The Phaeton has everything you’d expect from a car in this class. It pushes the boundaries of refinement. And is outstandingly built. But, the Phaeton also has a few things you wouldn’t expect.
The Volkswagen Phaeton serves as the flagship of the Volkswagen line-up, competing with other high-end flagship sedans such as the BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It takes its name from Phaëton, the son of Helios in Greek mythology.
The Phaeton was the brainchild of VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch, who perceived the addition of such a flagship as a means to burnish the VW brand. In doing so, the Phaeton is swimming against the logic of having a ’mainstream’ brand (VW/Nissan/Toyota/Ford/Chevrolet/Honda) and a luxury brand (Audi/Infiniti/Lexus/Lincoln/Cadillac/Acura) that share components under the skin, but don’t directly compete. In that respect, it is very simlar to (but not as prestigious and exclusive as) the Toyota Century.
The Phaeton’s platform is shared with the Audi A8, Bentley Continental GT, and Bentley Continental Flying Spur. These similarities become apparent when looking at the Phaeton’s leather lined interior which shares certain design elements with its luxury and ultra-luxury cousins.
As of 2005, the Phaeton has the longest wheelbase in the Passenger Volkswagen model line. In Dresden, Germany, the car is hand-assembled in a distinctive factory with a glass exterior, the Gläserne Manufaktur.
There are around 100 patents integrated into the new Phaeton. In fact, the only feature you’ll recognise is the Volkswagen logo.One such patent is for the 4-Zone Climatic Air Conditioner, which allows a separate temperature for each quarter of the vehicle, and is draft-free.
However, Volkswagen not only developed a remarkable vehicle with the Phaeton. It also created unique manufacturing and customer service concepts in parallel. Product, manufacturing and service form the components of Volkswagen’s luxury class trilogy. Phaeton customers are acquiring a high-class sedan built in one of the most innovative and rigorous production facilities in the world. This is the Gläsernen manufacturing plant in Dresden, Germany. The trilogy is completed by the Phaeton’s comprehensive service concept.
The Phaeton has not sold well since entering the United States in 2004. 1,433 Phaetons were sold in 2004 after Volkswagen responded to initial sales by offering a US$10,000 buyer incentive. Just 820 were sold in the United States in all of 2005, leading the company to announce that sales in the American market would end after the 2006 model year.
Volkswagen had discontinued the Phaeton in the North American markets due to insufficient sales and constant service issues.
Other reasons for the Phaeton’s demise in these markets was the hefty price tag, which was in part due to currency fluctuations. This put it in competition with luxury sedans that were already well established in the American market, such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
How could Volkswagen have made such a mistake? Some say nobody wants a fancy Volkswagen, but the company’s luxurious Touareg sport utility vehicle has been a success. The other popular theory is, "Why buy a $70,000 Volkswagen when you can buy a car from the company’s upscale Audi subsidiary?"
The problem is not the quality of the Phaeton — it’s the quality of the VW badge. And it’s the mediocre reputation Volkswagen dealers have, especially when compared with the better reputation of Audi dealers, who are located right across the showroom floors. But perhaps more than any other factor, the Phaeton’s sticker price is driving people away.
Unfortunately most people will look to buy the similarly priced S500 instead of a vehicle with the VW badge on it. And that is too bad because the Phaeton really is the better car.
Timelessly elegant design results in a stylish presentation; highest manufacturing quality demonstrates attention to detail
If you liked the beautiful and understated looks of the previous generation A8, the Phaeton is the car for you. It has a better finish than a Merc, is less complicated than a 7-series and will waft-and-glide you better than a Lexus. It is a step up from all those cars and a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from the ultra fantastic Rolls-Royce.
At 5.06 meters long, 1.9 meters wide and 1.45 meters high the new Phaeton (weight of V6 model with manual transmission: 1,995 kilograms) is among the largest sedans of the luxury class. The vehicle, in which all steel body parts are fully galvanized, has a wheelbase of 2.88 meters.
The Phaeton’s silhouette is distinctive and elegant with long smooth swept-back surfaces and a powerful appearance with its roof located far forward. From the side too its appearance is characterized in front by Xenon headlamps that are drawn deep into the fender. The independent design of the third side window and the coupe-like C column that extends to the rear of the vehicle generates another typical design element.
From the front, the muscularly designed body shoulders (outer cambers below the window/roof area), the arrow-like, contoured engine hood that extends far downward, the chrome grille integrated into the hood, and once again the expressive headlamps, all meld into a front-end design that is full of character. In particular, the deeply recessed headlamps and linearity of the flashers extending across the entire width of the headlamp create a key visual design element. The flashers themselves are novel in their complex construction that is 480 millimeter long but only 21 millimeter high.
The large outside mirrors fit harmoniously and dynamically into this image; integrated in them are LED flasher lamps and automatic convenience lamps (Coming and Leaving Home function for safe footing when entering and exiting). Extended convenience lighting (plus low-beam lamps and tail lights) can be activated by remote control.
