Facelift builds on the car's strengths - but some of its core failings remain

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.

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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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Phaeton68 5 June 2012


Right.... I bought one, 4 months old, 4000 miles... loved it for all the reasons above but especially because it is understated and NOT a status symbol except to those with a keen interest in cars.  BUT... 130,000 miles later I am now on engine number three, rebuilt gearbox, new turbocharger, one new shock (£1200 +VAT!!) and a very long list of other niggly faults and sensor replacements.  Which to be honest is the somewhat expected downside of owning a big luxury vehicle car for more than 3 years/60,000 miles.   Also bear in mind that all these faults are post warranty but there were plenty in warranty too.  

My caution though, as if this wasn't enough, is that whilst the car itself is somewhat competitive to other marques (try speccing an A6 to Phaeton equipment levels) VW themselves and the dealers I've encountered haven't a clue how to look after premium cars or their owners.  Not a clue.  It's quite quaint for a while how everyone you see with the car (valet, tyres, MOT, glass, Breakdown(!) etc.) has never seen one before and wants a tour but the quality of VW dealer service suggests they haven't either.  Never any parts on hand, repeated visits for the same fault to be repaired - pretty awful really when you're expected to pay several hundred pounds for an "inspection service".   Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Lexus service/after care is all much better and I suspect Jaguar is too.  

Still love it though - whilst its running!

Peter Cavellini 10 June 2010

Re: Volkswagen Phaeton V6

Apparently in China it's the most popular posh car, and they get a V6 and a V8!

moe360 9 June 2010

Re: Volkswagen Phaeton V6

Lee23404 wrote:

ThwartedEfforts wrote:
I missed your Audi purchase. Which one did you buy and how does it compare?

I have an A3 2.0 tdi Sport, Sportback on order. As I said i wanted something smaller so tested pretty much every car in the 'Golf class'. I wanted to downsize but not downgrade (if that makes sense) and to be honest only the Golf and A3 impressed. The Golf was the better car if I'm honest, but not by much and the A3 worked out alot cheaper to buy (PCP) because of its better residuals.

I was also surpised by the A3s ride in that it wasn't too bad at all. Since getting the C5 I've become a bit of a ride quality Nazi and while the A3 is alot firmer I didn't find it uncomfortable. The Golf was better still.

Its due to be delivered in September and I'm just hoping that poor turning circle and huge appetite for tyres aside I enjoy it as much as I have the C5.

The sport trim level is has a very nice ride and for me is an equal match to the Golfs (being the same car in theory) I cant tell the difference apart from the Golf and A3, both feel and drive the same which is a positive thing. The only thing I noticed is the A3 has a lit nicer interior and steering wheel which makes driving more comfortable.

The sportback has good legroom for backseat passengers and feels like a much bigger car then it is