The Phaeton and I go back a long way. I was one of a few dozen Car of the Year jurors rather hurriedly smuggled to a snow-covered Finnish (I think) test track in the winter to try the car just before its launch at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show.
We were allowed to interview its normally elusive creator, the great Ferdinand Piech, recently departed from the Volkswagen Group supervisory board but is still justly acknowledged as the author of the super-successful modern culture that has made it a 10 million-a-year car seller.
Piech was going through a strange period during which he was trying to align VW’s marque values with those of Mercedes-Benz (and Seat with Alfa Romeo, among other aberrations), so at said Finnish test track he brought along big-engined versions of the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series cars to compare with his new limo. Since his car had permanent four-wheel drive and the road was an icy, snowy and rutted, the Merc and Beemer were outclassed. It was a fact Piech expected us to accept without quibble.
He became irritated when we protested that we weren’t comparing like with like, insisting at one point that the Phaeton was the finest achievement of his career, eclipsing even the project popularly regarded as his finest ever, the creation of the mighty Porsche 917 Le Mans racer.
It was a bizarre thing to say, and the sense of certainty we’d all had about Ferdinand Piech’s observations and decisions was never quite the same again.
Volkswagen Phaeton axed in the UK