This is Volkswagen’s revised 2010 Phaeton, an updated version of the German car company’s luxurious limousine. The Phaeton, along with the (much more successful) Touareg, was key to VW Group overlord Ferdinand Piëch’s plan to move the brand upmarket.
A people’s car it ain’t, but then the Phaeton’s never had the kudos to compete head-on with BMW, Merc, Audi and Jaguar either. Do the tweaks tackle that problem? Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the facelifted 2010 VW Phaeton.
So what’s been tweaked and changed on the new Volkswagen Phaeton?
For a start there’s a new nose, with a reprofiled bumper, revised grille, and bi-xenon headlamps with LED running lights, while the rear end also features tweaked metalwork and LED units. All in it means the revised Phaeton now shares design cues with the facelifted Passat. It would be polite to say the Phaeton is demure, but do you really want your luxury limo to be mistaken for a repmobile?
Inside there are various new trim finishes, a different multi-functional wheel, a colour display between the instrument clusters, and Google Maps for the sat-nav. Four-wheel drive, eight airbags, adjustable air suspension, 18-way electric seats and four-zone climate control is standard.
VW Phaeton: the engine room
Two engines are available in the UK, a 3.0 V6 TDI and a 444bhp 6.0 W12. The latter is only available in long-wheelbase guise (with an extra 120mm of room) and the former can be had as a SWB or LWB. Opt for the 3.0 TDI SWB model we tested, and until 31 December 2010 you can get it (from participating dealers) for just £40,675 – that’s a saving of £5520.
What’s the Phaeton like from behind the wheel?
A little strange but rather nice. There’s a big and imperious dash, rather than a cockpit designed to cocoon you, you definitely sit on the seats rather than being ensconced by them, and unless you have a large banker’s frame they don’t offer enough lateral support either.
It’s strange to start a car of this stature with a key too, and to drive a limo that isn’t gadget-laden. The sat-nav is pinched from the Golf/Passat, just displayed on a larger screen with the control buttons covered in silver plastic, and that’s about the only tech highlight. Delve into the options list and you can get keyless go and adaptive cruise control but not much else.
But although this Phaeton may seem a little sparse after our long-term 7-series and A8, it actually has all the stuff you actually need. There isn’t menu after menu that you must dive into to adjust yet another pointless gadget; everything is intuitive and there are helpful touches like the parking distance warnings being displayed at the base of the A-pillars. It’s simple – at least it is for a limo – although such a lack of extras shows the age of the Phaeton, and some of the cheap plastics (like the electric seat controls) give the game away too.
As for the drive, don’t expect anything particularly sporting – Jaguar’s XJ and BMW’s 7-series are much more enjoyable affairs. This isn’t a bad thing though – and the Phaeton can actually be hustled quite quickly thanks to four-wheel drive and an always-supple ride – as this big VW is very good at wafting you everywhere in comfort. There are four settings for the Continuous Damping Control (CDC) adjustable air suspension (which range from Comfort to something called Sportive) and all but the firmest setting soothes away the worst of the UK’s roads.
Laminated glass helps keep refinement levels high, and you’re pretty well insulated from the world. Only the slighted strained noise from under the bonnet intrudes. The other downside is the large and slightly odd four-spoke steering wheel. The rough stitching, plus the strange angle of the upper spokes, means it’s a little awkward to hold, and not a lot happens just off centre. Best to hold it at quarter to three and steer from the shoulders like you’re sawing away at a dinner plate-sized wheel in an old ‘60s movie.
It’s never been in doubt that the Phaeton is a decent car, and although it’s getting on a bit, that hasn’t changed. The tweaks don’t quite make it current, but it’s still a strangely appealing alternative to the default choice of Mercs, BMWs and Audis, even if it can't match its German peers in any area. It makes most sense as a second-hand buy, as otherwise you’ll be taking a huge depreciation hit: just 278 were sold in the UK in 2009, with a mere 50 going to private customers. The one question that still remains is why Volkswagen built such a car, but that’s one for Mr Piëch to answer.
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