Missing the Marque: Volkswagen Phaeton

A triumph of engineering, or hubris?

Ferdinand Piëch and his act of hubris. Image: hvilkenbil.dk

Ferdinand Karl Piëch(1) was a man of towering ambition, both personally and for Volkswagen Group, the automaker he led as Chairman of the Executive Board from 1993 to 2002 and Chairman of the Supervisory Board from 2002 to 2015. The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Piëch was automotive royalty and began his career at the eponymous sports car company before moving to Audi in 1972(2). He ascended to the helm of that company and was credited with turning Audi from a slightly quirky left-field manufacturer into a direct competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, an achievement that deservedly earned him the leadership of the Volkswagen Group.

For many years there had existed an understanding between the German automotive giants that each would occupy its own place in the hierarchy of marques and would not seek to invade each other’s territory. This understanding was shredded by Edzard Reuter, who was Chief Executive of Daimler-Benz from 1987 to 1995. The ruthlessly ambitious Reuter was determined to exploit to the fullest extent what was then one of the world’s most respected and admired automobile marques, and this meant moving downmarket. The scale of Reuter’s ambition was revealed in 1994 with the announcement of the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a direct competitor(3) to the Volkswagen Golf.

Piëch was not going to take this challenge lying down. He devised a plan to reconfigure the Volkswagen Group hierarchy of marques so that Audi would in future be explicitly pitched against BMW as the sporting option, while Volkswagen would be elevated and pitched directly against Mercedes-Benz as the luxury choice. This would, of course, require the development of a full-size luxury saloon to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

A more pragmatic chief executive might have based the new model on the existing Audi A8, but Piëch decided that such a car would lack the thoroughbred pedigree to compete at the highest level, so decided instead on a ‘clean-sheet’ approach for the Volkswagen flagship.

Fate also played a part in the development of what would be called the Phaeton: the 1998 tussle between Volkswagen Group and BMW for control of Rolls-Royce Motors left the former with ownership of the Bentley marque and a limited model line-up that was in need of expansion.

A new platform and drivetrain, codenamed D1, would be developed, to be shared by Volkswagen and Bentley.  This investment would be amply rewarded by the success of the Continental GT coupé and convertible and the Flying Spur saloon. These (relatively) more affordable models would reinvigorate Bentley and introduce it to a whole new generation of customers.

1999 VW Concept D. Image: netcarshow.com

The Phaeton was revealed, at least in part, at the Frankfurt international motor show in September 1999. Volkswagen exhibited the Concept D, a large five-door liftback that was effectively a Phaeton with a different rear end. This was, to these eyes at least, a handsome, original and well resolved design, with its six-light DLO and Hofmeister-esque kink in the D-pillar. The production model would, however, instead feature a conventional four-light saloon body with broad triangular C-pillars and a rather poorly resolved upper DLO line. The latter followed a smooth arc from the A-pillar rearward before kinking awkwardly downwards at the trailing edge of the rear door glass.

The Phaeton was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002. Its mechanical specification was a tour de force: it was initially offered with a choice of three petrol engines, a 3.2 litre narrow-angle VR6, a 4.2 litre V8, or Volkswagen’s mighty 6.0 litre W12. Transmission was via a five-speed ZF automatic with Tiptronic manual override, connected to a Torsen differential based permanent four-wheel drive system dubbed 4Motion by Volkswagen. Adaptive air suspension and cruise control with radar activated distance regulation was standard, as was draughtless four-zone air conditioning with no visible vent outlets in the dashboard.

The Phaeton came in two wheelbase lengths, a standard 2,881mm (113½”) model and a lengthened version with a 120mm (4¾”) stretch behind the B-pillar for additional rear legroom. The overall length of the SWB version was 5,059mm (199¼”). Volkswagen built a new showpiece glass-walled factory in Dresden, where the Phaeton was hand-assembled(4). Prospective owners were invited to view the work in the clinically clean and pristine facility. Volkswagen’s total investment in the Phaeton project was estimated to have been around US $1bn.

