We climbed into the premium, leather-adorned cockpit, fiddled with an array of dials and switches, ran through our checklists, adjusted the radio and tightened our seatbelts. We were cleared for take-off, and as we applied full-throttle, a big grin drew its way across our passengers’ faces. As we approached cruising speed, we activated the ventilated, massaging seats and suggested that rear seat passengers “Recline, relax, and enjoy the ride.”
Sounds like a pretty nice corporate jet, doesn’t it? Well hold on to your hat, Myrtle, because this ain’t no jet; it’s the Volkswagen Phaeton W12. This top of the line luxury cruiser comes to you by way of the same folks that promoted peace, love and happiness with their Beetle and Vanagons. We’ll give you a minute to catch your breath.
The brainchild of former Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piech, the Volkswagen Phaeton W12 represents the crown jewel of an effort on VW’s behalf to enter into the luxo-cruiser market. You know, the same market that attracts the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and to a lesser extent, Bentley and Maybach. We threw in those last two because the Phaeton really is right at home as a chaueffeured car. Heck, we got as much of a kick from being driven around in the Phaeton W12 as we did driving it, so the comparison seems only natural.
In fact, the Phaeton W12 is so comfortable and powerful, we’re surprised that more businesses don’t take advantage of it for business travel purposes. On the highway, the big Phaeton gobbles up mile markers like Pac-Man on a power pellet binge. It’ll run down a couple hundred miles in no time, and its passengers will be none the worse for wear, thanks to an interior that’s nothing but first class.
Our Phaeton W12 was configured as a “4-seater” model, meaning that each passenger has his own seat and set of armrests. The driver’s seat is 18-way power adjustable, the passenger’s seat is 16-way power adjustable, and rear seat passengers can fiddle with their 10-way adjustable (including reclining) seats. All of the seats are ventilated for heat and air conditioning and feature memory, lumbar support, and power massage. There’s nothing quite like a conference call while enjoying a Shiatsu massage on the highway at 70 miles per hour. Trust us.
All of the seating surfaces were wrapped in gorgeous leather that would rival some of ‘ole Louie V’s finest. The furniture grade walnut (you can choose from chestnut, myrtle or eucalyptus for an extra $500) is integrated seemlessly with the dashboard, door panels and consoles, and the chome accents on the door handles and instrument cluster finish off an interior that is nothing short of exquisite. Ambient-style lighting runs from front to rear to showcase the fine craftsmanship.
The Phaeton features one of the best climate control systems we’ve ever experienced. Rumour has it that the exclusive draft-free air conditioning system was developed specifically for VW’s ex-top dog Piech, as we was prone to catching colds. Up front, motorized wooden shutters automatically raise or lower to expose the climate control vents. Rear seat passengers can program their own ideal temperature and humidity settings by way of a 48-button control unit that resides in the rear center console.
Rear leg room is ample thanks to nearly 55 cubic feet of total rear seat space. That makes for plenty of room to break out the laptop and finish that PowerPoint presentation while storming down the interstate.
Wind and tire noise was virtually non-existent, even at speeds approaching triple digits. As speeds increase, the Phaeton automatically lowers itself a full 1.6″ for better road holding characteristics. The Phaeton resumes its normal 5-inch ride height at speeds below 62 miles per hour.
Providing the thrust to power the 5400 pound Phaeton W12 to triple digit speeds is a 6.0-liter W12 engine, a $30,000 option to the $65,215 base price. The all aluminum, 48-valve, double overhead cam motor (did you know it holds 12.5 quarts of oil?) delivers 420 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 406 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. Slap a couple of turbos and a “flying B” badge on the valve covers, and you’ve got yourself the engine for Bentley’s Continental GT super coupe. No wonder it’s a $30k option.
The big W12 was able to propel our Phaeton to sixty miles per hour in just over 5.5 seconds, and it flew through the quarter mile in 14.25 seconds at nearly 100 miles per hour. Oh, and did we mention that we accomplished these figures in a drizzly rain storm? Give credit for this surefootedness to VW’s awesome 4Motion all-wheel drive system, which is delivered as part of the standard options package for both the W12 and W8 Phaetons. It’s both incredibly competent and invisible, and we love it.
A five-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual-shift controls and a sport mode for increased performance handles gear changes with complete accuracy and velvety smoothness. Despite delivering seamless shifts that are nearly undetectable even at full throttle, the transmission never falters or feels “sloppy.” Power delivery remains nearly linear once you depress the throttle.
Braking performance is also linear, as the massive 14.1-inch vented front discs and 12.25-inch vented rear discs deliver fade-free stops, time after time. We recorded 70-to-0 distances of a very respectable 171 feet.
We won’t try to fool you into thinking that the Phaeton is on par with an F-16 when it comes to performing tricky manuevers, but the big cruiser does hold its own when the roads turn twisty. Granted, you’ll never forget that you’re pushing two-and-a-half tons of sheet metal around a corner, but the Phaeton does an amazing job of masking its heft.
Body roll is minimal, steering response is quick (at times a bit too quick and light), and the chassis does a great job of delivering just enough feedback to make sure things remain in check. There’s just a hint of understeer when the going gets extreme, and if you really push it, you can enjoy a controlled, four-wheel drift. Once again, the 4Motion system really shines – it’s nearly impossible to do something so dumb that it can’t correct it and keep you on your intended flight path. Four-corner, adjustable air suspension complete with an Electronic Damping Control (EDC) program constantly monitors road surfaces, conditions and speeds to deliver a comfortable, sure-footed ride.
Speaking of Three Letter Acronyms (TLA), the Phaeton has plenty. Browsing through the 400-page owners manual (which is also available for reading on the awesome navigation system) we counted at least nine TLAs: DSP (Dynamic Shift Program), EDC (Electronic Damping Control), ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), ESP (Electronic Stability Program), EBD (Electronic Brake pressure Distribution), EBC (Engine Braking Control), EDL (Electronic Differential Lock), ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation), and DSP (Digital Sound Processing).
Speaking of that last TLA, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Phaeton W12’s standard sound system. It’s simply amazing, and rivals some of the best home stereos. With 270-watts, twelve speakers, a 12-channel amplifier and a subwoofer, the Phaeton will literally knock your socks off as it wraps you in a life-like wall of sound that’s distortion free and as sonically accurate as a sniper. Even if you don’t check the W12 option on your build sheet, make sure you select the stereo option – you won’t regret it.
So as airline costs continue to rise while service, comfort and efficiency drop, why not hop aboard the Volkswagen Phaeton W12? It’s got the creature comforts, the performance, the flexibility and the capability to beat just about any airliner out there, chartered or otherwise. Unlike your typical jet-liner, you’re encouraged to pilot the Phaeton at will, and, you can use your cell phone while en route to your final destination.