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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For You do get lots of space, comfort and luxury. It should be reliable, too

Against The Phaeton simply doesn't have any prestige - and the controls are confusing, too

Verdict Well engineered, but a lack of kudos may be crucial

Go for… 3.0 V6 TDI

Avoid… 6.0 W12

Volkswagen Phaeton Saloon
  • 1. This is Volkswagen's biggest saloon and the boot is massive
  • 2. Styling is just 'big Passat', but colossal early depreciation makes it a used bargain
  • 3. Cabin is enormous - and comfortable, too
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Volkswagen Phaeton Saloon full review with expert trade views

The Phaeton’s ambition was to attack luxury saloon cars like the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series, but as a new car it just never had the necessary prestige to succeed.

As a used car, much of that remains true, of course, but that relative lack of desirability does have one very welcome side effect: incredibly cheap prices. Compared with those rivals, the Phaeton is several thousand pounds cheaper.

That doesn’t mean it’s missing out on comfort or equipment, though. It has enormous space in the cabin (for rear-seat passengers in particular), a huge boot, superb build quality and pretty much every piece of luxury and safety equipment you can think of.

If there is a disappointment, it’s that the drive isn’t more exciting. Instead, the emphasis is on smoothness and refinement, with a comfortable ride rather than sharper handling, and steering that’s short of feel.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Newcomer, stunning looks, limo comfort with limo drive. Nothing sporty

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

The Phaeton reached the UK in June 2003, but it was two years before our favourite engine arrived. The 3.0-litre TDI diesel has the most attractive blend of performance and economy, if not the cheapest prices.

If you’re looking to spend the absolute minimum of cash, go for the 3.2 V6, which was on sale from day one and has had longer to depreciate. It’s our second-favourite engine overall, but the only one to choose on an early car.

The next cheapest model has a V8 petrol engine, but its price and running costs are very high. Still, next to the V12 petrol and V10 turbodiesel, it looks positively sensible. They’re prohibitively dear to buy and run.

VW also sold long-wheelbase models from mid-2004. If you have a choice, it’s best to save a few quid and stick with the shorter car, which is perfectly large enough.

Trade view

John Owen

A big Passat! The S-Class and 7 Series are safer bets. Massive early depreciation

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

Despite what we have said about the Phaeton suffering terrible depreciation, it's not a cheap car to buy. You could argue that it’s a bargain, but only next to cars such as the S-Class and 7 Series.

It’s a big, heavy car, too, so its fuel economy is pretty frightening. An Audi A8 3.0 TDI quattro returns 32.8mpg, but the (heavier) Phaeton with essentially the same engine does only 29.4mpg – and it’s slower to 60mph. Diesel S-Classes and 7 Series don’t have four-wheel drive, and are even more frugal, and it’s same story with other engines – the VW is almost always thirstier.

At least it can recoup some of that extra cost with lower insurance groupings and cheaper maintenance: most Phaetons are in group 16, when no A8s are lower than group 18, for example, while servicing on a VW is much less than on a Mercedes.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Newcomer, stunning looks, limo comfort with limo drive. Nothing sporty

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

Even now, the Phaeton is a rare sight in the UK, and most models are still covered by the new-car warranty, so we’ve heard of no major problems. What’s more, there have been no safety recalls.

The over-riding impression is that it's a superbly built, reliable and understated executive express. It’s true that the earliest models seem to have suffered some teething troubles, but the more recent cars seem more sound.

The Phaeton has never appeared in the JD Power survey, but the anecdotal evidence above seems to be confirmed by Volkswagen’s performance: the company’s customer satisfaction rating has improved in recent years.

Finally, Warranty Direct says that, in general, VWs are pretty reliable, with claim rates very much on a par with those for BMW, Audi and Mercedes. And, we're sure the Phaeton will not be an exception to that rule.

Trade view

John Owen

A big Passat! The S-Class and 7 Series are safer bets. Massive early depreciation

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford
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