Volkswagen Phaeton W12

Arrive in a Mercedes S-Class and you ooze style, roll up in a BMW and you are thrusting and dynamic, but what does it say about you if you drive a Volkswagen? That question may hold a lot of potential customers back from choosing the luxury Phaeton super saloon, even with the hi-tech W12 engine.

Cover up the badges and the Phaeton makes a good attempt at rivalling Mercedes' S-Class. Yet image is absolutely vital in this sector - and we don't think the big VW cuts enough of a dash. The Phaeton is easy to drive, swift and very comfortable - but needs to be £20,000 cheaper.

Arrive in a Mercedes S-Class and you ooze style, roll up in a BMW and you are thrusting and dynamic, but what does it say about you if you drive a Volkswagen? That question may hold a lot of potential customers back from choosing the luxury Phaeton super saloon, even with the hi-tech W12 engine.

Driven here for the first time in right-hand-drive form, we tried to work out whether the flagship version could come close to justifying its astonishing £68,260 asking price.

Approach the car from any angle and it is best described as 'uneventful', but the inflated Passat styling is actually quite well proportioned. Climb inside, and the cabin is suitably luxurious, with superb build quality and a fine driving position. For those people lucky enough to spend most of their time sitting in the back, the Phaeton is amazingly comfortable, although too much of the lavish interior equipment is left on the options list for our liking.

The unique engine format is basically two V6 motors merged sideways to create a W12 layout. The 6.0-litre unit pumps out a whopping 414bhp, with 551Nm of torque.

You would expect that to provide supercar-baiting performance, but there is one problem - the Phaeton weighs nearly as much as a Range Rover. However, despite its bulk, 0-60mph still takes only 6.1 seconds, with the maximum speed limited to 155mph. Combine the big engine with enormous girth, and the fuel consumption is predictably catastrophic. The official average figure is 18.1mpg, although our test car managed just 13.5mpg over a varied route.

With only 300 Phaetons destined for the UK each year, the top-of-the-range W12 will be a rare sight on Britain's roads. The total price, including all the luxurious options on our test car, is £75,795, when a Mercedes S500 can be yours for £61,605.

Admittedly, the Merc makes do with a V8, but as it weighs less, performance is virtually identical to that of the VW. Make no mistake, the Phaeton W12 is a fine luxury car - it's just too expensive to wear the same badge as a Lupo.

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