with the relative equivalent in style and performance, plus the added ingredient of distinction. It is rather amazing that in order to gain some individuality, many owners of six-figure cars feel compelled to run out and purchase new wheels.

The Phaeton doesn’t stand out obnoxiously, but it does garner respect based on its well proportion, classy looks. It bares a fairly strong family resemblance to the VW product line. This is a good thing, as, overall, VW (and Audi, for that matter) have exceptional styling. The buyers of even a base Golf can feel prouder of their wheels in the knowledge that the Phaeton is a not-too-distant relative of their ride. The Phaeton does offer an abundance of refinement and features, but there is a cost penalty aside from the dollars. The Phaeton is far from a lightweight. All the ponies from the eight cylinder or the six-liter W12 have an uphill battle in overcoming all of this mass.

The additional weight, coupled with steering that is in need of more feedback left us realizing the obvious that this is a saloon and not a sports car. The steering allows the car to wander just a bit too much from its appointed direction. The net effect is that the driver spends too much effort navigating the car between the lane markers. Improving this alone will make life behind the wheel something to relish rather than being a drudgery. Steering aside, the interior is top shelf - not just in design, but the execution of the design makes the inside come alive. The tight gaps in panel and part fitment are just what an upper tier vehicle should have. The tactile quality of material is superb. Leather is supple, inviting and comfortable. The trim is refined and is used to complement the overall style rather than overwhelm. The “now you see it, now you don’t” disappearing front vents on the dash are a neat trick. Beautiful wood panels cover the vents, and then recede upward upon command to expose the vents - allowing a direct airflow to occupants. Even with the vents covered, air is distributed effectively throughout the cabin and notably through the diffused perforated panel on top of the dashboard.

Perhaps the best and most overlooked aspect of the interior is the functionality, from access to switches, to the cupholders that sink into the center console and then pop up flush when unneeded, to the toggle switch for the instrument panel illumination, to the simple to understand information monitor. Every item is just as it should be. I never need to ask myself the most common of rhetorical questions, “Why in the world did they do that?” Unquestionably, my favorite feature is the audio system. As I like to say, Volkswagen is offering a $65,000 audio system and they throw in a car for free! Well, maybe this is overdoing it, but not only does the stereo produce sound contoured to the tastes of the occupant, it is also easy to dial in. The DSP (digital sound processor) creates numerous distinct sound fields, which can make any of your old favorite songs sound fresh. I may not be an audiophile anymore than I am a historian. However, I’m a happy camper taking a lengthy timeout in a Phaeton just to enjoy the audio system.

The double veneer side glass keeps the noises and distractions outside the cabin of the VW. Both powerplants are silent, smooth and linear in feel. Neither push the car into feeling scary-fast off the line, yet like the energizer bunny they just keep going, and going, and going... A few other drivers don’t notice the Phaeton even when pulling up next to them. None of this bothers me in the least bit, as all the while I feel smug on the inside. Who doesn’t feel just a bit smug knowing they are cruising in one of the finest products of any European automaker. The whole experience is a bit like an insider-trading tip, exciting but it's best keeping it to yourself.

SIDEBAR COMMENT: The Phaeton is truly an amazing vehicle. Anyone in the market for a large sedan in this price range will be foolish not to consider the Phaeton. Cars like the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes S-Class, and Lexus LS430 are a dime-a-dozen on the streets of Southern California. They are so common that there’s virtually no sense of exclusivity in owning them. On the other hand, the Phaeton has been in showrooms since late 2003, and to date, I have only seen one on the road. This car is as rare as a Bentley. And speaking of, the Phaeton platform does double duty as the platform for the $150,000 Bentley Continental GT. Viewed in this context, the Phaeton is a bargain. – Roy Nakano

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SPECIFICATIONS Price: Base V8 $ 64,600 W12 starting at $ 94,600 Engine type: Type 4.2 liter, 8 cylinder, 90? V, 5V Type 6.0 liter, 12 cylinder, 72? W, 4V Horsepower: 335 @ 6,500 rpm (246 kW @ 6,500) 420 @ 6,000 (309 kW @ 6,000) Torque: 317 @ 3,500 (430 Nm @ 3,500) 406 @ 3,250 - 4,250 (550 Nm @ 3,250 - 4,250) Drive configuration: Front engine / 4MOTIONTM permanent all-wheel drive system with Torsen sensing center differential Transmission type: 6-speed automatic Suspension: Front: Four link suspension, anti-roll bar with independent, 4-Corner adjustable air suspension with four adjustable damping settings, Electronic Damping Control (EDC), and auto leveling Rear: Trapezoidal wishbone suspension, anti-roll bar with independent, 4-Corner adjustable air suspension with four adjustable damping settings, Electronic Damping Control (EDC), and auto leveling Wheels and tires: Front: 7.5 J X 17'' alloy wheel, 235/55 R17 H, all season tires (snow chain compatible) 8.5 J X 18'' alloy wheel, 255/45 R18 H, all season tires Rear: 7.5 J X 17'' alloy wheel, 235/55 R17 H, all season tires (snow chain compatible) 8.5 J X 18'' alloy wheel, 255/45 R18 H, all season tires Brakes: Front: vented disc brakes (360 mm X 34 mm), ABS Rear: vented disc brakes (310 mm X 22 mm), ABS Overall length: 203.7” (5,175 mm) Overall width: 74.9 in (1,903 mm) Overall height: 57.1” (1,450 mm), Manual height adjustment* 6.0” (153 mm), Automatic height adjustment** 4.4" (113 mm) Curb weight (lbs.): 5,194 lbs (2,356 kg) 5,399 lbs (2,449 kg) EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 16/22 12/19 Top Speed, mph: 130 0-60 mph: 6.7 5.9

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