Review: Volkswagen Phaeton (2010 – 2016)
Sharper styled than previous Phaeton. Available in standard and long wheelbase. 3.0 TDI offers good combination of performance and economy for such a big car.
Still lacks the status of other luxury saloons. Soft in corners. Depreciation is big.
Volkswagen Phaeton (2010 – 2016): At A Glance
On paper, the Volkswagen Phaeton has always had everything it needs to beat the competition from Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes. Peerless build quality is a given from Volkswagen and this is a car that shares a good deal of its mechanical parts with the Bentley Continental GT, including its four-wheel drive system.
In the metal, however, the Phaeton does not enjoy the same appeal as its on-paper specification suggests. For starters, many buyers in this market are put off by the Volkswagen badge on the car’s prow. Like it or not, a premium badge counts for a lot in this class and Volkswagen’s symbol doesn’t have the same cache as its competitors.
This matters much less in emerging car markets, such as China, which is why Volkswagen has continued with the Phaeton in its heavily revised form for the second generation model and why the car remains on the UK sales list.
For the UK, every Phaeton comes equipped with a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine that offers 245PS and claimed fuel economy of 33.2mpg whether you choose the standard version or long wheelbase variant. The latter makes the perfect limousine for captains of industry to stretch out in thanks to an extra 120mm of rear legroom.
Thrifty chairman will also appreciate the significantly lower starting prices for the Phaeton models, which are more akin to a well kitted out executive saloon than a car from the luxury class. However, this is offset by hefty depreciation that you would not normally associate with Volkswagen products. There is also a 6.0-litre W12 engine with 450PS but that's only for the really committed.
For those who ignore the steep cost of ownership of a Phaeton, they will find the car is ideal for covering huge distance in perfect comfort and soaking up cracked city streets. However, the Phaeton cannot combine this with the accuracy of handling and driver involvement found in a Mercedes S-Class or Jaguar XJ, which means the Phaeton ultimately feels merely competent rather than compelling.
What does a Volkswagen Phaeton (2010 – 2016) cost?
Volkswagen Phaeton (2010 – 2016): What's It Like Inside?
Let’s start in the back seats where many are likely to experience the Phaeton. In the standard wheelbase model, you will find good legroom by the norms for this class of car, so you can stretch out and relax.
You will also be able to enjoy standard heated seats back here, but you have to pay extra for the Premium rear seat system that brings electrically adjustable headrests, lumbar support, massage function and seat air conditioning. There’s no electric adjustment for the seat cushions that you’ll find in most of the rivals either as standard or as an option.
Step into the back seat of the Phaeton LWB and even the tallest passenger will find more than ample legroom. As somewhere to while away a long journey, the back of a Phaeton LWB is a good place to be and it comes with an electrically operated rear screen sunblind as standard, plus manually operated door window blinds. These are an option for the standard wheelbase model.
The LWB version of the Phaeton also benefits from an electrically worked glass sunroof as part of its normal kit list, whereas this is an option for the standard model. Both cars share the same 410-litre boot capacity, which is enough for a few suitcases but some 100 litres less than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Move into the front of the Phaeton’s cabin and the driver is provided with more than enough room for head, legs and shoulders. Some might find the driver’s seat doesn’t adjust as low as they might like, but the driving position is good and affords excellent vision in all directions. This is welcome when parking a car of the Phaeton’s size and is aided by front and rear parking sensors, while a rear view camera is an optional extra.
The Phaeton is started using a good old fashioned ignition key, unless you pay to upgrade to keyless ignition to match most competitors. This sets a tone for the Phaeton’s driver environment experience where the Volkswagen just feels a generation behind most rivals.
This is certainly true of the dash layout and style, which has a large display screen in the centre console and small digital display between the two main dash dials. However, they look dated next to the design and graphics of most rivals, which is also the case for the clunky look of the gear lever, stereo and cupholders.
None of this undermines the basic comfort, space and fitness for purpose of the Phaeton’s cabin to transport four adults in considerable comfort. It’s just that most rivals manage this with more aplomb and style.
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What's the Volkswagen Phaeton (2010 – 2016) like to drive?
You have two choices of body when picking a Phaeton: standard or long wheelbase (LWB). The long wheelbase model has an extra 120mm of rear legroom and a commensurate extra amount of distance added to its wheelbase. Both are the same height and width, so there is no great impact on threading the LWB version through narrow city streets or along country lanes.
Both are large cars, so driving on more tightly packed roads does require a modicum of added consideration and forward planning than in a family hatch, but no more so than in any other luxury class car. The difference with the Phaeton is it never manages to feel like anything but a large car.
Where a Jaguar XJ or BMW 7 Series have a sporty side that endears them thanks to their precision driving manners, the Phaeton doesn’t. Nor does the Phaeton have the Mercedes S-Class’ all-round ability to tailor itself to the driver’s mood and intentions.
While this makes the Phaeton sound rather dated, it should not detract from the fact it can mooch along any type of road with ample comfort. The standard air-sprung suspension is only very rarely out-foxed by sudden ridges in the road surface, but no more so than its rivals. Opt for the Phaeton LWB and the ride is even more cushy.
The Phaeton driver can improve the car’s body control by altering the adjustable suspension. This lets the driver choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport modes, plus the suspension can be raised by 25mm for added pothole compliance at lower speeds or for dealing with pesky speed bumps. As the speed rises, the suspension automatically reverts to its lower setting for motorway driving.
If you choose to go for the sportier side of the Phaeton, don’t expect it to carry on providing the same ride comfort. This is sacrificed to some extent for less body lean through corners. With the traction offered by the 4Motion all-wheel drive, the Phaeton gives a good account of itself in the bends, but its steering does not offer the same feel or accuracy as a Jaguar or Mercedes system.
It’s much better to leave the Phaeton in its comfort settings, and comfort zone, to waft along in imperious style. This is what the 245PS 3.0-litre turbodiesel is happiest with too and it goes about its business with quiet efficiency. Stretch its legs for increased acceleration and it responds crisply and with much extra noise before returning to its previous harmony when you’re back in cruise mode. The six-speed automatic gearbox has a Tiptronic manual over-ride, but again it’s best left to its own devices.
With 500Nm of shove on tap from just 1500rpm, the Phaeton can step off the mark smartly, delivering 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds for the standard wheelbase model and 8.6 seconds for the LWB. However, the downside of the 3.0 V6 diesel is 237g/km CO2 emissions in both models, which is now some way behind the best in class.
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