Car Test   R0334
May 2003
First Drive Volkswagen Phaeton
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 6.0 W12
Funny, we would have thought that having one luxury limo in the family would be enough, but not for the VW Group. Not content with producing the awesome Audi A8, itís now come up with the fabulous Phaeton Ė VWís first large super-saloon.
   Looking like a Passat on steroids, itís one of the largest saloons in the executive class and will be initially available in the UK with a choice of two petrol engines. The entry-level model is powered by a 3.2-litre unit whose sporty V6 beat and 240 horses make it sound and feel pretty lively for a big barouche.
   But you ainít seen nothing until you experience the uncanny smoothness and refinement of the 6-litre W12, complete with 4Motion four-wheel drive. Ease the car out into traffic and itís silent and oh so docile, but tread firmly on the accelerator and thereís a huge rush of power that hurtles this top-peopleís two-tonner towards the horizon at an astonishing rate of knots. Without the 155mph speed limiter, it will do 186 - apparently. Fuel consumption? Donít ask.
   Much of the Phaetonís serene progress is due to the seamless shifting of the Tiptronic transmission, which you can override if you wish, including with slick-operating, wheel-mounted paddles Ė at extra cost.
   Then thereís the ride Ė on supple, self-levelling air suspension with four-stage adjustable damping. It doesnít have that elusive magic carpet quality, but itís about as impressively smooth and supple as suspension gets in this class. We found the mid-range setting gave the best ride and handling compromise. Thereís terrific grip from the four-wheel drive system, but not a lot of informative feedback through the speed-responsive steering.
   Electric adjustments to both the steering wheel and sumptuous 18-way adjustable seat defy the driver not to achieve a comfortable position. Only the electric window switches are at a stretch, otherwise the controls are as convenient as the bold instruments are clear. Mind you, remembering which one does what around the central 7in colour screen for the computer and infotainment system keeps the neurons nimble.
   Reversing is not helped by only mediocre rearward vision. Front and rear parking sensors are a boon but, curiously, donít form part of the generous inventory of standard equipment. This can be hugely extended to include just about every driver aid, convenience item and surprise and delight feature in the book, by adding factory fitted options.
   Among these is the premium rear seat system featuring a pair of 10-way, electrically adjustable individual seats, heated and air-conditioned, with a massage function. But even the fixed seat is comfortable, aided by generous knee-space and legroom that are similar to those of an S-Class Mercedes. Both fall short of the BMW 7-Seriesí, but a long-wheelbase version is due at the end of the year. A 10-speaker hi-fi system with a six-disc CD autochanger provides music on the move within the opulent cabin, that oozes leather-clad luxury and comes complete with passenger pampering four-zone electronic climate control.
   A press on the big VW badge releases the electrically operated boot lid (no more soiled fingers) that lifts to reveal a long, wide, carpeted boot.
  considering size, price and rivals
Security, theft of
theft from
  • superb quality fit and finish
  • knock-resistant plastic front wings
  • relatively good turning circles
  • generous tally of (8) airbags
  • laminated, attack-resistant windows
  • reflection of light trim in back window
  • reflections in screen from facia top
  • parking sensors are an extra £525
  • rear headrests auto-rise too high if you're short
  • shiny 'Bakelite'-look wood won't please everyone
You wonít be seeing many Phaetons on the road, about 300 a year are destined for the UK. The ones you do see will be driven by those demanding something different from the usual suspects in the luxury saloon market. The splendidly sybaritic W12, in particular, has all the attributes to delight lovers of the motoring good life in this rarefied sector Ė except perhaps the badge and the kudos. We shall see.

engine W12 cylinder, 5998cc petrol, 48 valves,
420bhp/406 lb ft
drive 4Motion four-wheel drive with central Torsen differential. Five-speed stepped automatic with manual sequential override
suspension multi-link air suspension with automatic self-levelling and speed-sensitive height adjustment. Four-way manual adjustment from Comfort to Sport
wheels/tyres 8.5in alloy with 255/45R18 tyres. Full-size alloy spare
brakes ventilated discs front and rear with brake assist/ABS and EBD, plus ASR (anti-slip regulation) and engine overrun torque control
0-62mph* 6.1sec
official mpgß 11.8/25.9/18.1
maximum speed 155mph (limited)
CO2 emissions 374g/km
* maker's figures  ß urban/extra urban/combined

size and type large/luxury saloon. Long-wheelbase version due December 2003   trim levels according to engine size
engines petrol: V6 cylinder/3.2 litre/241bhp, W12/6.0/420, V8/4.2/310 due December 2003
diesel: V10/5.0/313 due December 2003, V6/3.0/225 due July 2005
  drive V6: front-wheel drive. W12: four-wheel drive, both with five-speed stepped automatic transmission with additional Sport and Tiptronic sequential manual modes. Wheel-mounted paddle-shift optional
notable features available Concierge service, easy-entry heated steering wheel, see-me-home/surround lighting, stainless steel pedals, 4Zone climate control, wear-compensating wiper parking, cruise control, electrically operated seats (heated and air-conditioned with massage function), multi-function computer/TV, keyless

  in centimetres (x)
  easy to park/garage?
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