For all of the Phaeton’s qualities, it proved to be a stretch much too far for the Volkswagen brand and sales were disappointing, falling far short of expectations from the off. At a press event in 2004, Audi of America’s chief executive, Axel Mees, was asked for his opinion on the Phaeton’s weak sales in that market and he suggested it was caused by Volkswagen “underestimating the weakness of the [VW] brand”. Mees was immediately sacked for his remark, while the Phaeton was withdrawn from the US market in 2007 after total sales of just 3,354(5) units in five years.

Going: 2015 VW Phaeton. Image: carspecsreview

The Phaeton remained on the market until 2016 and was given a number of minor facelifts(6) and equipment upgrades over its lifespan. More significantly, it received diesel engine options; a 5.0 litre V10 in 2003 then a more economical 3.0 V6 in 2004. A new six-speed ZF automatic transmission was introduced in 2003. The VR6 petrol engine was enlarged to 3.6 litres in 2008.

Autocar Magazine road-tested the updated Phaeton in V6 diesel form in 2012 after it had been on the market for a decade, to see how it compared to younger and more prestigious rivals. Its “big Passat” anonymity might be attractive to those who wish to travel unnoticed but, inside, there was too much silver metallic-effect plastic for such a car, and standard equipment was now lacking against rivals. The ergonomics, notably the too-high set seats, were imperfect and the touch-screen software seemed outdated. Rear seat passengers were well provided for, however, with ample space and the car’s four-zone climate control.

The 3.0 litre V6 diesel produced 236bhp (176kW) of power and 369lb ft (500Nm) of torque, enough for sub-8.0 second 0 to 60mph (97km/h) acceleration, although the six-speed torque converter automatic felt a bit slow-witted and short of a couple of ratios compared with the competition. Fuel economy was impressive at 30.1mpg (9.38L/100km) over the duration of the test. Ride quality on the air suspension was good on motorways but more demanding roads revealed the Phaeton’s limitations in both ride and its “soggy” handling. Overall, the Phaeton now felt outdated and had too much of an “airport taxi” image to recommend it, so it was rated at two stars (out of five).

2010 VW Phaeton interior. Image: volkswagen-newsroom.com

Total sales amounted to 84,253 units over fifteen years, an average of just 5,617 per year, which was barely a quarter of the Dresden factory’s initial 20,000 annual production capacity(7). The Phaeton’s longevity was largely due to the Chinese market, which in the model’s latter years accounted for more than half the plant’s annual output of 4,000 cars. An analysis subsequently conducted by the Sandford C Bernstein investment research company estimated that Volkswagen lost US $38,252 on every Phaeton sold, an eye-watering total loss of over US $3.2Bn(8).

The death of the Phaeton was not quite the end of the story for Volkswagen in large luxury saloons. Demand for such cars from the Chinese market led to the development of the 2016 Phideon, a car similar in size to the Phaeton, but rather less technically ambitious and certainly cheaper to manufacture. The Phideon looks much like an an XL Passat and is based on Volkswagen Group’s MLB(9) platform, with a longitudinal 2.0 litre inline-four or 3.0 litre V6 engine and front or (optional) four-wheel-drive. A total of 65,443 were sold in China from 2016 to 2020 inclusive.

As for the Phaeton, it will largely be remembered as an act of hubris on the part of Ferdinand Piëch and will remain a blot on the copybook of an accomplished engineer and leader.

 

(1) DTW contributor Christopher Butt has written an insightful obituary for Ferdinand Piëch, which may be found here.

(2) This followed an agreement that no member of the Porsche or Piëch families should be involved in the day-to-day running of the company.

(3) The novel mechanical layout and proportions of the first and second-generation A-Class models might make some readers contest this point, but the A-Class had similar interior space and pricing to the Golf, and it certainly evolved into a direct competitor in its third generation.

(4) Bodies for the Phaeton were assembled and painted at Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant and transported around 60 miles (100km) by road to Dresden.

(5) Sales data from www.carsalesbase.com.

(6) These involved only minor sheet-metal changes that would pass unnoticed by all but the most observant.

(7) An increase in production capacity to 35,000 units per year had been planned from the outset.

