On the one hand, this is a 6.0-litre luxury limousine with huge ability. It has a list of high-tech equipment as long as that needed for space exploration and is the size and cost of a small house.
On the other, it is a £70,000 Volkswagen that, for all its understatement, seems to incite debate, often incredulity and the blurted comment: '£70,000! For a Volkswagen!?'
It certainly has the right looks, though. It's a handsome, beefy car with a scowl at the front and looks like a Passat on steroids. The interior contains much of the switchgear that has already been seen on the Touareg SUV and is very high quality, although the use of materials and design is not as good as its supreme cousin, the Audi A8.
Our test model, in long-wheelbase form with 120mm extra rear legroom, was the four-seater which is more expensive than the five-seater.
That strange piece of accountancy is explained by the fact that the seats in the back are heated, cooled, electrically-adjustable, massage the occupants and are superb. These things matter in the rarified world of limousine and luxury travel, where even the smallest deficiency can cause a serious boardroom tantrum.
The 6.0-litre 412bph W12 engine is also used in the Audi A8 and Bentley Continental GT, although in the Bentley the addition of a couple of hefty turbos was thought necessary.
The W12 is a remarkable engine. Push the accelerator pedal and the Phaeton gathers up its skirts for a second and then sets off in a ceaseless blast.
But you have to be careful because – apart from the fact you're gobbling up cars in the inside lane like a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner and the obvious indication from the speedometer – there's no feeling of the speed the car is doing, as the engine makes no noise and the Phaeton's size and poise keep it as steady as an oil tanker.
That's where the adaptive cruise control, which keeps you a safe distance from cars in front, comes in. I've used these systems before and they infuriate and delight in equal measure.
On the Phaeton it worked perfectly, softly bringing the car into convoy behind slower traffic, then drifting past when they got out of the way. It will even stamp on its own brakes if needed.
The Phaeton comes with adaptive air suspension as well, which means the dampers can be adjusted to suit the mood. On Comfort, the car is wafty, while on the fourth setting – Sport – it is as stiff as the keenest sports saloon.
There's also fingertip Tiptronic gearchanging that is as incongruous on a luxury plutobarge as a silver walnut decanter holder in an Impreza.
Other great stuff includes a concert hall-standard hi-fi, TV, personal settings recognised by the key and a massive boot with a powered lid.
But there is a'but' and it's that badge again. Can a Volkswagen really be a luxury brand?
I spoke to a Volkswagen board member a while ago who reckoned they were committed to a second-generation Phaeton, because you can't establish a luxury brand with one car. There has to be heritage and depth, and the board is playing the long game.
They have to, because nobody is buying the first-generation Phaeton. Rumours are that many unsold petrol Phaetons in Germany are being re-engineered to slightly more popular diesel versions.
The Phaeton is a great car in the wrong packaging – at the moment. But if the first step to success in the luxury market is a top quality product, then Volkswagen is on its way.
Three rivals to consider
Normally with roadtests we pick cars of similar prices, but at this level, where money becomes less of an object we are comparing 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder, long wheelbase behemoths.
That means the cheapest, the Phaeton is nearly £22,000 less than the S-class. Bearing in mind that all have very high levels of equipment, the questions have to be posed: how much is brand strength worth? Does having the three-pointed star justify the £22,000 extra? Answers to follow.
The 7-series wins the servicing, maintenance and repair comparison because it comes with BMW's excellent inclusive service package, which costs £1,250 for five years/60,000 miles. The Phaeton comes second, and over 60,000 miles would be just under £300 more expensive than the 760i L.
The Mercedes-Benz continues its hallowed tradition of being the most expensive, and would cost nearly £4,000.
All these cars burn enough fuel to power a small town, but in a table of petrol greediness, the Phaeton is the most gluttonous.
That's because it weighs two-and-a-half tonnes. The A8 is considerably better on fuel than the Phaeton, thanks to its aluminium construction, and is an incredible half-a-tonne lighter, saving it £1,300 over 60,000 miles.
Both are thirsty four-wheel drive though, so the rear-wheel drive 760i L comes out on top.
The figures here are astonishing. Over 60,000 miles, you could buy a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S with the £64,000 the S600L depreciates. For every mile driven, the value of the car drops more than £1! The others are less insane, but haven't quite escaped the realms of fiscal lunacy.
Plenty has been made of the Phaeton's prodigious ability to lose its value, but thanks to a lower P11d price it scores a surprise victory, shedding 'only' £50,000 over three years.
Best to hide the cost of running these cars from the workers on the shop floor, or there will be revolt. The Phaeton sneaks in as the cheapest, costing £65,688 but calling it the cheapest is a bit like saying Emporio Armani is the cheapo bargain bin brand of Giorgio Armani.
The S600L costs 20p per mile more to run, which is down to high front-end value and expensive servicing. But for many at this level, only a Merc will do, irrespective of cost.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
All of these cars emit huge volumes of CO2 thanks to big engines, automatic gearboxes and massive weight, and so are over the highest tax band by a distance.
Many will think that as a result opting out is the economic option, but at this level, it's not. The monthly contract hire rate for one of these will be between £1,500-£1,800, while the monthly BIK tax bill for a 40% taxpayer would be limited to less than £1,000, due to the £80,000 P11d threshold.
Having spoken to a chauffeur fleet manager, for the majority of his clients only an S-class will do. But it is stupendously expensive. The 7-series is the most fun to drive (if that's a big pull in this segment) while the Phaeton is as capable as any of the others at Volkswagen's first attempt.
But the A8 is decent on costs, looks wonderful, drives well, has the best interior and has the super-safe quattro system. It would be our choice.
Volkswagen Phaeton 6.0 W12 Delivered price: £70,597
CO2 emissions (g/km): 374
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 20
Combined mpg: 18.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £18,425/26%
Depreciation 83.44 pence per mile x 60,000: £50,064
Maintenance 4.95 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,970
Fuel 21.09 pence per mile x 60,000: £12,654
Wholelife cost 109.48 pence per mile x 60,000: £65,688
Typical contract hire rate: £1,524 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance