A brand new Volkswagen Phaeton Mk2 will be launched in 2015, based on a new architecture being masterminded by cousins Audi. Dubbed VW631, the new VW Phaeton will be based on MLM Evo (modular longitudinal matrix) which makes provision for a plug-in hybrid option, an aluminium-intensive body structure and a much more advanced and less nose-heavy dynamic layout.
Although VW chairman Martin Winterkorn has in the past black-flagged the Avantissimo (A8-based) and the Passat Variant Plus (A6-derived), there is still a lot to be said for a second more practical bodystyle in addition to the four-door notch which is almost compulsory in this segment.
Practicality could of course also come in five-door coupé form, but the Volkswagen brand is probably better off with a more pragmatic shape that would be roomier than a Superb Combi, as sleek as an Avant and as cocoon-like luxurious as the current Phaeton. All we know for sure today is that the Phaeton MkII model will be positioned between A6 and A8, priced below the current Phaeton and be available with a four-cylinder, a hybrid and a pair of high-output sixes.
Why is VW replacing the Phaeton? It's hardly been a sales hit...
Indeed. Unlike its namesake from Greek mythology, the Phaeton never took off, and although marketing moved heaven and earth to bring it closer to the sun, the luxury saloon was always overshadowed by A8, 7series and S-class.
About every second Phaeton was and is used internally, be it as demonstrator, courtesy car or VIP shuttle. According to sales and marketing, the high-end VW failed because it was a no-name product in an extremely prestige-conscious segment, but this explanation does not tell the full story.
Other factors to be considered are the very conservative styling, the relatively poor ride comfort, the totally uninspiring handling and the array of heavy and thirsty V8, V10 and W12 engines.
So what's the Phaeton good at?
Even after the third facelift, the Phaeton can still only field one truly strong point, and that is the beautifully finished cabin which matches any Bentley even though the layout is about as contemporary as a Biedermeier sideboard, and the electronics tend to lag at least one generation behind the leaders.
It is an open secret that the next Phaeton will be styled from the inside out, matching a top-notch but less olde worlde interior to a much more timely exterior. How do we define timely? This is a question VW will have to answer in the course of next year. Before the summer break, three options were being discussed: another three-box notchback, a rather stylish five-door hatchback, and an elegant and luxurious Super-Variant.
The new Phaeton nearly popped up at Frankfurt
Originally, VW intended to test the water at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, but Wolfsburg decided to reserve the IAA exclusively for the Up. The mooted Concept D, which would have previewed the next Phaeton, has been pushed back to a later date.
The concept D moniker was first used in 1999 for a five-door hatchback version of the Phaeton, which was launched in 2002 in three-box form. Concept D arguably looked better than the real thing, and it may have given the car a more avantgarde image. Instead, VW settled for a boring a big saloon which was from day one out of sync with the brand image.
Initiatives to fix the fate of the flawed flagship included a stillborn Phaeton coupé, a high-roof high-class spaceliner favoured by Bernd Pischestrieder and a radically downsized replacement known as Passat Plus.