(8) It is, however, impossible to disambiguate fully the investment in the Phaeton from that required for its highly successful siblings, the Bentley Continental GT coupé and convertible and Flying Spur saloon, so this figure may be overstated.

(9) Which underpins a number of Audi models and the Porsche Macan.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

49 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: Volkswagen Phaeton”

  1. * Large Executive/ Luxury class car from non-premium marque – Tick
    * Complex electronics bound to fail in parts later on in life – Tick
    * Air/ Gas/ Fluid suspension – Tick
    * Hopelessly disappointing sales over lifetime and so a big loss-maker for its marque- Tick

    Forgive me for stretching a point a little, but the above could apply to both the Phaeton and the C6, so it’s probably why I have a big soft-spot for the Phaeton in the same way as I do for the C6. I kn0w it sounds nuts, especially in today’s eco-conscious environment, but I always fancied one of those V10 diesels which give the sense of offering both Q-car pace and inter-stellar cruising ability.

    I wonder how much they are on the used market these days?

    1. Good morning S.V. There are currently twenty Phaetons for sale on Auto Trader UK, priced from £3k to £16k. The cheapest is in silver and looks perfect, but “needs some tlc” so run a mile.

      £16k gets you an immaculate black 2011 post-facelift 3.0L diesel 4-motion with just 29k miles from a private seller. Here it is:

      https://www.autotrader.co.uk/car-details/202112150522105?make=Volkswagen&onesearchad=New&onesearchad=Nearly%20New&onesearchad=Used&postcode=nr349nd&advertising-location=at_cars&include-delivery-option=on&radius=1500&sort=price-desc&model=Phaeton&page=1&percentVehiclePriceDeposit=true

      It looks genuine and has a perfect MOT history, which can be seen by popping the registration number in here:

      https://www.check-mot.service.gov.uk/?_ga=2.18327801.1744178341.1643966211-1505061582.1635711640

      Tempted? I would be!

    2. Temptation and soft-spot shared here. I can’t really explain my affection for the Phaeton but it probably has to do with the rejection of an existing platform and ‘let’s build something excellent from scratch’ attitude to its conception. As the article rightly notes, this also gifted Bentley with the platform it needed so it may well have been less insane than it seems; but in terms of market positioning and relation to sister brand Audi it remains completely bonkers.

  2. From memory reviews indicated that the draughtiness ventless climate control worked well, so why hasn’t it reappeared? It would clear up dash space and look better than most oversized chrome laden offerings.

    1. I have never experienced this system, but if it works well, someone please bring it back.

    2. Ferdinand Piech absolutely hated two things: draught from ventilation systems and automatic gearboxes.
      For the latter the Phaeton was available with stick shift for a long time.
      The ventilation system really wasn’t without dashboard outlets, the outlets just had a rotating mechanism that made them disappear when not in use. Draughtlessness was achieved by carefully tuning the airflow.

    3. I haven’t used such a system but I understand that while face-vents in a modern climate control system are entirely unnecessary for maintaining a temperature, buyers/users prefer the reassurance of immediate direct jet to the face. I get that.

      Perhaps the only comparison that can be drawn between a Tesla 3 and a Phaeton is employing a similar ‘hidden’ vent -a narrow strip along the full width of the dash.

      Stylistically the X250 XF’s revolving air vents achieved even greater ‘flash’ factor – albeit with zero function – when they’re closed the HVAC is off altogether.

  3. For some reason I have always really liked this car. I have a weak spot for underdogs, I guess. Plus the Phaeton was a technological marvel at the time of its release. I have a feeling VW wanted to repeat Toyota’s success and tactics of the Lexus LS. However, unlike Lexus, VW was a brand with long history and while they have managed to achieve quasi-premium status in Europe (I suppose?), the Beetle history and myth is eternally alive in the US, so nobody would want luxury VW over there. One more thing is the fact that LS is dependable as any Toyota, whereas Pheaton… Well, let’s say it’s German luxury car – so obviously it’s not if not taken care of properly.

