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2011 Volkswagen Phaeton 3.0 V6 TDI 4Motion: Adventures in the Euro Zone

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author photo by Autotrader February 2011

Approaching its top speed of 155 mph on the autobahn, this vehicle feels exactly like a finely engineered German sedan should: stable, quiet and effortlessly well-mannered – everything expected from a high-priced luxury machine. But this car, the notoriously expensive and ambitious Volkswagen Phaeton, is even more controversial than usual, thanks to a clean diesel engine under the hood.

It’s been nearly five years since the Phaeton was discontinued in the United States. This version occupies a segment of the market especially baffling to the American psyche. Starting at €66,500 in Germany (approximately $87,500), the Phaeton 3.0 V6 TDI 4Motion is the most affordable and least powerful of the lineup, which also includes gasoline-powered six-cylinder, eight-cylinder and twelve-cylinder options. Each Phaeton is built to order; one example displayed in the lobby of the “Transparent Factory” in Dresden (a stunning steel and glass ode to automotive assembly) rings in at a dizzying €113,456 ($149,421) thanks to 32 lines of options that include adaptive cruise control (€2,235), extended wood trim (€1,805) and premium leather-covered 18-way adjustable front seats (€6,795).

The entry level Phaeton’s 3.0-liter clean diesel V6 produces 236 horsepower, along with 369 pound-feet of maximum torque at just 1,500 rpm. Fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg (city)/35 mpg (highway) and a combined 27 mpg – remarkable figures considering the car’s 4,964-pound curb weight.

The cabin is a tidy and lavishly appointed space where glossy wood trim, hand-stitched leather and buttery Alcantara create a harmonious tribute to old-world luxury. Air conditioning vents swivel shut to create an uninterrupted expanse of wood panels across the dashboard and details from the self-adjusting windshield wipers to the trunk’s Campagnalo-sourced articulated gas struts reveal an exceptional amount of attention toward design minutiae.
Driving through the city, the Phaeton TDI behaves with a subdued composure. At idle, a slight knocking sound hints at the engine’s economy goals. Off-the-line acceleration is more stately than blistering, but once the tachometer needle sweeps to the middle, that familiar wave of diesel-induced torque swells with a more insistent thrust.

The cabin is well insulated from external noise and the seats manage to be both soft and supportive. Damping is excellent on bumpy surfaces; clicking the air suspension towards the “Sportive” setting dials in a ride that is noticeably stiffer.

Merging onto the autobahn allows for more of the Phaeton’s German-bred traits to surface. Mid-range torque comes in handy when passing traffic, while charging toward the top speed is a drama-free experience that includes communicative steering and a rock-solid chassis. The cabin remains quiet enough to hold a conversation even at these velocities and the optional 12-speaker Dynaudio sound system masks wind noise easily.

As impressively engineered as the Phaeton may be, there is still the nagging question: is Volkswagen pondering another attempt to sell this high-reaching sedan in the United States? Phaeton sales have been so strong in China that they have warranted a special stretch version for that region, while the car’s engineering is stout enough for platform sharing under the VW Group’s Bentley nameplate. But as special as the Phaeton’s underpinnings are, its exterior styling (facelifted for 2011) is still meek for American sensibilities.

When asked point blank about its possible future Stateside, one Volkswagen executive responded (nebulously): “We should never exclude possibilities.” The answer suggests that when it debuts, the next-generation Phaeton might return to our shores, once again testing the American appetite for pricey, understated sedans.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Volkswagen Phaeton 3.0 V6 TDI 4Motion: Adventures in the Euro Zone - Autotrader