The Volkswagen Phaeton is overshadowed by the Audi A8 as VAG’s luxury car and, for some, that could be its allure. If you’re interested in space and comfort more than style and glamour, the Volkswagen Phaeton would save you nearly £8000.
So tell me, is the Volkswagen Phaeton as dull as it looks?
Fair enough, it’s not going to set your world on fire, though there’s something subtly appealing about those chiselled looks. Painted in a dark colour, it could be a shady European dignitary’s car. Or it could just look like an inflated last-gen Passat.
Get inside and the messages are slightly confusing. Chunky slabs of wood furnish the centre console, fine leather lines the seats, but the doors clang when you slam them and the plastic surfaces are typical unfussy Volkswagen: demure, smart and right at home in a sub-£20k saloon, but lacking in grandeur here. Much of the dashboard’s hardware is shared with the Bentley Continental GT, though the special finishes that are applied to the big Brit are denied the Phaeton.
It is huge, though, and the comfort of its seats is matched by the acreage of lounging space on offer.
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What if I want to drive it, not just sit in it?
Good news and bad, here. There might ‘only’ be a 3.0-litre V6 under the bonnet but it endows the Phaeton with decent shove in each of its six automatic ratios. And it sounds good while it does it, with a muffled but steely edge to its deep, multi-cylinder voice. The Tiptronic gearbox is unobtrusive in action yet responds eagerly enough to manual inputs, too.
Where it goes wrong is in the ride/handling balance. This is a big, hefty car and you wouldn’t expect it to handle with any grace yet, despite numb steering, it’s actually fairy easy to plot a course. Four-wheel drive keeps it neat in corners and there’s very little roll.
But driving the Phaeton hard is pointless if you’re doing it for fun: there’s none to be had. What it should do is waft effortlessly, but the ride is always both knobbly and wallowy, despite four different damper settings – there’s more wallow at one end and more knobbliness at the other, and never the optimum combination of tautness and compliance.
Few people buy a luxury car not to be noticed in. For those that do, the Phaeton is ideal, but if the company is paying and you want to feel a bit more pampered, treat yourself to the extra warmth, tactility and sex appeal of the equivalent A8.