  4. Good morning, Daniel. Your writing pretty much sums ups my sentiments. I like the Phaeton, though. There is a Phaeton V8 that I pass on my morning walks. This morning it wasn’t there. There are three details of the Phaeton that I really like: the hidden air vents, the lights in the door that indicate the car is locked (I tried to find a photo, but failed) and the bootlid hinges (very big hinges indeed. I wonder why they weren’t mentioned in the article 🙂 )

    If I remember correctly some of the power screw drivers used by the workers on the production line were able to recognize which bolt was fastened and the screw drivers were able to adjust the torque accordingly. A nice touch.

    1. How could anyone not like a car with a bootlid that over-engineered?

    2. Good morning Freerk. I was holding that back for a forthcoming DTW feature, ‘World’s Best Ever Boot Hinges’, so thanks a lot for scooping me! 😠

      Seriously, those hinges are delightful! Beautifully engineered and designed so as not to intrude into the boot space.

      IIRC, the B3-generation Audi 80 had something similar (which was just as well, given how small the boot was):

      My Boxster’s boot has the same type of hinge mechanism, albeit painted in body colour and much smaller:

      It’s amazing how many supposedly luxury cars still have those clumsy goose-neck hinges that take chunks out of the width of the boot space.

    3. Oops, sorry about that, Daniel 😉

      As for the supposedly luxury car makers: Some of them did use the better hinges, but went back to the cheaper ones: my E92 has the body coloured space saving hinges similar to the ones in your Boxster. For the E32 they went back to the goose-neck variety. A cost cutting exercise I reckon.

    4. Alfa 156 and 166 also had those parallelogram mechanisms which are expensive to make and were replaced by cheap gooseneck hinges very soon, one of the first culprits being the first C class.
      Parallelogram hinges make it possible to swing the leading edge of the boot lid over the rear screen so no water gets into the boot when opening it.
      University of Bochum’s institute for automotive engineering had a department specifically founded for developing such hinges for industry contractors. Must have been fun to work there.

    5. I always assumed that goose-neck hinges were used because they were less likely to chop fingers off small children….

    6. The hinges were made for VAG by Campagnolo, who I am told are a manufacturer of bicycle parts.

      My favoured independent VW specialist does good business in fixing the notoriously failure-prone Phaeton boot locking mechanism, although his efforts are now being hampered by non-availability of new parts.

    7. Hi Mervyn. What’s the loss of a few adolescent digits when compared to a triumph of engineering and articulation such as this? It’s ‘elf and safety gone mad! 😁

      Hi Robertas. Wow, Campagnolo, that’s a blast from my past. In my early teens, I was a bit of a bicyclist and Campagnolo was THE manufacturer of ten-speed gearsets for racing bikes. An acquaintance of mine insisted on pronouncing it “Campalango”, much to the amusement of his bicycling mates .

    8. Ah, Campagnolo made these? I like them even more now.

    9. Daniel, I am eagerly and genuinely looking forward to your boot-hinge article. Perhaps you can include the Volvo P2-chassis S60 of the early 2000s, which also used a strut-supported hinge that collapsed into the space between the boot opening and the body. Much like the cars others mentioned, this was also replaced by a cheaper gooseneck hinge inside on newer models.

      This is my first time hearing of the VW Concept D. I wonder how much influence this concept had on the design of the first-generation Porsche Panamera, which reached the market a decade later (2009 model year). The Panamera does not have a rear quarter-window in the C-pillar, but the slope of the hatch and the proportions of the rear fascia are very close between the Concept D and production Panamera designs.

    10. Phaeton concept really reminds me the Bugatti concept eb112. I do not believe the story of vw challenging mercedes. No one can be that stupid. A nice toy for Mr. Piech it was.

    11. I spent the ´90s reading car magazines whose yardstick for a “quality car” was those boot hinges, strut supported bonnets, and chromed interior door handles…but looking at the cheap goosenecks every manufacturer uses now, I get it.

