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?
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.