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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton Overview

VW Aims for the Stars

When most people think Volkswagen, they think of affordable German engineered sedans and coupes that are fun to drive and claim a somewhat hip segment of the market as their loyal customer base. Now VW wants you to think bigger and more expensive. They want you to think Mercedes-Benz S Class, only with a big VW emblem in the center grille and considerable wad of cash remaining in your bank account after the transaction. The car VW wants you to think about is the all-new Phaeton, an ultra-plush luxury performance sedan designed to transform the way American's view the Volkswagen nameplate.

The Phaeton is a big car, about the size of an Audi A8. That the two cars share a similar look and size in no way worries VW executives who believe that Audi customers will not cross-shop the A8 with Phaeton; for their part, Audi believes customers will shop the A8 flagship against cars like the Jaguar XJ and BMW 7. This leaves the Phaeton wide open to set a new standard, offering all the luxury, power and amenities found on the $100K plus super sedans for about $30K less. The V8 powered models begin at $64,600 while the twelve-cylinder models move the price ceiling up to around $79K. And no, that's not a typo: those are the starting prices as quoted by VW.

So what do you get for all that cash? Well for starters, you get a roomy, power-happy sedan loaded with every possible creature comfort known to VW. The first Phaetons to go on sale in the U.S. will be of the stretched variety, with the shorter wheelbase model arriving later in the model year. At 204-inches in length, the Phaeton possesses near-limousine like interior space, most noticeable in the area of rear-seat legroom.

The Phaeton's interior is designed to both impress and delight. The instrument cluster is housed in a hooded binnacle, with the audio, ventilation and navigation controls aligned in a center stack. This is a very familiar look for VW cars only in the Phaeton's case, there is quite a bit more technology tucked into the layout. Separating the front seats is a wide center console complete with a cool set of flush- faced cup holders (the spring-loaded covers recede into the holder as you push your cup down) and a mini spotlight that plugs into the 12V outlet.

From the driver's point of view, there seem to be a great many buttons to learn and memorize. The Phaeton's steering wheel, for example, has no less than eight buttons and one thumb-activated mouse wheel; the latter control is for scrolling through the information screen located between the speedometer and tach. Though filled with useful information, the screen pushes the instruments to the outer edge of the cluster, causing the Phaeton's small, thick steering wheel to block portions of them from view. Once you've mastered the steering wheel controls, you should be ready to tackle an even greater challenge: the LCD control panel.

The centerpiece of the Phaeton's advanced electronics is its LCD display screen. From here, you can view the functions for navigation, audio and the automatic front and rear climate controls. Most will find the system somewhat intuitive, though you still have to push buttons and scroll through menus to make the simplest of changes, ones that on a manual unit require little more than a quick turn of the dial. But hi-tech is the new face of luxury so the LCD seems to be here to stay. Thankfully, VW has included a second set of manual audio controls that can be operated via the dash-mounted knobs or by the redundant steering-wheel-mounted controls.

Seating inside the Phaeton is generous, especially in the area of legroom. Rear-seat headroom however, tapers-off somewhat due to the curving rear roof and passengers over six feet in height may find the tops of their heads brushing up against the headliner. No one will complain about comfort in the Phaeton, where tiny massaging and heated fingers work over tired backs and the rear-seat headrests automatically lift into place the moment they sense your presence. In addition, each passenger gets to regulate his or her own temperature zone, with pillar-mounted vents to help ferry air to the rear quarters.

For the Phaeton to succeed, Volkswagen understands that it must be every bit the driver's car the S Class and 7-Series are and then some. Here again, the VW engineers have done an excellent job. The V8 powered Phaeton starts with no audible indication that ignition had occurred, causing you to look down at the tach to be sure the car is indeed idling. It is at this moment that you'll notice the moving wood-trim panels; once you turn the key, they automatically retract to reveal the front air vents. Nice touch VW.

As you depress the accelerator, you'll feel the Phaeton's 335 horsepower almost immediately. The rush of power doesn't jump out or startle you, but rather applies itself in a steady, linear fashion. The V8-powered Phaeton clearly prefers to sweep you up to speed rather than catapult you there: that's the job of the W12 model. You'll hardly notice the marvelously smooth five-speed Tiptronic automatic ticking-off gear changes, unless of course you choose to make those changes yourself, a venture that truly brings the Phaeton driving experience to life. The Tiptronic accepts your commands without hesitation, holding off shifts until you either tap the lever or reach the tachometer's red zone.

For such a big car, the Phaeton is decidedly quick in the turns. The steering feel is light at first, but quickly firms up as its speed-sensitive servo assist dials in the proper feedback. Traction on dry and wet roads is greatly enhanced by the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system as well as a host of electronic stability and traction control sensors. The Phaeton's electronically-controlled air suspension system not only allows you the choice of four shock settings (comfort, basic, Sport 1 and Sport 2) but two ride heights. For highway cruising, the basic setting retains much of the smooth ride of the comfort setting without disconnecting you entirely from the road. Sport 1 and Sport 2 actually firm up the ride quite a bit, and are most useful when you need to negate as much body roll and lean as possible (such as when carving out S-curves.)

Overall, the driving experience is really quite impressive, even more so than the long list of amenities and creature comforts. We must say that if the price is not a deterrent, the Phaeton should be a success with all those who answer the call of "Driver's Wanted."

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