New Car Reviews

Volkswagen Phaeton

Marketing, history, and public perception have led to an automotive caste system that frowns both on moves downmarket and on rapid moves upmarket. Buying brands of a higher caste can elevate a carmaker but not necessarily a brand. So, despite owning and developing Bentley, Volkswagen will find it difficult to sell luxury products under its own name. That is a shame for the Phaeton, because this is a luxury sedan that, with different styling, could comfortably wear a Bentley badge.

U.S.-market Phaetons come only in long-wheelbase form and with all-wheel drive. Engine choices are a 335-horsepower V-8 and a 414-horsepower, normally aspirated version of the W-12 found in the $150,000 Bentley Continental GT. Both engines move the more-than-5000-pound Phaeton smartly, but if you bend the Phaeton into a corner, you’ll be reminded of its mass by the squealing tires. The Phaeton is by no means a sport sedan, but, as in a Bentley, its massiveness adds to the feeling of luxury instead of detracting from it. Aside from a slightly stiff-legged ride and numb steering, the Phaeton comports itself with regal confidence. Inside, luxury touches abound; from the auto-closing draft-free vents to the wood- and leather-swathed interior that betters a Jaguar XJ8‘s.

The Phaeton is a traditional luxury car from an untraditional brand. As such, it may have a difficult time establishing a beachhead in our market. Still, VW believes that there are 2500 to 3000 buyers who want a luxury sedan and are confident enough to look past the badge.