If you’re familiar with other modern luxury car cabins (and if you’re in the market for a Volkswagen Phaeton it’s not unreasonable to think you would be), your first impression of the VW will be a disappointing one. 

Metallic-effect grey plastics barely made the grade in luxury cars almost a decade ago when the Phaeton was launched, and they fall well short now. Since then, every one of the Phaeton’s rivals have been refreshed with a new interior that betters the Volkswagen’s perceived quality by a significant margin. And even though we’ve no doubt the Phaeton is stitched, screwed and glued together as well as any of its peers, it fails to feel it.

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Dash-centre clock has a neat, clear design. A few manufacturers could show that sort of restraint

Ergonomically, the class has moved on, too. The Phaeton’s seats were set too high for most of our testers to get truly comfortable, the window switches are placed too far from the driver, and even the latest software in the touchscreen navigation system cannot match the best of today’s rivals. The heated seat switches are fiddly and the cupholders come from a time when they were precisely that: somewhere to place a drink container, rather than also being designed as cubbies for telephones, MP3 players and the rest. These are small details, but on a car like this they make a large difference to the feeling of relative luxury.

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The same goes for the equipment count. It gets all the basics – electric seats and the like – but cast a glance down the standard and optional kit lists for a Phaeton and a couple of its rivals and it’s hard not to feel that the VW is at less than the cutting edge.

There is, at least, four-zone climate control, while rear-seat passengers – who also get heated seats – will find things more palatable. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom and less plastic to look at. The boot is big, too, at 500 litres.

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