Not content with building one of the world's best-selling cars in the Beetle, creating a new market niche with the Golf GTI and enjoying huge sales success among UK fleets thanks to its desirable badge, Volkswagen is casting the net further afield with its latest launch.
Coming to selected showrooms near you from June 16, the Phaeton takes Volkswagen well and truly into uncharted territory.
Competing against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7-series, Jaguar XJ and the Audi A8, the Phaeton brings the 'people's car' brand firmly upmarket. Prices start at £42,905 on-the-road for the entry-level 3.2-litre V6 (which is expected to take the lion's share of sales) and rocket all the way up to £68,260 for the W12 4MOTION (expected to sell only a handful).
What Phaeton buyers will get for their money is essentially everything Volkswagen's engineers could throw into a car in what appears to be a game of 'whatever you can do, we can do better'. After all, there is no real need for Volkswagen to build the Phaeton as sister company Audi already has a luxury offering with the excellent new A8.
And it certainly won't be making much money on this new model line in the UK as sales predictions are very low – Volkswagen is expecting to sell 150 cars over the remainder of this year. In a full year this figure will rise to 300 sales, thanks to an expansion of the range which will add long wheelbase models and new engine options: a 4.2-litre V8 and a 5.0-litre V10 TDI. A 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel will arrive in 2005.
Speaking at the Phaeton's UK launch Andrew Coombe, head of marketing at Volkswagen UK, said: 'Our sales aspirations are conservative to say the least but we will sell our allocation of cars. The Phaeton will appeal to more modern buyers who want quality and technology but have less need to shout about their wealth.'
What the Phaeton is all about is showcasing the firm's expertise to cast a halo over the lower models in the range.
Phaeton buyers will also have the option of taking up two special packages aimed at making the ownership experience more upmarket.
For £500 they can opt for the concierge package run in conjunction with society fixers, quintessentially.com. This one-year package will allow owners to ring a special phone number which will enable them to get hold of things such as tickets to Wimbledon and to book holidays.
The other package is a servicing deal, similar to that pioneered by BMW and offered by Audi. For £500, drivers can cover the cost of servicing over three years and 60,000 miles.
Behind the wheel
AT THE moment there are only two Phaeton models available in the UK and they are at opposite ends of the performance spectrum.
While the 6.0-litre W12 has serious grunt on offer, the entry-level 3.2-litre V6 struggles to shift the substantial Phaeton along. My first drive was in the V6 model which features a five-speed automatic gearbox and, perhaps unusually for this type of vehicle, front-wheel drive.
The V6 engine, which also sees service in the Golf R32 and the Touareg, produces 240bhp and torque of 232lb-ft from 2,400rpm. This endows the V6 with a top speed of 150mph and acceleration from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds.
However, on the road the V6 struggles to cope, needing to downshift through the gearbox to get some momentum going. But once up to cruising speed things improve, with the Phaeton surefooted and quiet at motorway speeds.
The W12 model is a different kettle of fish entirely. Essentially two narrow-angle V6 engines mated together, the engine provides a huge 420bhp and an even more impressive 406lb-ft of torque. On the road this translates into seamless power available whenever you want it. Simply tickle the throttle and the response is instant, whooshing you up to high speed in the blink of an eye. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in a fraction over six seconds and the W12 will run on to 155mph, although the speed limiter can be removed to give the engine its head and reach a maximum speed of 186mph (where legal).
Both models share a hydraulic brake assist programme which, as its name suggests, provides braking assistance. In use it feels very much like the brake-by-wire system fitted to certain Mercedes-Benz models, which means a slightly numb feeling on the brake pedal before the bite comes in.
Inside it is pure luxury with soft leather seats, a hugely impressive centre console and colour screen system, and clever touches such as illuminated door handles and four-zone climate control. However, rear legroom is not overly generous (possibly down to the enormous boot) but this should be addressed when long wheelbase models join the range next year.
THERE is so much technological innovation in the Phaeton that this alone makes it a very impressive car. In W12 format especially it is a luxury car par excellence. But, and there's always a but, it fails to excite or inspire in the way a prestige model does. As an exercise in one-upmanship it fulfils its role, but the Phaeton is no threat to its German rivals. The sensible money would buy an Audi A8.
|VW Phaeton fact file|
|Model||3.2 V6||6.0 V12|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||241/6,200||420/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||232/2,400||406/3,000|
|Max speed (mph):||152||155 (limited)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||24.7||18.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||274||374|
|On sale:||June 16|