Volkswagen has mastered the art of subtle facelifts with the latest Phaeton, where even VW enthusiasts would be hard pressed to notice the changes. Ian Robertson gets to work with a fine toothcomb
The idea of a VW luxo-barge to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hasn’t gone down convincingly well with the British buying public, with some believing that the Volkswagen mascot on the front grille has perhaps been stretched a little too far. Ask yourself when you actually last saw one of these on the road and that probably answers those nagging doubts, especially when the modest sales numbers have been taken into account. Despite this, Volkswagen is standing by its decision to create this chauffeur special, and treated the Phaeton to a series of incredibly subtle tweaks earlier this year. A quick glance at Volkswagen’s press release revealed that changes have been made to the interior with a new centre console, improved instrument cluster and new touch screen displays for the satellite navigation and climate control. On the outside, there’s a new front grille, with a three-dimensional VW badge, together with brand new designs of alloy wheel. See, we told you the changes were small. Slide into the drivers seat and it’s evident that the Phaeton was designed a generation or so ago. The BMW 7-Series and latest Jaguar XJ have moved the game on so far, that the Phaeton’s classic olde worlde look for the interior is out of step. The bright orange wood trim looks garish, and would be better replaced with a more subtle black oak or modern metallised finish.
There’s meticulous attention to detail everywhere you look, but it still feels a little on the aged side. For example, the electric air vents are hidden until the engine is started, and pre-date a similar design in the Jaguar XF. The seats on the Phaeton are amazingly sumptuous, with seemingly unlimited levels of adjustment, including electric under thigh support, meaning that both driver and passenger are transported in armchair-like comfort. Rear passengers are in for a treat too, with enormous amounts of legroom, thanks to the 12cm longer wheelbase over the standard car. The Phaeton is powered by the latest common-rail 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine, with particulate filter fitted as standard. Performance is punchy rather than outright quick, while the handling is both safe and secure. As you would expect from a car weighing over two tonnes, it can feel a touch barge like at times. Grip levels are excellent, thanks to the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive, and the air suspension conjures up a truly magic carpet ride. The six-speed automatic gearbox offers seamless changes, and both road and wind noise are well contained.
Compared to its class peers, the Phaeton is keenly priced, but some would argue that the volkswagon badge lacks the cachet that the premium marques offer. Badge snobs shouldn’t be too quick to put the Phaeton down though, as they’ll need the cash to back up the claim – in excess of £10,000 extra, in fact, to secure an equivalent BMW or Mercedes-Benz – and that’s even before they’ve taken a look at the lengthy options list.
RIVALS: BMW 730Ld SE, Jaguar XJ Luxury 3.0 V6 Diesel LWB, Mercedes -Benz S 320 C DI L
- Engine: 2967cc, V6, turbodiesel with particulate filter
- Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
- Max power: 230bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max torque: 332lb ft at 1,500-3,500rpm
- Max towing weight: 2,500kg
- Max speed: 146mph
- 0-62mph: 8.4secs
- Combined consumption: 30.1mpg
- CO2 emissions (taxband): 248g/km (L)
- Boot space: 500litres
- Insurance group: 16
Value for money, excellent refinement, meticulous attention to detail, generous legroom
Garish wood trim, old fashioned cabin, lacks badge cachet of other premium marques