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 But some of the Phaeton’s features seem horribly outdated – especially when more hi-tech kit already appears on lesser models.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
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.