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2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

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2004 Volkswagen Phaeton
Available in 3 styles:  2004 Volkswagen Phaeton 4dr Sedan shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

12–16 city / 19–22 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4
2004 Volkswagen Phaeton 4.7 10
$ 2,117-17,365
January 3, 2004

Volkswagen Phaeton is nice, but at that price?

Here is a car that won't fly. Literally and mythologically.

Always fascinated from whence Volkswagen extracts its names (Touareg, Golf, Jetta), I opened my Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary to look up Phaeton, and came up with this: "A son of Helios who drives his father's sun-chariot through the sky but loses control."

Ah, teenagers.

Now keep in mind that Volkswagen means, quite literally, "Peoples' Car."

My first car was, in fact, a Volkswagen -- 1958, convertible, painted red with a roller by previous owner. Paid $90 for it.

Which brings me to this latest Peoples' Car from VW, the Phaeton -- at a price that is precisely $73,267 higher than I paid for my VW.

The question is "Why?"

Not that this is not a beautiful, luxurious, and elegant automobile. But who's going to plop down $74,000 for a Peoples' Car? Walk around it and you think Audi. Long, sleek, subtle (except for the vibrant VW badging). Sit inside and you think Audi/Mercedes/Lexus. Porsche crossed borders with the Cayenne SUV (and VW went with them in fine form with its Touareg SUV), but as Bill Parcells used to say when he coached the Patriots, "You are what you are," and VW is not the builder of hyper-expensive, hyper-luxurious automobiles.

They are sanding across the grain with this one.

Inside, it's full of luxury. Outstanding stiff leather upholstery, wood strips that trisect the dash. Of course, it's a bit over the top with all the controls that come at you through a center-pod screen, and many of its control buttons are tiny. And why zero AM radio reception? You're so rich you don't listen to Eddie Andelman?

And yet I loved the car, for the most part.

At just under $74,000, I was relegated to the lesser model -- a V-8 as opposed to the W-12 (two V-6s set in the same block). The V-8 gave me 335 horses to saddle, which sounds like a lot until you consider that this rig weighs more than 5,000 pounds (unlike comparable aluminum-clad Audi competitors that come in at nearly a half-ton lighter).

Interior room, as befits a stretched body of this sort, is ample. Great leg room upfront, huge leg room for rear seat passengers a la limo.

On the road it was just OK. Plenty of power, yet not what you'd call zippy.

Disconcerting was a thumpiness in the suspension on bad roads.

Its all-wheel-drive system, straight out of Audi-land, was great when the sledding got slippery, but that suspension was a stiff reminder that winter's here -- more knowledge than I want in a car that costs this much.

The trunk is huge, the controls on the dash a netherworld of technology, the trunk lid, operated remotely or with the push of a button -- no hands ever needed to lift or close -- a technological wonder.

Yet the question kept returning: "Why?"

I understand fully that automobile manufacturers, particularly those of limited -- if great -- offerings, must branch out to survive.

VW, in developing the Touareg, followed suit in fine order, and that I get. If you do not have an SUV in your line today, you are not a major manufacturer. But a $74,000 Volkswagen?

Coming from a family of stone cutters and carpenters, I know this one thing: You do not sand across the grain. And I know that, even in 2004 dollars, $90 is a long way from $74,000.

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4

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