    12. Obviously I meant BMW F32 instead of the E32 in my earlier comment.

    13. Must say I am perplexed at this admiration with humble an simple boot hinges.

      Even the oh-so-lowly regarded Alfa 155 had equally designed boot hinges, that tucked away without ever protruding into boot space. Of course they weren’t as luxuriously made, but as they did the job just as well, no points are deducted from final score.
      Given such an Alfa was my first car, I take such hinges for granted and I am still really surprised seeing many more expensive and highly esteemed cars still having those abominable gooseneck hinges. Unexcusable at any level. I even doubt the price difference is huge.

    14. Good morning Vili and thanks for your comment. It is in the nature of DTW’s authors and (some of) our commenters to be unusually taken with the finer details of automotive design and engineering.🙂 In fairness, the Phaeton boot hint is exceptionally finely engineered for a car at any price.

    15. That boot hinge looks like a piece of aviation engineering. How were those from corresponding Mercedes, BMWs and Audis? I would assume the castings cost rather a lot of money and that the car is packed with such details.

    16. Audi A8 D3, BMw 7 E65 and Benz W220 had parallelogram hinges made from stamped steel, W221 had gooseneck hinges.
      These hinges are typical examples of Piech’s mantra ‘God is in the details’.

      If those Phaetons weren’t as expensive to service ans wouldn’t wear out their suspensions and wheel bearings due to their heavy weight they would be a nice stealth car. An example in piano black (eight layers of hand buffed deep gloss paint at an extra cost of *iirc* 8,000 €) with individual rear seats and a big diesel would be a nice mile eater.

    17. I think the return to gooseneck hinges is because they can be power-actuated more easily, but I dare say cost also comes into it.

      On the over-engineered front, I remember seeing the hinge of the 5-series GT boot hinge (the little opening panel, not the whole liftback) and thinking you could probably suspend the whole car by it!

  5. Piech often was accused of being a fool because of his high visibility projects.
    German press in particular for years tried to write VW into Formula One and blamed Piech for wasting money on Bugatti when in truth the whole Bugatti experiment did cost less than one season of racing and was free of the risk of negative publicity and taught its engineers just as much.
    The quoted sum for the Phaeton’s development most probably includes setting up the factory. Otherwise the Phaeton’s cost was shared with Bentley and the most expensive part of a modern car (electronic infrastructure) was shared with Bentley, Touareg/Cayenne and A8.

    1. One season, are you sure?
      I didn’t find the R & D cost of Veyron, but the R & D cost of Chrion was 1.6 billion,
      which is 8 times the budget of the top teams in the same period.
      In addition, F1 team itself has huge income, and the investment of the parent company is about £ 50 million a year

  6. That’s a good point, Dave (which I hid away in the last footnote!) So much Phaeton technology was shared with the Bentley Continental, so would have needed to be developed even if the Phaeton never saw the light of day.

    As to participation in F1, remember when BMW took over Sauber in 2005 and moved from being an engine supplier to a fully-fledged F1 team owner? Four seasons, 70 races and just one win to show for their trouble.

    1. Hi Daniel, Dave: that has been my understanding of the Phaeton as well. The Bentley had to be developed anyway, so Piëch hitched a ride for the Phaeton, although I’m not certain the timelines bear this out. In any case, most of the technology would have made a profit in Bentley guise, I’d reckon. One might even wonder whether Piëch could have pulled off developing the Phaeton without the Bentley connection.

      I rather like the Phaeton, I even like the brutalism of the DLO… As Martin Franklin pointed out, stretching the VW brand upward was not impossible, but the saloon market is a more conservative place than the then-new SUV market, so the Phaeton had a more difficult task. The yawning chasm between the Phaeton and the Passat might or might not have influenced things.

      Since it was Piëch who put Audi on the map (through perseverance over many years), it seems a bit odd that he tried to build up VW in such a rushed fashion. The Audi playbook would probably have featured a multi-decade plan. Maybe he was worried he wouldn’t be around to witness it?

    2. Personally, I consider the Phaeton a large (and perhaps non-essential) part of Fugen-Ferdl’s brand building puzzle, rather than a solitary effort.

