The VW Phaeton gets a bad rap. Try talking about the car without someone chiming in about its lofty price point. Some say the car shouldn't wear the VW badge, while others say it should not have been made at all, considering VW's ties to Audi. All topics of debate. The one thing everyone agrees on, however, is that the Phaeton is elegantly handsome, well engineered and the epitome of style and luxury. It's the dark horse in a segment led by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. In reality, the Phaeton offers equivalent quality German craftsmanship, comparable luxury features, superior ride quality and is every bit as grandiose-and in some cases more so than its competitors.

And still, it's a VW, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there are those who aren't yet willing to spend a premium on the age-old VW stereotype. According to Phaeton owner surveys, those who do open their wallets are extremely pleased and take pride in ownership. And with only 3,000 total unit sales since 2004 (compared to 3,000 S-Class sales per month) it's certainly a more exclusive club of owners at that. Most people are truly unaware such a remarkable car even exists.

Case in point: My wife and I invite some good friends to attend a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim game. We drive our long-term Phaeton because I wanted to get some solid feedback from someone who has driven Mercedes-Benz products the past 15 years. As I had predicated, they're flabbergasted and clearly impressed.

"Is this really a VW?" my friend asks upon entering. "It has terrific lines and it's so spacious. Feels more luxurious than my S-Class." Then the question: "How much is it?" I tell him and, unsurprisingly, he's dumfounded. "Really? Seems a bit much for a, gulp, VW." Later that evening, the car becomes the topic of discussion. The Ducks are losing miserably and the girls off in a conversation all their own.

Driving away from the Pond, as the Ducks' home is affectionately referred to, our guests stretch out comfortably in the back seat, relaxing with seat warmers set on high. We have ours on as well. It's a particularly cold night in So Cal. It's only in the low 50s, but that's near freezing to us. I decide it's also a good time to activate the steering wheel heater, having never used it. For that matter, I also flip the switch for a comforting seat massage. Hey, why not? It's there. I inform those in the back seat that they have their own individual seat massagers as well.

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