- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Volkswagen is moving into a market that is unexpected, particularly for this German company. VW has always been a company that has based its reputation on basic and reliable transportation. It has served them well.

Virtually hand-assembled in a newly constructed facility called the “Transparent Factory” for its glass walls, the Phaeton enters the premium luxury sedan category.

The Volkswagen Phaeton may receive criticism from the more cynical, but after spending two days in this automobile, driving hundreds of miles through eastern Germany, I applaud VW’s effort.

The interior is luxurious, good-looking and full of amenities that make this motor car a joy to drive. Rich supple leather wraps the seats, steering wheel and adds texture to the door panels and interior trim.

Wood accents available in rich tones add warmth to the passenger compartment. Set the automatic climate control to include the dashboard vents and you will be fascinated watching the wood trim covering the dash air vents rotate upward, concealing itself in the dash. When the system senses the temperature has stabilized, the wood doors glide back into place to hide the vents.

The 10-way power front seats include adjustable lumbar area as well as a massage mode that moves gently across your back, removing the tension of the day. The seats are also heated, as is the steering wheel. While this may seem unnecessary in the South, it is welcome where snow and cold winds are a factor.

Europe has had a short wheelbase version of the Phaeton for a year now, but we get a stretched model that adds legroom in front and rear seats.

The driving experience is as superb as you might expect from a fine German motorcar. The suspension system is engineered to near perfection, providing an incredibly comfortable ride with superior handling characteristics. The air suspension adapts to the driver’s style of motoring.

Two engine choices offer power and refinement or more power and more refinement. The “base” engine is anything but basic with 335 horsepower and 317 foot-pounds of torque pouring out of an 4.2-liter aluminum V-8.

Jumping up in power and sophistication is the 6.0-liter W-12 (a VW exclusive), which produces 420 horsepower and 406 foot-pounds of torque. The V-8 engine is coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission equipped with a sport mode and Tiptronic. Both vehicles come with Volkswagen’s 4motion all-wheel-drive system adding to in stability, control and safety.

Volkswagen’s decision to build a vehicle such as the Phaeton may be questioned, but following my experience behind the wheel I am one who likes the fact that VW has stretched its vision. If you are remotely thinking of buying a luxury car of this caliber, I strongly suggest you at least drive the Phaeton. You may be as taken by it as I was.

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