I am the antithesis of the jaded automotive journalist used to driving new or long-term cars on a regular basis. I feel like a kid in a candy store each and every time an opportunity comes around to get behind the wheel of one of the many fine automobiles in the european car fleet. The memories of driving a VW Phaeton are most pleasurable. I drove the Phaeton W12 during ec's Grand Prix in 2004, and I fondly recall that experience. I found it hard to believe a company known more for the Beetle, Golf and Jetta-basic entry level vehicles-would build such a luxurious, powerful and elegant vehicle on par with anything else from Germany or England.
The list of options on ec's fully optioned Phaeton V8 pushed the sticker price just north of $72K. I was a little hesitant to start playing with all the comfort and convenience features while behind the wheel. All the driver restraints and side curtain airbags would be of no use against the wrath of Editor Bidrawn if I brought it back with wrinkled sheet metal. So, to help me explore all the creature comforts the Phaeton offers in the limited time I had with it, I drove three friends to lunch. For the 13 or so miles each way, Kelly, Calin and Tris found plenty of buttons, switches and compartments to occupy themselves.
The rear power sunshade kept the sun off their heads. When they found the manual rear side window shades it offered a sense of privacy similar to that afforded to rock stars and actors. Now they were getting comfortable and feeling like VIPs; finding the rear seat footrests pushed them over the top. When two full grown adults have enough back seat leg room to use footrests while the driver and passenger have their seats adjusted almost fully reward, it lets you know how spacious the Phaeton really is.
But the back seat fun had only just begun. The 10-way adjustable seats with power-adjustable head restraints were the icing on the cake for those two. Discovering the massage feature was the cherry on top. The massagers took away, if only temporarily, the stresses of work in just a few minutes. I was sure I was going to have to wake them up when we arrived at the restaurant.
After gorging ourselves on lunch and a pizzokkie (giant warm cookie la mode) we all waddled back to the car. Wanting to make sure everyone was comfortable for the return trip, I inquired if the A/C setting was comfortable for everyone. With the four-way climate control (Climatronic) as a standard feature, this was a useless inquiry. Everyone could control the temperature of his or her own little section of the car. The front settings are controlled with the center console display, while the rear passengers have their own controls and display. For me, the "ooh and ahh" feature of the Climatronic system is when the system is turned off wood accents drop down over the vents. It may be a small thing, but the small things can make or break a car.
It was, however, brought to my attention that the back seat passengers couldn't hear the radio when the volume was low. Up front the volume was fine, but in the rear not so much. After adjusting the balance more to the rear the bass faded away. The only way to compensate for this was to set the bass nearer to the max setting. Placing a subwoofer under the middle rear seat and giving more wattage to the rear speakers would make the 270-watt sound system more enjoyable for all the passengers.
Whenever stopped at a red light I couldn't help myself from exploring the Infotainment system. The multi-function computer controls many aspects of the vehicle, from the radio and climate controls to the suspension settings and tire pressure readings. If traffic got really bad I would just call up the navigation function and find a different route. Audible commands can be used to keep your concentration on the road instead of looking at the center console screen. And the the auto-leveling suspension is great; the ride height and four-way damping settings are controllable on the fly.
The Phaeton is like a Wonka everlasting jawbreaker. The overall driving experience is immensely enjoyable, with many small surprises along the way. Each new feature is a flavor to savor, while knowing that something new and exciting waits to be discovered. I was very happy to find many more sweet spots than slightly sour ones.
Total mileage: 15,128
Fuel economy: 15.5 mpg
Thumbs up: Being a back seat passenger
Thumbs down: Slightly underpowered stereo system