The Phaeton is Volkswagen's entrant in the luxury-class German-made auto market. Conceived as a worthy opponent to Mercedes-Benz S Class, the Audi 8, and the BMW 7 category, it has not caught on with the high-end buyers' market worldwide, but it enjoys some popularity in Germany. The Phaeton lacks the name recognition and cachet associated with other luxury-market names, a shortcoming that may explains the snubs it has received. Additionally, the overall styling felt a bit crude and underdeveloped in the first generation.
The Phaeton's power-plant selection has grown and shrunk since it debuted in 2002. At present there are three gasoline-fed engines: a 3.6-liter V6, a 4.2-liter V8, and a 6.0-liter W12. There are also two diesels available, a 3.0-liter V6 and a 5.0-liter V10. The top power rating went to the W12 with 414 horsepower but the most torque was produced by the diesel V10, putting out 553 foot pounds. Manufactured at the Volkswagen Transparent facility in Dresden, Germany, the 2012 model has turned into 18 mpg for fuel economy, the result of some tuning and tweaking in the engine design shop.
The Phaeton made its 2002 debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Then-CEO Ferdinand Piëch presented Volkswagen engineers with a list of the top ten qualities he would like to see in a VW luxury-class contender. Factors such as endurance, speed, and passenger comfort are only a few of these parameters. Additionally, the Phaeton would take advantage of proven chassis design currently used in the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and GT. The interior was intended to pamper the passengers with fine leather upholstery, quality wood trim details, and high-end consumer electronic convenience.
The second-generation Phaetons began production in 2009 after several refinement projects saw the light of day. Improvements to the interior included a redesign of the central console, upgrades to trim and leather to help the model compete more successfully against Mercedes, Lexus, Audi, and BMW. The exterior was treated to a new front fascia, reworked lights in the front and rear that incorporate LED technology, and a choice between a normal-length wheelbase and a longer one to fill a gap in the VW limousine segment.
Though not astoundingly popular at home or abroad, the Phaeton does have its admirers. The longer wheelbase edition seats five adults and does have a certain presence. All-the-time four-wheel drive is the norm for this solid and stolid vehicle but a two-wheel front-wheel version is available. A leading-edge fuel injection system has contributed to the Phaeton's respectable fuel economy. Production for the American market stopped after the moribund sales year of 2005. There is current talk about restarting this line in the near future
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