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2006 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 Review

Nice Car, Wrong Badge

In short: A $100,000 luxury car wolf in sheep's clothing.

In the Quick Sheet below, the number next to the words “as tested” is not a typo. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, a $100,000 Volkswagen. Like ordering a Filet Mignon at Arby’s or watching Britney Spears perform at the Met, something about it just doesn’t seem right. Sure, Volkswagen’s come a long way since its humble Beetle days, offering solid craftsmanship and quality designs—but 100 large for something that shares its badge with a vehicle known as the Thing? More on that later.

Under its tasteful, but ultimately blah exterior skin lies the same platform and W12 engine found in the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and GT. That ‘W’ before the number 12 is also not a typo. Essentially two narrow-angle VR6 engines spliced together on a common crankshaft (thus resembling a ‘W’), this design saves space and benefits weight distribution—a similar design is found in the Bugatti Veyron’s W16. Making 444 horsepower, the tremendously smooth engine moves the Phaeton’s sizeable heft with ease, going from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Considering an original Beetle probably weighs as much as the 5,400-pound Phaeton’s back bumper, that’s pretty commendable. What’s not so commendable, however, is the 12 city, 18 highway fuel economy and $3,000 gas guzzler tax. But hey, if you dropped 100 grand for a V-Dub, you probably don’t care anyway.

On the road, the Phaeton moves with confidence, soaking up bumps with a solid “thawunk” and providing a comfy ride, particularly on long stretches of highway. The steering is a little overpowered, and although not exactly vague, it doesn’t transmit enough of what’s going on between tires and pavement. Fans of older American luxury cars will love it.

Inside, occupants are treated to a serenely quiet environment filled with real wood trim, high-quality plastics and “Sensitive” leather seats (they didn’t seem particularly emotional, though). When the car is turned off, nifty wood panels elegantly slide over the air vents like a red velvet curtain descending upon a stage. Details like this make the Phaeton no ordinary Volkswagen or even luxury car.

Along those lines, this is the first vehicle in recent memory where people wanted to get into the rear seat first, and it’s understandable. Although available with reclining twin bucket seats and a center console, our test car came with a three-spot bench complete with optional massage, heating, cooling, power lumbar and about three acres of leg room. The only thing missing was an oxygen bar and a butler named Cavendish.

Up front, the comfy driver’s seat adjusts in eighteen different directions and like the rear, both heats and cools occupants’ back sides. Although the buttons and switches are of top-notch construction, their layout is anything but ergonomically correct and already behind the times, despite only being around since 2004. Radio preset buttons are far too low on the dash and difficult to press behind the notchy gear selector. The navigation system is fussy as in other VWs, requiring users to enter information via buttons and a knob surrounding the LCD screen. While many luxury manufacturers have addressed this once-common problem with maddening mouse-and-screen systems like BMW’s iDrive, ultimately, the best solution is a simple touchscreen supplemented with voice commands. The Phaeton would be well served by such a system, because as is, the small screen and sea of gray buttons are just a pain.

Considering that similarly equipped 12-cylinder sedans go for at least $18,000 more, the Phaeton is certainly worth its price tag. But its humble peoples’ car pedigree can’t be ignored, and it hasn’t been. The Phaeton was intended by former Volkswagen head Ferdinand Piëch to push the brand into vaunted luxury car quarters (despite VW owning Audi), but customers haven’t exactly cozied up to the concept. Only about 2,300 units were sold between 2004 and 2005, even with buyer incentives of up to $10,000. Subsequently, 2006 will be the Phaeton’s final year in North America, so snatch one up while you can. After all, saying you own a $100,000, 12-cylinder Volkswagen is at least a conversation starter.

Read a review of the Volkswagen Phaeton V8

Warranty/Service: Four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty; five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty; twelve-year/unlimited-mile warranty against rust;
four-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance; free scheduled maintenance.

Base Price: $96,600 / As Tested: $103,245

Technical Specifications

Vehicle type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 6.0-liter W12
Horsepower: 444 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Curb weight: 5,399 lbs
Wheelbase: 118.1 in
203.7/74.9/57.1 in
Turning circle: 39.4 ft

Brakes: all-wheel disc with ABS and electronic brake assist
independent front and rear, automatic load leveling air suspension
all-wheel drive, traction control, vehicle stability control, locking differential

Safety: front air bags, front and rear side abdomen air bags, front and rear side curtain head air bags, daytime running lights, tire pressure monitor

0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 135 mph (governed)

EPA City: 12 mpg
EPA Highway: 18 mpg
Gas Guzzler Tax: $3,000

Likes: W12 power; beyond-comfortable back seat; elegant interior; a bargain compared to other 12-cylinder luxury sedans

VW badge; dated electronics; poor ergonomics; looks like a huge Passat

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Photography: AlphaMedia

(Updated: 01/23/09 SV)