2004 Phaeton New Car Test Drive
Volkwagen's Phaeton is a luxury car for people who prefer to wear their designer labels on the inside of their clothing.
If you can afford a hand-built luxury car but don't need to go around with a three-pointed star or a leaping cat or a flying lady hood ornament to proclaim your arrival, then you may find that this new $64,600 VW more than meets your needs.
We use the word 'more' because the Phaeton offers a luxury car with a 12-cylinder engine for about the price of a V8-powered Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Phaeton comes standard with features such as a navigation system for about what you'd pay for a basic short-wheelbase 7 Series BMW.
Volkswagen is moving upscale and the Phaeton is its new luxury sedan, the flagship of a fleet that in the North American market includes the Golf, New Beetle, Jetta, Eurovan, Passat, and the new Touareg sport-utility. In 2006 we should see a modern interpretation of the hippies' favorite, the VW Microbus, followed, perhaps, by a new, mid-engine, two-seat sports car. The expansion of the Volkswagen brand is part of an effort to widen the scope of the entire VW Group, an automotive empire that includes VW, Audi, SEAT, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. In 1999, the Volkswagen Group ranked sixth in worldwide sales, but subsequently has overtaken Renault/Nissan and DaimlerChrysler and trails only General Motors, Ford and Toyota.
The term phaeton dates back to days of horse-drawn carriages, and then was applied for special, coach-built touring cars with custom features. In the case of the Volkswagen Phaeton, most of those custom features are included as standard equipment.
Phaeton will be available in two models: V8 ($64,600) and W12 ($79,900). There also is a Premier package of the W12 ($84,890).
Each model takes its name from the engine beneath its aluminum hood, either a 335-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8 or a 420-horsepower, 6.0-liter W12.
W12? Don't engines only come in I and V configurations, such as an inline-4 or a V8? Not anymore. What VW Group has done, in very basic terms, is to take a pair of its compact, 3.0-liter V6 engines, give them a common crankshaft and, after substantial engineering and recasting, produce a short but powerful motor with lots of displacement.
A third Phaeton model, powered by a 10-cylinder, V-configured diesel that provides more than 530 pound-feet of torque, could join the gasoline-powered Phaetons after the United States switches to cleaner, low-sulfur diesel fuel in 2005.
One reason VW felt it needed a luxury car was that 15 percent of its customers were ready to move up to a luxury sedan and were forced to shop elsewhere. The launch of the VW Touareg sport-utility vehicle helps keep some of those customers within Volkswagen dealerships, and the Touareg's pricing, with models starting at $35,515, $41,315 and $46,165, should help ease some of the sticker shock sting felt by those looking at the Phaeton.
Still, Volkswagen of America vice president Frank Maguire knows that at the prices involved, 'we're going to have to earn every customer.' One way this will happen is with a new level of service from VW dealerships. That may mean going beyond a loaner car when your Phaeton needs service; it may mean that the dealership delivers another Phaeton, not a Passat or even a Touareg, but another Phaeton, to your home or business and takes yours in for service so you don't have to take the time out of your schedule.
Maguire says it also may mean that VW will take as many as 'a couple hundred' early Phaeton buyers to Germany to tour Dresden and its artistic treasures and to see how the car is assembled by hand; only three robots are involved in the process, and then only to deal with the placement of particularly heavy or awkward parts, such as windshields or the spare tire housings.
To compete with vehicles such as the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS 430 and even VW Group's own Audi A8 L, the Volkswagen Phaeton will include as standard equipment such things as a navigation system, all-wheel drive, air suspension, draft-free four-zone automatic climate controls (with vents hidden behind wood doors), 12-way front power seats and a long list of safety and driver-assist technologies.
The Phaeton V8 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 4Motion all-wheel drive, air suspension with four comfort settings and ride-height adjustment, 17-inch wheels, anti-lock brakes, anti-slip regulation, electronic differential lock, engine braking control, electronic brake force distribution and electronic stabilization (anti-spin) technology.
There are front, side (both front and back seats) and side curtain airbags, tire pressure monitors and, in event of an accident, telematics that automatically call for emergency help while the car unlocks its doors, disconnects the battery from the alternator and shuts off the fuel supply.
Also standard are Xenon headlamps, halogen projector-beam fog lamps, power heated and folding exterior mirrors with puddle lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power closing trunk lid, four-zone climate controls, an on-board trip computer, four power outlets, central locks (with a valet key), Eucalyptus wood interior trim, leather seating with 12-way power in front, a navigation system, Homelink transceiver, 190-watt audio system with a six-CD changer, power rear and manual side door sunshades, standard and close-up mirrors on the front sun visors, and front and rear cupholders.
The Phaeton W12 has a five-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wh.