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Cars Worth Noting: 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

Say Volkswagen built a $65K sedan to take on BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar … along with corporate cousin Audi. Could Germany’s “Peoples Car” brand effectively play in that arena? And why would VW challenge Audi’s A8, which itself is striving to compete?

Well, VW’s pluxury Phaeton has already arrived with bland but handsome looks, a $64,600 starting price and 335-hp 4.2L V-8 power. That compares to $74K, $69K and $69K and 275, 325 and 294 V-8 horses for Mercedes’ S-Class, BMW’s 7 Series and Jaguar’s XJ, respectively. And $70K and an identical 335 hp (from the same 4.2L V-8) for the A8L.

The Phaeton enjoys some advantages over these competitors (except the Audi): standard all-wheel-drive, 18-way driver’s/16-way passenger’s heated and ventilated power seats and 43.1 inches of rear stretch-your-legs room. Also some disadvantages: a 13 cu. ft. trunk (vs. 15 to 18), nearly 5,200 pounds of road-hugging weight (vs. 3,800 to 4,400) and worst-in-class economy at 16 city, 22 highway with the V8 and 12/19 with the available 420-hp W-12.

Our richly equipped W-12 test vehicle’s interior was beautifully conceived and crafted, its unique engine (two narrow V-6s married at the crank) was brawny and smooth, and — despite the porky poundage — its dynamics were surprisingly good. But we burned 50-plus gallons of expensive premium in a week. And it stickered at a breathtaking $91,415 with $7,900 in options and a $3,000 “gas guzzler” tax.

Were we tempted by an ultra-lux Veedub, we’d skip the $4,700 “4 Seater Package,” which adds a rear console, umpteen-way power ventilating/massaging rear seats and a stand-up rear climate control box that makes it impossible to reach anything behind the front seats.

Maybe if it had more exciting styling … and a more exotic brand.

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