Always wanted to ride like an executive, but never had the coin to drop on a true executive limousine? This was VW's attempt at moving its brand image waaay up-market. It still sells in Europe, but never caught on in the States. Now Wolfsburg's loss can be your gain.
Unless you were paying close attention, Volkswagen's attempt to break into the U.S. luxury market may have slipped by with little more than a passing notice. Conceived as the unassuming, over-engineered love child of the Bentley Continental and Audi A8, the Phaeton was a serious competitor in the luxo-cruiser segment. Alas, it had one fatal flaw, prominently displayed on the front grille, and it turned out that U.S. consumers were not willing to pay $70-100k+ for a Vee Dub. Thanks in part to this non-pedigreed logo, the Phaeton is now a luxury steal, especially in the rare W12 guise.
What Makes It Great
The Phaeton uses the very same VAG D1 platform that supports the Bentley Continental. And with only around 3,000 examples sold in the U.S., you are actually far less likely to see a Phaeton than a Continental-making it the most exclusive luxury sedan this side of a Maybach. But exclusivity is not what makes the Phaeton great. Rather, it is simply a near flawless execution of practical and graceful luxury without flashy distractions.
The Phaeton was engineered to cruise in excess of 180 mph in temperatures over 120 degrees while simultaneously keeping all occupants cool and comfortable. And thanks to a curb weight over 5,000 pounds, it would take an F4 tornado to budge this beast on the highway. And you'll be merging quickly too-acceleration comes in smooth and easy from the available 420-hp W12, an engine still being used today in the six-figure A8L.
Need luxury features? How about fully adaptive and adjustable air suspension, four-zone climate control with humidity sensors, heated and cooled power front and rear seats, hideaway air vents, and enough custom settings to keep you busy for weeks? And if you're worried about your long legs, worry no more. With a wheelbase of 113.4 inches, even Shaq would have room to spare.
Let's be honest-the Phaeton has all the styling flare of a Passat, but we never said you were going to make a scene. And besides, Volkswagen or not, there remains an unmistakable presence. With its immensely long and low silhouette, there is no questioning that this is the sort of car a CEO would drive-or have driven.
What to Look For
Thanks to a proven drivetrain lineup and rock-solid build quality, Phaetons have surprisingly few issues. Aside from sporadic electronic gremlins in the car's numerous high-tech features, owners report few common problems. So look for a generally clean example with service records, and take the time to make sure all of the 286 million comfort and convenience systems are operating as intended to avoid any costly off-warranty replacements.
What We Found
A quick pop on Autotrader.com and eBaymotors.com brings up over 70 examples of this rare sedan. We did find a bargain of a 2004 Phaeton W12 with 59k miles for only $24,000-less than a quarter of the original MSRP. But V8 models make up the overwhelming majority, with a clean and well-equipped '05 available for $25k, and high-mileage examples dipping into the mid teens.
Only a few very minor changes were made to the V8 Phaeton over its brief stay in the U.S. market, so we would opt for the best deal from any year. And although an extra 24 hp was added to the 2006 model year W12, the price premium and extreme rarity make early examples a better deal.
Good for the Money
In the mid $20,000 range, one is certainly not without options. It would be irresponsible not to point out that much of the Phaeton's better-badged competition has also fallen on hard depreciation-such as the (less roomy) 745iL. Staying in the VW family, this price tag could also net a more stylish and vastly more efficient CC. But at a small fraction of the cost of its Flying Spur sibling, and with true executive luxury, the Phaeton is a hard car to match. We'll take a four-seat W12... and don't forget the Grey Poupon.