      His masterplan was to position VW one rung above the other European mass-market brands – as not quite what we’d later come to comprehend as a ‘premium’ brand, but somewhat elevated from the likes of Ford, Renault or Opel nonetheless. For such a plan to appear plausible, halo products are essential – which is where the Phaeton comes into play.

      This was also why a production version of Renault’s Initial concept car was given serious consideration, back in the day. It’s also, on a less ambitious/megalomanical scale, why Peugeot still bothers with the 508 – the abandonment of the executive car sector and its detrimental effects on Ford’s, Renault’s & Peugeot’s prestige having taught PSA a lesson.

    3. It almost mirrors Agnelli’s push for Fiat with the Dino and 130. Also let’s not forget the XL1.

    4. That’s very possible, Christopher, although the Bentley connection won’t have hurt. In many ways, I think VW has achieved just what you describe: a rung above Ford et al, if not entirely “premium”. I suppose Peugeot’s shooting for the same niche since their design renaissance.

      gooddog: given Fiat’s current situation it almost seems to induce cognitive dissonance when you consider Fiat once had a strategy for more than one model…

  7. I had a soft spot for the Phaeton too, and wished it had been more successful. I think they missed a trick by not making it more distinctive vs the established (and crowded!) S-Class/7-Series/A8/LS/XJ class – which the original liftback concept would have accomplished rather nicely; I expect the research showed that such a shape would have been too niche for the limousine class… but they couldn’t possibly have sold fewer of them than they eventually did…

    I remember a Car article at the time of launch that praised much of the great engineering that Daniel mentions, but ultimately concluded that there was no specific area that the Phaeton truly excelled to a level of distinction versus its competition. Of course there remains the dubious appeal of a less obviously ostentatious brand, but I think that would end up being in the argument ‘against’ rather than ‘for’.

    I do challenge the sentiment that the VW brand can’t stretch upmarket – the Touareg did a very solid job of that, including in the US if I remember correctly: the launch advertising being about ‘The VW that does what others don’t’. Generationally I think there would have been enough Beetle owners grown up to wanting a big premium SUV and VW ticking the brand box nicely. Maybe not the same rarified air as a luxury saloon, but certainly solidly premium – their respective design themes and interiors were very much of a piece.

    1. That’s true about the brand; Volkswagen’s camper vans are well in to luxury territory, in both spec and price (S-Class comparable).

      I’ve never had a problem with brands operating in different markets – one could be the best, or have the most appropriate offering, in each segment one operates in.

  8. Autocar’s two star review sounds like exactly the kind of cheap shot that’s regularly appropriated in order to show a wish-washy medium’s ‘edge’. I would take that review an awful lot more seriously, if the Phaeton’s perceived quality hadn’t been maligned, vis-à-vis the then more up-to-date competition. In terms of layout and certain ergonomics, the Phaeton certainly did feel old by 2012 – but in terms of the materials used inside, it was in an altogether different league from a BMW F01 7 series and hardly felt cheap compared to the W221 S-class and D4-generation A8 (which was a downgrade from its predecessor in that regard).
    Due to articles such as this one, I wouldn’t hesitate putting some blame for the general decline in interior quality on a certain ilk of journalist.

    1. The link between the decline in interior quality and bad journalism is an interesting one and I haven’t thought about it before. I’ll be pondering this one for some time to come.

    2. Totally agree. In particular, the Youtube reviewers and their “scratchy plastics” comments became tiresome for me a long time ago already.

      By the way, great post Daniel, as always. I wish I could participate more in the comments, but I can assure you that I read and enjoy every post here!

    3. The first person to give the motoring press a kicking would be me. Could I though say that the change in interior quality is a function of there being more products to engineer and design, the proliferation of parts in a given interior and the pressure to cut costs. Automotive journalists´ area of incompetence is an obsession with banging interior parts to check for heft and for having no sense of taste (“the optional red interior is garish”).
      From what I have seen of the Phæton the interior was special and I would agree with Christopher it had a much more deep-down quality feel compared to BMW and Mercedes.
      A fine effort as a single product, what was puzzling was the attempt to make a VW much better than the best Audi of the day. This is like Chevrolet making and selling a better car than Cadillac can offer. Wasn´t there supposed to be a brand hierarchy based in part on price and quality? These days I can´t see it and Skodas look as ritzy as their VW equivalents. Seat has another vibe.

