VW Phaeton V6 TDI

The original VW Phaeton won few admirers, but can this facelift increase it's appeal? We got behind the wheel of the 3.0-litre V6 diesel with four-wheel drive.

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Since its launch, the Phaeton has never been a big seller, and this update is unlikely to change matters. It’s well built, and a relaxed and refined cruiser, but competitors from Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Audi are just as capable, and they come with more cutting-edge technology. The Phaeton does undercut these models on price, but since the VW badge doesn’t have quite the same prestige in the luxury sector, buyers will take a hit when they come to sell it on.

While the Touareg is by no means a common sight on UK roads, at least it will be familiar to buyers choosing a big off-roader. After all, how many people in the market for a limousine will even know that Volkswagen offers such a car?


Meet the Phaeton – the firm’s flagship, and probably the most obscure and slowest-selling luxury model on sale. The hand-built four-door was launched in 2002, and now VW has given it a facelift to match the rest of the range. We tried the 3.0-litre diesel model in standard wheelbase guise. 


A Passat-style squared-off grille and LED running lamps are added to the nose, while the tail-lights have been given a new look, too. But overall, the lines stay the same, and the Phaeton is plain and understated.


Step inside, and the cabin has the same high-quality finish as before, albeit with improved materials and more standard equipment. Turn on the four-zone climate control, and the wood veneer panels on the dash lift, Jaguar XF-style, to reveal the air vents. 


There’s a large touchscreen sat-nav system on the centre console, too, and this can be specified with Google Maps software. Electrically operated and heated front seats, a 10-speaker stereo and acres of leather make the cabin a comfortable place in which to spend time. Long-wheelbase models add 120mm more rear legroom, so passengers can stretch out.


On the move, the 3.0-litre V6 diesel has plenty of power, while the Tiptronic auto shifts smoothly. The four-wheel-drive transmission provides plenty of grip, too, while the CDC air-suspension system constantly adjusts to ensure that the Phaeton rides smoothly on even the bumpiest of roads.


As the brand’s flagship, this car should be a showcase for VW’s technology. But some of the Phaeton’s features seem horribly outdated – especially when more hi-tech kit already appears on lesser models. For example, the Passat comes with an electric parking brake as standard, yet the Phaeton still uses an archaic foot-operated system. 


It also goes without the firm’s clever self-parking technology. That’s a shame, as this could give the big VW an edge – and help it make an impact in the luxury car market

Rival: Citroen C6

Big French executive can’t match the class leaders for badge prestige, but runs rings around the Phaeton through sheer character alone. It’s cheaper, too – but as with its rival, depreciation is an issue.

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