When the digital odometer in our long-term Phaeton recently hit 10,000 miles, I just happened to glance down at the precise moment. I smiled at the coincidence. A second later and it would have passed, but somehow 10,001 isn't quite the same. Sadly, this is one of those strange scenarios I find entertaining (but not quite as fun as on the old mechanical odometers which literally clicked and rolled back). If I'm aware of a pending round mileage number, I typically do my best to point it out, as if to celebrate some sort of important milestone. It's a rare occurrence, but since we often change in and out of long-term test vehicles I've made a habit of keeping the mileage in mind, just in case. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
I also tend to point out a car's more subtle features, specially placed exterior lines or the finer details of an interior. The type of details that often go overlooked, but add to the overall aesthetic package. One such detail is the tiny VW logo found in the center of the headlamp on the new Jetta. It serves no real purpose other than being a cool design element.
Sometimes subtleties can make all the difference. For a car as grand as the Phaeton, the finer details are what really make it shine.
Take for example the retractable vent covers. When closed, the wood covered doors provide a seamless bridge across the dash. It may be a small feature and borderline gimmicky, but it does add a genuine touch of sophistication. Granted, the central vent is a bit sticky, not always willing to open with the left and right, but the fact remains it is a unique and innovative feature. It wouldn't surprise me if another manufacturer adopted a similar system. The analog clock positioned in the middle of the central vent is another nice touch. There's also a digital display located in the main cluster, but an actual clock with a face and hands appears classy and a bit refreshing.
Perhaps the smallest of subtleties is the trick LED flashlight, which looks remarkably similar to a cigarette lighter. Also found in the Touareg, this nifty little device always scores big with new passengers. I've tested it at night on a few occasions and found it surprisingly bright and quite useful. It remains charged while plugged into its 12V socket. For convenience, VW placed a second 12V outlet under the center armrest, an ideal place to charge your cell phone and keep the console free of dangling cords, and yet a 3rd for rear passengers. I also appreciate the pullout door panel pockets, which provide easier access to whatever you put in them. This may be considered a small feature, but it weighs big in convenience.
Then there's the elaborate trunk hinges. In all of my fourteen years of automotive journalism, I've never seen a more handsome or complex trunk hinge. Forged from aluminum alloy and polished to a fine, brushed finish, it's a shame hinges so visually pleasing are hardly ever seen. Each side features electronically controlled four-link hinges supported by a matching aluminum damper. The lid opens and closes by simply pressing the key fob or from an interior button. You can also choose an optional feature (found standard on the W12 model) which allows the lid to opened by pressing the VW logo on the rear of the trunk. As attractive as the hinge system may be, its electronics have failed on more than one occasion, leaving any trunk contents out of reach. Fortunately, a trip to the dealer seems to have solved the dilemma. Good thing. Trying to physically force open the trunk of a $70,000 vehicle can be embarrassing.
As far as creature comforts go, the Phaeton delivers with class leading style and luxury. With more passenger space than an S Class, it offers uncompromising comfort. Our model came equipped with the Comfort and Cold Weather package ($2,900), which offers even more luxury appointments, including fully adjustable front and rear power seats, which are also heated and ventilated. The package also includes a heated steering wheel, surely a welcome feature in colder regions.
In addition, the dual zone front and rear climate controls and a user-friendly nav/audio system make for a pleasurable driving experience regardless of where you sit. Then again, with such amenities as privacy curtains and built-in rear seat massagers (also part of the Comfort and Cold Weather package), I for one would prefer to be chauffeur driven.
For all the unique and subtle features I mentioned, there's plenty more I haven't. The bottom line is the Phaeton is a wonderfully designed automobile. In an effort to make the most elegant, state-of-the-art luxury sedan in its class, it is clear VW spared no expense. Judging from the miles logged within only six months, it's also clear the staff thoroughly enjoys driving it. Whether any of us happen to glance at the odometer precisely when it hits fifteen grand is anyone's guess.
Total Mileage: 11,208
This month's fuel economy: 14.5 mpg
This month's costs: $45-$50 a tank
Thumbs Up: Myriad gadgets and doodads to play with
Thumbs Down: Sticky vent covers