  9. I’m another one with a soft-spot for the Phaeton. Beautiful interiors and amazing performance – the fastest I’ve ever been in a car (someone else was driving). It was / is a great car, but it needed much better marketing. I see one regularly, as someone in my road owns a maroon-coloured one. They have owned it for quite a while – possibly from new.

    I thought I’d look up the Phideon, so here’s a short piece about it as well as other cars on the Chinese market.

    1. There are a number of Phaetons parked in my ‘hood – one of them regularly next to a W22o S-class. The differences in terms of style and quality were… staggering. The VW withstood the test(s) of time, whereas the Mercedes hadn’t.

    2. That’s exactly the thing: if one ( well, me anyway) is spending serious money on a car such as these, I would expect it not only to be very finely engineered and richly equipped, but also to be built from materials of the finest quality that will still look perfect after years of appropriate use. The W220 was typical of that late 1990’s generation of Mercedes-Benz cars, cynically built down to a barely acceptable standard to maximise profitability. It’s little surprise that it has worn much more poorly than the Phaeton.

  10. I had no idea of this car’s draught system; indeed, why not get rid of vents and bring a few buttons/dials/switches back. Oh, sorry, I’m drunk on emotions…

    There lies a sobering quality regarding the Phaeton. Recently one kept arriving at work, black and diesel powered. The local authorities use the car and I collared the driver into revealing the “car’s like a Swiss watch.” He mentioned meticulous service, does about 20k per year and now has over 150,000 miles on the clock. There’s also a local version that lurks but has been difficult to track down. Other than that, none seen and certainly no large engined versions.

    On a grisly note, the far right Austrian MP, Jörg Haider met his maker crashing a Phaeton, late on an October evening,2008. And I believe the Dresden glasshouse factory now build ID’s. I prefer this large, expensive saloon.

    1. The Phaeton: more effective than Woody Guthrie’s guitar:

  11. Maybe it is pedantic to be so conscious of dash to axle distance; but considering all of the quixotic endeavors surrounding Ferdl’s campaign to elevate the VW brand (don’t forget the Passat W8), was his insistence on maintaining a common (lack of) prestige gap amongst the VW Group platforms (resisted by Porsche, blazing a path toward rectification in the more recent Bentleys) his blind spot ?

    I do recall Audi moving their engine back a few generations ago, thus increasing the particular dimension in question, although the engines still overhang the front axle. On one hand VW’s current modular platform strategy (which may have originated with these “D” platform cars?) makes a lot of sense, but then again perhaps not.

  12. A most peculiar car, in terms of market positioning. An upmarket brand can move down-market more credibly than a down-market brand can move upmarket, as this exercise showed. The Volkswagen brand lacked the cachet to compete in this market, certainly in my country. The mystique of German engineering can only be stretched so far. A sixteen-foot six litre Volkswagen; what could possibly go wrong? Ha! I think they were sold in Australia, though I’ve never seen one.
    Taken out of the context of being a Volkswagen though, it’s certainly a lovely car. But that raises the awkward question: to what extent do we buy such a car as a product, or do we buy it for the brand?
    Interesting about the boot hinges, and about how many car makers seemed to abandon them to cut costs. I had to smile. My old Cortina Mark 3 had that style of hinge for the bonnet, though without any kind of gas strut or spring assist of course. This hinge mechanism enabled it to open past vertical and made working on the engine really easy. I had the car for twenty-five years, and those hinges got a lot of use!

  13. Another late comment, but it would be interesting to read the 10 parameters set down by Ferdinand Piech in the initial briefing to the engineers, if anybody knew them.

    I’ve only seen two that are fairly specific plus other general goals.
    – To be able to cruise all day at 300 kph in 50°C, while the climate control system maintained 20°C inside
    – Torsional rigidity of 37,000 Nm/°
    – The hood / Bonnet must stay completely vibration free up to a speed of 300km/h

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