Having spent some time considering, I’m hard pressed to find a better word than “waft” to explain what the 2012 Volkswagen Phaeton does so effortlessly. Our weekend with the Phaeton was spent marveling at its ability to cosset while its goes about its business of connecting point A and point B in an unhurried manner, almost floating over the few road imperfections we have in this country. Wafting along , in other words.
The original version of the Phaeton was released in 2002 with the most recent update revealed in 2010 at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition – not surprising considering how important the Chinese market is for VW nowadays. The brain child of VW’s erstwhile chairman Ferdinand Piech, the Phaeton was designed to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW and was a cost-no-object exercise to launch VW into the premium segment. The W12 version was the Phaeton flagship and was designed to be the ultimate luxury offering of the time. The ability to cruise along at 300 kmph all day, at an outside temperature of 50 degrees while maintaining a cool 22 degree interior was high on the design requirement. The Phaeton should then be a perfect fit for this part of the world where you see drivers regularly pushing all the above three numbers at the same time and in vastly inferior cars! While we can’t vouch for 300 km cruising speeds, we can honestly say that the car’s air-conditioning was well up to the 49 Degrees it was facing on test. The air conditioning vent on the car is a unique design with a panel that slides out of view to reveal the vents when the air-con is switched on. On any given day this always provided juvenile delight when switching on the air-con!
The rest of the interior design is unmistakably VW in its layout while the dashboard and the wooden trim harkened back to an old school design. In fact it would be very easy to believe you were sitting in a luxury British car from yesteryear in the way the interior is designed and executed. Even the usual VW centre console looks a lot more classic in the Phaeton interpretation. The shift paddles were mounted on long levers, the likes of which haven’t seen on another car and is yet another testimony to the Phaeton’s uniqueness in execution.
For a machine that was supposed to pitch Volkswagen head on against the established marques like BMW and Mercedes, the Phaeton despite being launched with much publicity, has been an underdog in the luxury car line up. This is definitely not the poster boy for the executive car brigade. You do not hear anyone pining over one, putting up poster on their walls or even saving images on their desktop. This is after all a car that costs AED 383,000 which puts it right into contention against beauties from the Audi and the Jaguar stable. Surely VW could have injected some more passion into the way this car looks?
What the Phaeton lacks in good looks is compensated in the way the engineers, having been given a free hand, have lavished the car with engineering brilliance. A look around the car reveals that passion for the Germans is reflected in the way this car has been over-engineered in every detail. One of the most eye catching displays of this is in the complex mechanical jigsaw that operates the rear boot. It is a well-crafted ode to good old fashioned metal fabrication, there to grab your attention every time you load the groceries. I found myself marveling at it every time the trunk was opened! The body seems hewn out of a single block of metal in the way it feels solid without any creaks regardless of how bumpy the road. The suspension is supple yet firm, although far removed from any sport pretensions. This is first and foremost an executive express with no room for confused multitasking and role play.
The version we were gifted came decked in a striking Candy white colour and sported a 3.6 V6 engine pushing out 276 bhp and riding 370 Nm of torque. This may not seem like much in today’s power crazed automotive world and it definitely doesn’t sound much when you consider the fairly average acceleration time of 0-100 km in 8.6 seconds. However the numbers don’t do justice to this amazing machine. It is not usual for an executive car to be doing stop light drag races, so it is only fair that the 0-100 km figure be ignored outright. What the Phaeton does is concentrate on the basic requirement of executive travel – luxurious transport. The driving experience is so serene that I found myself opting for the longest route to any given destination. While the car rides on an air suspension and offers a multiple adjustment feature, we found it best to select comfort mode and drive along at a leisurely pace. The word “waft” comes to mind yet again. Driven thus, the Phaeton made absolute sense and presented a strong case over many of its rivals. Perhaps quite predictably, over the test period I had racked up more kilometers in the Phaeton than on any of our other test cars.
The overall ride quality while very impressive should not have been so surprising. It’s a little known fact but one that bears mentioning that the Phaeton shares the same platform as the Bentley Continental GT and the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. It continues to be hand assembled by white coated technicians (the resemblance to trained surgeons is striking!) in VW’s factory at Dresden in Germany, the same facility which until a few years ago used to assemble the Bentley Continental. For two cars that share the same roof, it is quite a shame that the Phaeton has not yet received the recognition it justifiably deserves. We would say that the Phaeton comes fully suited, with a build quality to match and all it needs is a designer face lift to raise the car to stardom!
Photos By Brian Donegan