2004 VW Phaeton W12


Shahed Hussain

It's hard to imagine a Volkswagen that costs more than $90K. Yet that's exactly where the Phaeton W12 is priced. Once one gets over the shock of the stratospheric price tag, and ignores the VW badge, it's easy to see where the money went.

The Phaeton is closely related to the Audi A8L, although it forgoes the aluminum chassis. The steel structure is impressively solid, but makes the Phaeton a tank on the road. Ponderous handling is the price for the Phaeton's superb ride. Shock damping can be adjusted in 4 steps from Buick soft to BMW firm. For long highway stints, the softest damping is ideal. However, curves call for one of the firmer damping settings. Otherwise, the Phaeton wallows and floats disconcertingly on low speed corners. In a straight line on the highway, the big sedan hunkers down and exhibits uncommon stability. Road imperfections are barely noticeable at triple digit speeds.

The W12 is VW's answer to the V-12 engines from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. With 420-bhp, the 6.0L motor is no slouch. The 5-speed automatic is very smooth, with nearly unnoticeable shifts. Booting the throttle results in a slight pause as the transmission kicks down, and the Phaeton surges ahead. The W12 is extremely smooth, and can be only heard at full throttle as a distant, muted thrum. Occupants are always amazed that the Phaeton is going much faster than they expected. Wind noise is minimal up to 100 mph. White noise from the 255/40R18 tires is the only noticeable intrusion in the cabin.

Passenger accommodations are superb. A draft-free ventilation system on the dashboard circulates air at low velocity throughout the cabin. Alternately, dash mounted motorized doors reveal a conventional vents, if occupants require more rapid temperature adjustment. The bolstered front seats are firm and supportive. Heated and cooled front and rear seats ensure occupant comfort in any weather. The rear seats also recline and have an optional massage feature. Power rear headrests automatically rise up when the rear doors are opened. A cavernous rear foot well ensures that the tallest passengers are accommodated. Separate climate controls for rear seat passengers ensure that everyone can find their ideal temperature. Other small touches include red LED lighting for the door handles, and a cigarette lighter mounted flashlight. The trunk lid is power operated for opening and closing.

The Phaeton's excellent audio system is unsurpassed in clarity. Speakers are literally everywhere, including the overhead ceiling console. Unfortunately, many audio and climate controls require one to use the unwieldy multifunction display console. There are simply too many buttons and options that require attention to adjust basic functions. In many cases, it is simply safer to stop the car to make some of the HVAC and audio control settings.

Is the Phaeton worth the money? Many people cannot understand why one would select the Phaeton over a comparable BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class (or an Audi A8L). Slow sales of the Phaeton seem to justify this view. Nonetheless, the Phaeton is a legitimate luxury sedan in need of a higher status badge.

2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12
2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12
2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 Engine
2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 Interior
2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 Interior