A very powerful appearance is also evident from the rear of the vehicle with body shoulders that give the vehicle a wide appearance from this perspective. The taillights also offer a high degree of vehicle recognition at night thanks to the structurally integrated, extremely bright and reliable LED tail lights.
Much of the Phaeton, produced at the Gläsernen manufacturing plant in Dresden, Germany is built manually, and its exceptionally high level of workmanship is impressive. One area where this finds expression is in the tight gap dimensions and loving attention to details such as form-integrated door hands and tasteful use of chrome trim.
Clear formal language and lavish materials convey a unique feeling of spaciousness.The Phaeton’s level of comfort sets new standards in the premium luxury sedan market.
Step inside and immediately look at the interior as it is meant to be seen... the best in its class. It’s quality is reminiscent of the more blindingly expensive Bentley, Maybach and Rolls Royce.
The look and feel of the wood, gear lever, and features rival all those including the S-class, BM and Audi as their switchgear feels light and cheap in comparison. Of the big three above only the Phaeton has the more intuitive navigation system.
All the buttons are positioned in practical places and within a minute or two one may easily find all relevant information. Furthermore the massage feature allows one to remain in even greater comfort on any long-distance trips.
From the masterfully processed leather and finest fabrics to the carefully selected wood applications and chrome-plated metals – the interior of the Phaeton exudes a unique atmosphere of timeless elegance and balanced aesthetics. Moreover, the Phaeton offers an above-average amount of interior space. The so-called comfort factor, a spatial parameter defined for vehicle passengers both front and back, shoulder width in front and legroom in back, is “best-in-class”.
Newly designed air-conditioning system to be the first and only free of draughts
The controls for one of the best air-conditioning systems in the world - the new 4-zone Climatronic - are via a separate key panel. Along with the driver and front passenger, the rear-seat passengers can also individually adjust the temperature for the left and right seats from the comfort of the rear thanks to the standard-fit Climatronic. Another decisive plus factor for this automatic air-conditioning system is to date unique amongst the international competition: the cooling or warming air is directed draught-free via automatically closing and opening emitters (with indirect ventilation via fine wood faceplates ) into the passenger compartment. In addition, an efficient function for controlling the air humidity has been integrated which automatically prevents windows from steaming up.
Center console and infotainment
The dominant element in the cockpit is the large vertical centre console. The infotainment centre is centrally located here with a 7-inch colour display in 16:9 format. This monitor is a multitalent. Generally speaking, it can be used to control close to all settings via eight large multifunctional keys (soft keys), six additional basic function keys and a central turn/press button - comfort, audio, TV, navigation, on-board computer and telephone.
To ensure tat the menu guidance, however, is not overloaded, there is another tool bar below the infotainment centre for the separate control of the audio system. In general, all basic functions of the Phaeton are activated by the rapid press of a button and not via a complicated menu. This also includes the manual setting for the four-wheel air suspension. Only the individual fine tuning, for certain sound parameters on the audio system, for example, are carried out via a logically designed menu structure.
In addition, the saloon can be further upgraded. This includes special equipment such as navigation systems, telephone fixture, TV, the automatic distance regulator ADR, various leather seat packages, heated steering wheel, the lock and start system Keyless Access or the largest solar sunroof in the competition. Finally, the customer can choose extras from the Phaeton customisation programme such as further types of fine wood with integrated marquetry.
Exceptional space and standard-fit electrical seat adjustment
The Phaeton offers above-average spacing. The so-called comfort dimensions (interior passenger space), rear knee space and the front shoulder space are all best in class.
As with every detail, the seating on the Phaeton has also been completely redesigned. The front seats have a 12-way electrical adjustment system as standard. Standard on the Phaeton W12 and an option in the Phaeton V6 is an 18-way system plus memory, climatisation and massage function. At the same time, two differently designed seating configurations can also be selected for the rear. In the particularly exclusive level Volkswagen offers the Phaeton with two separate seats at the rear that are varied via a 10-way system (including Memorylogic and Easy-Entry system).
Phaeton versions with extended wheelbase offer rear passengers an additional twelve centimeters of legroom. With supplemental features such as roll-up sun shades for the rear side windows and rear window, and rear controls for the four-zone climate control system, the Phaeton can satisfy all of the requirements of a luxurious chauffeured limousine.
In November 2002 the Phaeton was the first automobile in the world to be awarded the “AGR” seal of approval for its front and rear seats from the independent organization “Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V.” [Nonprofit action committee for healthy backs]. The professional committee of experts thereby showed its recognition for the excellent ergonomic properties of the Phaeton’s seating. Because of its strict testing criteria and a jury that includes a number of medical experts, the AGR seal of approval enjoys a generally high level of recognition. In the view of the professional committee, Volkswagen has developed a vehicle “that offers all passengers proper back support for traveling” with the Phaeton.