Introduced as an all-new model in 2004, the Volkswagen Phaeton has only minor changes for 2005. There’s a restyled grille and new options of Myrtle and Chestnut wood interior trim. The V8 model has a standard “Soft Close” feature to automatically pull shut any door not completely closed. A new cell phone preparation package is standard on the W12 and optional on the V8.

The Phaeton is Volkswagen’s largest and most luxurious sedan, available with a 4.2-litre V8 with six-speed automatic transmission, or a 6.0-litre W12 engine with five-speed automatic. (The “W” refers to the engine’s design: the banks of cylinders are staggered to form a W shape, which allows for a more compact engine.)

Both engines are also used in the Audi A8, but although the cars look similar, they’re not twins. The A8’s aluminum-spaceframe construction is 454 kg lighter than the steel-bodied Phaeton, and in its smaller version, the A8’s wheelbase is 57 mm shorter.

Like the A8, the Phaeton is all-wheel-drive, using Volkswagen’s exclusive 4Motion permanent system with a Torsen centre differential. A four-corner adjustable air suspension uses an Electronic Damping Control program that constantly monitors the road surface and vehicle speed, and adapts the suspension automatically. Five-passenger seating can be optioned to four-passenger, with a wood-trimmed rear centre console dividing the seats.

The V8 Phaeton includes dual exhaust pipes, soft-close doors, automatic Xenon headlamps with washers, fog lamps, heated mirrors with auto-dimming, power fold, reverse tilt, puddle lights and integrated turn signals, power sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, heated washer nozzles, trunk closing assist, four-zone automatic climate control, automatic locking, navigation system, auto-dimming interior mirror with memory function, chrome and eucalyptus wood interior trim, 6-six CD changer with ten speakers, 12-way adjustable heated front seats, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, OnStar, Homelink garage door opener, leather interior, one-touch up/down on all windows and four ventilated brake discs.

The W12 Phaeton adds four exhaust pipes, infrared and heat reflecting glass, power opening and closing trunk, rear climate controls, walnut interior trim, upgraded six-CD system with twelve speakers, 18-way driver and 16-way passenger power adjustable memory seats with heat, air conditioning, massage and power-adjustable lumbar support, seatbelts and head restraints, heated rear seats, integrated cell phone, and heated steering wheel.

Although it’s an impeccable machine, with incredible stability, superb road manners and a choice of two extremely smooth and competent engines, the Phaeton has not made much of a splash with buyers. Much of it has to do with its nose: that telltale badge is the size of a dinner plate, and it’s tough to get buyers to shell out a hundred grand for a Volkswagen. The Phaeton’s “oversized Passat” styling doesn’t help, either. And its Audi A8 V8-powered cousin is lighter, handles better, and costs $5,700 less.

The Phaeton is built in Dresden, Germany.

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