This is the first time I've tried writing an article from a vehicle's back seat, (stop chuckling). I'm telling you this because it's Phaeton's backseat. This seems to be the only place to escape the noise, wind, cold and general chaos of the racetrack, where our entire staff is spending the day shooting this "Project Car" issue. Poor us. Normally, I'd be out on the track trying to get every second of seat time, but editorial duties call and deadlines loom on the horizon. This seems to be the only place to collect some thoughts and write.I'm mentioning all this extraneous information because now that I've just closed the door, the cabin is absolutely silent. The wind is no longer sandblasting my face. Nor do I have to perpetually squint and shiver to avoid the piercing rays of sunlight and the bone-chilling cold. I'm now enjoying the comfort of heated seats behind a barrier of privacy curtains. I'm also listening to some relaxing jazz and having a massage (courtesy of the seats). This is much better than my cubical.
It's been about 6 months since I last drove a VW Phaeton, during our european car Grand Prix test. With a Phaeton in our long-term fleet, my fascination with this luxury liner has been renewed. At first I was a bit disappointed to learn our car had a V8 instead of the W12. However, my fear of having fewer gizmos to play with was quickly allayed. Every standard amenity on the W12 was optioned on our V8-and for a significantly lower package price. The huge price difference between the two models is due to the engine and the gas-guzzler tax.
Ironically, the V8 is the more exciting engine of the two. It's the same mill found the S4 and new A6, and has the deep sport V8 growl. This gives the Phaeton a more gruntish sound and sets it apart from the other V8s in the ber-luxury class. The V8 even seems more responsive than the W12 in city driving. From a stop, the 4.2-liter V8 propels the 5,194-lb sedan forward with a similar sensation of torque as the larger engine. Obviously, the W12 has more power, but its power delivery is more apparent at high speeds during those 85-to-130-mph sprint.s With either engine, the sensation of speed is minimal until you begin to apply the brakes. Only at that point do you realize the speed and momentum this heavyweight carries.
Behind the wheel, all is peaceful as the world passes by at 90 mph. It's not that I speed intentionally. The Phaeton just gives a driver an altered sense of reality , making every other car on the highway appear slow. High-speed steering is one shortcoming-it feels relatively loose for a car of this size at speed. Around town, the same confident road manners make the Phaeton feel deceivingly nimble and small. But lane changes definitely require added car-to-car distances. Parking is a whole other matter: Rear visibility is limited for tight maneuvering, and the "Star Trek"-like proximity sensors at each corner give only a small margin of added confidence.
The uncooperative automatic trunk only fully opens every third time-its gremlins refuse to go away. However, the "sticky" air conditioning vent covers in the dash have miraculously fixed themselves. My main gripe is with the four-way adjustable lumbar support. I can never get it positioned in the right place to be comfortable for any extended period of time. It feels quite intrusive.
One issue VW's wonderful engineers have overlooked is the strange things American drivers (and their kids) do to their cars. Being a daily driver for a few staffers-with-children, our Phaeton has amassed a large collection of Skittles in the back seat's nooks and crannies. Normally, in an American car, such debris would fall in between the cracks, disappearing forever into the black hole called the back seat. The Phaeton is packaged so tightly and well that candy and trash neither truly disappear nor come out without a tremendous fight. I'm guessing VW engineers never envisioned the Phaeton as a young family hauler.
Overall, I enjoy driving the Phaeton because it makes me feel special. Being a part of that small fraternity of hardcore and slightly eccentric VW owners is quite cool. The looks from unwary motorists are equally amusing. It's also a great car to show off to friends or take on a night out. Still it's not my first choice out of the long-term fleet since it's not quite as exciting to drive as say our Audi TT or Saab 9-2X. That said, I still think the best fun is to be had in the Phaeton's back seats. (Stop snickering!)
Total mileage: 7,100
This month's fuel economy: 17 mpg
This month's costs: $40 to $50 a tank - lots of tanks
Faults: Backing up; unable to reach the rear seats from the driver's position
Thumbs up: "Star Trek" transporter-like front cup holders, modern art trunk-lid hinges.
Thumbs down: Tiny 18-in. wheels