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Our Verdict

Volkswagen Phaeton
The Phaeton shares its platform with the Bentley Continental GT

The Volkswagen Phaeton’s decade-old platform needs more than a tweak to be a success in the luxury car market

5 June 2010

What is it?

This is the revised Volkswagen Phaeton. Yes, you read correctly; VW’s engineers have continued to work on the firm’s flagship, which has sold in tiny numbers in the UK ever since its launch in 2002.

The tweaks extend to a mild restyling, minor engine mods to improve fuel economy, and yet further additions to what was already a bulging equipment list.

Four engines will be offered in the car - V6, V8 and W12 petrols, and a V6 turbodiesel - but the UK will only get the oil-burner (in long and short wheelbases) and the W12 (long wheelbase only).

China is comfortably the Phaeton’s largest market, so VW chose to launch the revised model there. It also made only the locally popular V6 and V8 petrols available for drives, so we’ll have to wait to see how the revised common-rail turbodiesel feels.

We do know that it’s cleaner than before, though, with fuel consumption of 33mpg and 224g/km of CO2 emissions.

What’s it like?

See the VW Phaeton pictures

Sales hit or not, the Phaeton has been known for excellent mechanical refinement since day one, and the latest revision isn’t about to change that reputation. Cruise along at 70mph in the 3.6-LITRE V6 petrol, with 276bhp on tap, and you’ll barely be aware of any mechanical process under the bonnet at all; it’s that quiet.

Power delivery is smooth, with 273lb ft available at 3500rpm but more than enough at lower revs than that, and the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and quick enough when it comes to kick-down. VW claims that 0-62mph takes 8.6sec, and that feels very achievable.

The steering is short on feel, but it’s smooth and progressive, and feels quick and accurate enough to thread the five-metre-long Phaeton through urban traffic. Four-wheel drive keeps it sure-footed, too; body control is likely to be an issue long before pure traction.

The exterior changes - more distinct creases along the flanks, plus a chrome grille and LED headlights, foglights and daytime running lights, make the Phaeton look a bit more US-market (ironic, since it’s no longer sold there), but on the whole, it’s as subtle a hunk of metal as it’s always been.

In the cabin, there’s no arguing with the standard kit list, or the levels of comfort. The 18-way adjustable front seats are as supportive and relaxing as ever, the famous draught-free ventilation system (which can keep the cabin at 22deg C when travelling at 186mph in 50deg C heat) is extremely efficient and the executive toys - which now include Google internet, headlights that ‘blank off’ sections of main beam for oncoming traffic, and full iPod control, will please gadget enthusiasts. It’s all beautifully finished, too.

There is a slight flaw in the master plan, though, and it’s the ride. The revisions haven’t extended to the chassis, you see, and the Phaeton’s close family ties to the Bentley Continental GT still become evident as soon as you hit any poorer road surfaces. It doesn’t allow crashing bumps through to the cabin, but it still fidgets a little too readily over ripples in the asphalt that wouldn’t bother a Jaguar XJ or Mercedes S-class.

The caveat to this is that our test car rode on 19in wheels, not the standard 17in items - but past experience would lead us to suggest that the smaller tyres aren’t a complete cure.

Should I buy one?

If you fancy a left-field choice instead of an Audi A8 you could do worse; Ingolstadt’s latest all-aluminium offering is now a step ahead in chassis and fuel economy stakes, but the Phaeton still exudes a quality feel and there’s an appeal in its understated anonymity.

It’s competitively priced, too; a long-wheelbase turbodiesel Phaeton is several thousand pounds cheaper than Audi’s regular-length A8 TDI, the review of which you can read here

The bottom line, though, is that while the car’s strengths - its build quality, refinement and equipment - have been enhanced, some of its core failings, in particular that nadgery ride, remain.

So the Phaeton is unlikely to win many new admirers in Britain. But those who do know it and like it will now love it.

John McIlroy

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Comments
32

7 June 2010

"in particular that nadgery ride"

nadgery is a top word. I will try to use it at least once today myself.

7 June 2010

The Chinese are brand snobs just like we are, but their opinion differs as they think all western brands are great (probably as al Chinese brands have no image) Proof of this is that VW and Citroen are both selling a great number of lims in China but can shift them for toffee anywhere else. VW pulled the Phaeton out of the USA, the natural home for big cars as even the yanks associate VW as the maker of Herbie and not luxury motors.

7 June 2010

This is the best full size executive saloon out there. It's solid, it's stellar quality, it's understated. Get one with this engine and smaller wheels.

7 June 2010

[quote Amanitin]This is the best full size executive saloon out there. It's solid, it's stellar quality, it's understated. Get one with this engine and smaller wheels.[/quote]

No this isn't. It lacks the prestige of other rivals and being cheaper can't compensate for that. I can't see why anyone would want to buy this thing. Almost every manufacturer builds cars that have no reason to exist and this is the VW one along with the golf r20...

7 June 2010

[quote PHILBY]

[quote Amanitin]This is the best full size executive saloon out there. It's solid, it's stellar quality, it's understated. Get one with this engine and smaller wheels.[/quote]

No this isn't. It lacks the prestige of other rivals and being cheaper can't compensate for that. I can't see why anyone would want to buy this thing. Almost every manufacturer builds cars that have no reason to exist and this is the VW one along with the golf r20...

[/quote]

R20 i can see a reason for having that a faster Golf GTI and understated performance, but it cost to much should be around 23k but then again why not have a S3 the same car and cheaper .

7 June 2010

[quote moe360]but then again why not have a S3 the same car and cheaper .[/quote]

My sentiments exactly... or if you feel even sportier try a focus a scirocco a megane but certainly not this...

7 June 2010

The Chinese can afford a chaffeur (their wages are lower) so a spacious german car at this price fits their budget. VAG have been selling many older mid-size models in China for years so they have built up a following and they do not draw the unwanted attention an S class could.

In fact as a large family car rather than a business express (bought on the company) probably makes quite good sense, especially bought two years old.

7 June 2010

[quote PHILBY]It lacks the prestige of other rivals[/quote]

Yes that was exactly one of my points, thanks again for highlighting.

7 June 2010

It is silly VW doing cars off this size and class as they own Audi so why bother trying to compete against themselves . Why buy a VW when u could have an Audi . Its just VW showing what they can do and making it for China as it sells well there as has been said . It is an amazing car do and surely makes a great second hand buy for some people .

7 June 2010

[quote PHILBY]

[quote moe360]but then again why not have a S3 the same car and cheaper .[/quote]

My sentiments exactly... or if you feel even sportier try a focus a scirocco a megane but certainly not this...

[/quote]

There is a point to the R20 saw it for the first time in white on the weekend and it does look very nice, if it was cheaper then the S3 then it would make sense.

As it would be a more affordable S3 but to cost more then its In house rival does not make sense maybe VW are trying to cash in on the Golf name

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