The VW Phaeton gets a bad rap. Try talking about the car without someone chiming in about its lofty price point. Some say the car shouldn't wear the VW badge, while others say it should not have been made at all, considering VW's ties to Audi. All topics of debate. The one thing everyone agrees on, however, is that the Phaeton is elegantly handsome, well engineered and the epitome of style and luxury. It's the dark horse in a segment led by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. In reality, the Phaeton offers equivalent quality German craftsmanship, comparable luxury features, superior ride quality and is every bit as grandiose-and in some cases more so than its competitors.
And still, it's a VW, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there are those who aren't yet willing to spend a premium on the age-old VW stereotype. According to Phaeton owner surveys, those who do open their wallets are extremely pleased and take pride in ownership. And with only 3,000 total unit sales since 2004 (compared to 3,000 S-Class sales per month) it's certainly a more exclusive club of owners at that. Most people are truly unaware such a remarkable car even exists.
Case in point: My wife and I invite some good friends to attend a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim game. We drive our long-term Phaeton because I wanted to get some solid feedback from someone who has driven Mercedes-Benz products the past 15 years. As I had predicated, they're flabbergasted and clearly impressed.
"Is this really a VW?" my friend asks upon entering. "It has terrific lines and it's so spacious. Feels more luxurious than my S-Class." Then the question: "How much is it?" I tell him and, unsurprisingly, he's dumfounded. "Really? Seems a bit much for a, gulp, VW." Later that evening, the car becomes the topic of discussion. The Ducks are losing miserably and the girls off in a conversation all their own.
Driving away from the Pond, as the Ducks' home is affectionately referred to, our guests stretch out comfortably in the back seat, relaxing with seat warmers set on high. We have ours on as well. It's a particularly cold night in So Cal. It's only in the low 50s, but that's near freezing to us. I decide it's also a good time to activate the steering wheel heater, having never used it. For that matter, I also flip the switch for a comforting seat massage. Hey, why not? It's there. I inform those in the back seat that they have their own individual seat massagers as well.
Our passengers are still in awe of the softness in the leather and the quality of the surrounding trim. They are equally amused by the rear passenger amenities and personal controls. "I don't think I've ever felt more relaxed in the back seat of a car, any car," my friend says enthusiastically. "You know, this car is worth 75 grand." Personally, I believe the Phaeton is the deal of the century, especially a pre-owned model that has seen a little price depreciation. You won't find another comparably equipped car priced more reasonably.
As we pull into a restaurant parking lot following the game, we are astonished to see another Phaeton. I park alongside and can't help but think these have got to be the only two Phaetons in the city. What are the odds? Aside from its color (black), the only noticeable difference were our 20-inch custom alloy wheels.
A month or so prior we installed a set of 9x20-inch GFG Mulsanne three-piece forged wheels. Not surprisingly, the Phaeton has large fender wells and allows for a tire/wheel package substantially larger than its standard 18-inch combo. The wheels feature a chrome finish and a 2-inch chrome lip, something the stock wheels lack. The wheels also nicely compliment the Phaeton's own tasteful amounts of chrome trim. A set of Continental ContiSportContact 2 (245/50-20) tires round out the package (look for a chance to win these actual wheels and tires at www.europeancarweb.com).
Over the course of the year, the Phaeton has made a couple non-scheduled dealer visits. On one occasion it was for the sticky central vent cover and the fussy trunk mechanism on another. Also, the doors seem to now close a bit harder with a bit of a thud, opposed a more normally quiet closure, possibly attributed to aging seals? Aside from that it's been trouble-free and thoroughly enjoyable to drive. Thus far, we've logged just under 20,000 miles and overall it's holding together quite well.
Will our friends ever buy a Phaeton? Not certain, but they have a new appreciation for Volkswagen and have changed their perception of what the company is capable of. In 50 years, the Phaeton will be remembered as the most elegant and well-crafted luxury sedan to ever wear the VW badge. Perhaps only then, on the lawns of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, will it be fully appreciated.
Total Mileage: 19,372
Fuel Economy: 12.5 mpg
Thumbs Up: Elegant styling, a plethora of creature comforts
Thumbs Down: A few minor nagging problems, it definitely needs bigger wheels