2004 Volkswagen Phaeton Four Seasons Test

Tim Andrew Julian Mackie

The window sticker told us that there was no extra charge for the gray paint, but there was a $2900 premium for the Comfort and Cold Weather package, $1000 for a sound- system upgrade, and of course the ever-popular gas guzzler tax at $1300. We have no quarrel with maintenance costs; they are completely covered for the first four years or 50,000 miles of ownership. We do object to reporting the same problems again and again and receiving no resolution from the dealerships. Every time one of the electrical glitches was mentioned to a dealer, it was rapidly pronounced "fixed," although it would recur not long after leaving the dealer's parking lot.

An example: the car was taken to the local Ann Arbor dealer because we could not reset the frequently erroneous tire-pressure sensors for the rear wheels, even when carefully following directions in the comprehensive manual. The dealer managed it but then tried to charge us $38 for labor. A lively discussion ensued. In the end, the reluctant service manager finally agreed to waive the labor charge, even though we were informed that, "Volkswagen will not reimburse us." Our unspoken response, and we suspect that of other disgruntled, mistreated owners, was, "Who cares?" The keys were relinquished, and we were left to search the parking lot for the unwashed "luxury car." At least the Carlsbad, California, dealer who failed to fix our problems during visits two weeks apart was gracious enough to wash the car both times.

From the car's earliest days with us, the trunk was unwilling to open enough to allow a hand to slip in to lift the lid-and those were the occasions when the remote latch control on the driver's door actually worked. Usually it was necessary to open the lid with the key fob, but that, too, was intermittent in function. Or we thought it was. A friendly doctor in Texas, whom we encountered at a gas station, informed us that we should not expect instant gratification but patiently hold the button down for a while.

Contributor Ronald Ahrens, who brought the car back to Michigan from the Left Coast, wondered "why did Pich have to go out and reinvent the wheel? Nearly every single control and function is unlike that from any other car." He concluded that at night with everything on the console lit up, he felt "like Homer Simpson in the nuclear power plant."

Optical qualities of both the windshield and the backlight were questioned from our first contact with the car, but neither piece of glass was replaced because, according to the dealers, it was "a supplier problem" affecting all Phaetons and Touaregs, and there was no point in exchanging one set of distortions for another. (Why VW didn't solve this before production is beyond us.)

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