Used buyer's guide: Volkswagen Phaeton

Steep depreciation makes the VW Phaeton look a real bargain. But is it?

The Phaeton was created as a ‘halo’ model, so VW threw every possible piece of kit at it to make it brilliant. In this respect, the company succeeded – but as the car was priced at the level of more prestigious rivals, it never really stood a chance. As an alternative to a newer executive saloon, it stacks up well, with its superb build quality and luxurious equipment. Yet even diesels are thirsty and other running costs can be high – so don’t expect to keep one on the road for Passat money.

Some cars are very hard to recommend new, yet make superb second-hand buys. Take the luxurious Volkswagen Phaeton; it’s hugely expensive for its first owner due to its eye-watering depreciation.

However, those poor residuals mean that once a Phaeton reaches its third or fourth birthday, it’s far more affordable – and it remains the same spacious, well equipped, comfortable and refined luxury saloon it always was.

Depreciation isn’t the only potentially high cost associated with one of these large saloons, though, so while the Volkswagen can be a used car bargain, you need to buy with care.

History

The Phaeton first went on sale in June 2003, with 3.2 V6 or 6.0-litre W12 petrol engines. By the end of the year there was also a 4.2 V8 petrol and a 5.0 V10 TDI diesel. From April 2004, a long-wheelbase car was offered with all engines bar the 3.2 V6. Six months later, the 3.0 TDI arrived – and it quickly became the most popular model.

In 2009, the Phaeton’s cabin got a welcome overhaul, with revised climate control, new instruments and touchscreen multimedia display. A further facelift late in 2010 brought a reprofiled nose and extra kit. The engine range was pared down to only the 3.0 TDI, too, although the W12 was sold on special order.

Alternatives

The Audi A8 has a luxury cabin, aluminium construction and superb engines; most examples (including all diesels) also have quattro four-wheel drive. BMW’s 7 Series is more of a driver’s car – it’s superbly refined, brilliantly equipped and comfortable, but the cabin feels rather clinical.

The car that gives the VW the hardest time, however, is the Mercedes S-Class. This is fast, comfortable and incredibly safe thanks to a raft of cutting-edge technologies that also ensures relatively good fuel economy.

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