Brilliant car, but wrong as a Volkswagen.
The Volkswagen Phaeton is an anomaly. While VW is certainly no stranger to the sedan segment, prior to 2002 the German automaker has never built a large luxury sedan. That task was assigned to fellow VW Group brand Audi. But then-VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch, who recently passed away, had an epiphany: he wanted VW to build a car that would beat the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz (despite the fact the Audi A8 existed).
Piëch envisioned a car that would compete directly against the comfort and luxury-focused Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS, and not the sportier Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series. Was this a niche VW could find success? VW executives weren't fully convinced but Piëch called the shots. VW also happened to have the ideal platform, codenamed D1. This was the same platform that underpinned the Bentley Continental GT and Continental Flying Spur.
The transmission and some engines came directly from the A8 including the wonderful 6.0-liter W12. Rated at 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, shifting was done via a five-speed Tiptronic DSP automatic transmission with power being sent to all four wheels. It even had torque-biasing differentials. At the time, these power figures made the W12 Phaeton an absolute beast. It was also expensive, priced at around the same as the S-Class, 7 Series and LS. Interior space, especially for rear-seat passengers, was in abundance. Being chauffeured around in a Phaeton was also a privilege thanks to the NBA regulation legroom and audio and temperature controls.
The dashboard design was also quite something. Wood and brushed metal trim could be found throughout and there was even an analog clock. If it weren't for the VW badges, the Phaeton could easily be mistaken for an Audi.
Although the Phaeton drove very nicely and the W12 continued to be awesome, sales never took off. In fact, the Phaeton went on to become one of the biggest loss-making cars in Europe. Luxury sedan buyers just couldn't bring themselves to buy a VW over its established competitors. The Phaeton's biggest problem was its builder. Over the years, the W12 models have decreased in value faster than Phaetons equipped with other engine options, such as the 3.6-liter VR6, 4.2-liter V8, and 5.0-liter V10 TDI. The Phaeton was given a facelift for the 2010 model year, but by then had already been discontinued in the US since 2006. It survived in Europe and a few other overseas markets for another decade being retired with no direct successor.
Today, the closet sedan VW sells in the US that's both premium and sporty is the Arteon. Because those W12-engined Phaeton's values have dropped, there are deals to be had, and we think we've found one.
This 2004 VW Phaeton W12 is currently up for sale on Bring A Trailer with only 39,000 miles on the clock. As of this writing, the highest bid was a little over $8,000. The seller acquired the car from its original owner not long ago and had it serviced this past September. A new thermostat, front brake pads and rotors, tire pressure sensors, and an oil change are just a few of the recent checks.
Finished in Black Klavierlack piano lacquer, the seller points out there are a couple of stress cracks in the front bumper, but is otherwise accident and damage-free. Riding on a set of 18-inch wheels, this W12 Phaeton still looks the part today and, perhaps, could one day become a sought after collector's car.