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Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen Phaeton


3 stars

Quick Summary

Average. Volkswagen's strangest car - the Phaeton is a well-engineered luxury saloon, but it needs more than a modest update to keep pace with its rivals.

Full Road Test

Like all ultra-rare creatures, there's something oddly fascinating about the Volkswagen Phaeton. The huge luxury saloon was conceived by VW boss Ferdinand Piech in a moment of madness to challenge upmarket rivals for a slice of the flagship market, but a lack of brand kudos and its unspectacular abilities virtually killed the car before it could get going.

 Nevertheless, while it may have largely failed in Europe, the Chinese appear to have taken the Phaeton to its heart and so the model lumbers on. To ensure it remains at least distantly competitive, Volkswagen has treated it to a sprinkling of styling and interior tweaks.

The most significant alteration is to the car's nose, which inevitably gains the clean, slightly anonymous VW look that has been reproduced across much of its range. The styling polish means the car looks even more like a XXL Passat, but it's certainly not unattractive.

However, if the outside has a subtle credibility, the interior shows its years like a wrinkled ageing elephant. There may be enough grey leather, equipment and timber veneer to impress a Chinese executive, but to anyone else familiar with the competition, the game has long moved on. Even the latest version of Volkswagen's sat-nav fails to lift this cabin into the 21st century.

Fortunately for the Phaeton's new fans, the model does still have one or two strong dynamic cards left up its sleeve. The oily bits underneath may be almost a decade old, but they were still good enough to form the basis for the Bentley Continental, and the car remains an assured way of crossing a continent.

Shutting the Phaeton's heavy-set doors is akin to donning a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Exterior sounds barely penetrate the interior vacuum, and that eerie calm, combined with a soft-sprung ride and the confidently forceful thrust of the 237bhp V6 turbodiesel make the Phaeton a pleasant prospect for a long motorway journey.

It's no disgrace away from three lanes of tarmac either thanks to the grip offered by Volkswagen's 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, although its size, weight and slack body control can make it feel as unwieldy as an anvil if you push on.

Arguably then, the best place to be is in the back, where we assume that most new customers will be taking station. Behind the tinted glass - even in the short wheelbase model - there's plenty of space and air-conditioned calm to enjoy even as the Phaeton's value plunges like fire-damaged furniture. Although that's a characteristic which will continue to make it a used car worth considering.

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