2004 Volkswagen Phaeton W12


Greg A. Godsell

My uncle used to say that if he could invent an electric package opener that he would be rich. That may be the only electro-mechanical feature that is missing from the $100k Volkswagen Phaeton W12.

This vehicle is a tour-de-force of gadgetry: air suspension controlled ride height, power operated trunk lid, navigation system with glove box mounted CD-ROM drive, glove box mounted audio CD changer, front and rear parking assistance, power operated seats that move fore/aft, up/down, with individual settings for the mid- and upper-back support, 4-way adjustable lumbar support, back massager. Wait there's more... the thigh support is power-operated. Even the seatbelt mount point features a power-operated mechanism to change the height. The seats are also heated and cooled.

The rear-view mirrors are power-foldable and there is even a small flashlight in the center console. The most intriguing gadget is the climate control system. Volkswagen spent considerable effort engineering a draftless climate system. There are no visible vents on the dash, only a large band of wood stretching the width of the dashboard. However when the climate system is in certain override modes the entire band of wood lifts to reveal those unsightly air vents. A lot of engineering effort to defeat a lot of engineering effort.

The test model featured the two-position rear seating with the extended center console. This provides the rear seat occupants with a dedicated center-mounted screen for changing rear climate settings. Given the price and the prominent position of the screen, it seems like it ought to do more than set HVAC fan-speed and temperature, like show DVD movies or play video games.

The W12 is rated at 420hp. Given the overall size of this car, it accelerates and brakes with competence. It's very easy to imagine barreling down a highway at three-digit speed without batting an eye. However, by the seat of the pants, the W12 does not feel significantly faster than the 8-cylinder model.

Herein lies the big rub with the W12 model. There is a $30,000 premium to upgrade from the 335-hp V8 to the 420-hp W12. Outside of distinct wheels and four exhaust outlets, there is virtually nothing that visually distinguishes the W12 model.

I personally don't know what $100,000 feels like. Gizmos and features? Opulence? I honestly couldn't tell you. The buyer in this price range is looking for luxury, competence, but beyond that probably something to distinguish themselves. The W12 Phaeton is sitting out there as an expensive and discreet upgrade to a car that inherently lacks the snob appeal of its direct competitors. No matter how good the Phaeton is, that will be its biggest challenge.