Sunday, November 13, 2011

VW Phaeton V8 review/impressions

What is it like to drive a Phaeton?
You know those movies where the main character is stoned?  He's got that grin on his face.  Everything slows down.  His senses are both dulled and heightened?  And everything is chill?  That's what it feels like.

I've had this 2005 V8 Phaeton for a week now.  I've put about 1,500 miles on it.  A lot of long distance superhighways, mountain passes, traffic jams, errand running, parallel parking.  It still doesn't have 40,000 miles yet.  These are my impressions, plus a lot of trivia about the machine.

The first thing you notice is the size.  It's a whale (203.7" long, or 5.17 meters).  I parallel parked this in a tight spot last night, and it wasn't pretty (or quick).

It's also heavy.  It weighs 5,194 pounds (2,361 kilos).  And you notice that most at the pump.  I got about 16 mpg in the city and 22.5 on the highway.  It's quite disconcerting that after a few quick errands, 1/8 of your 23.8 gallon (90.1 liter) tank is empty.  I will definitely be taking public transportation more.

On tight curves, the mass is definitely noticeable.  However, you always feel in control.  The steering is very light (maybe a tad too light) and it takes a lot of turns to get the wheel from lock-to-lock.  So it's kinda like manning a bus, or a boat.

13.0 cubic feet of room in that cavernous trunk.  Enough to stow four golf bags, or two Tata Nanos.  A full sized spare is under the floor.

The VW badge is awesome.  Nobody will look twice at you, except for the occasional, and befuddled, Jetta owner.  So far, only one person, the guy who repaired my windshield, knew what a Phaeton was.  And by the way, all the windows, and I mean all of them, are double paned.

It is very quiet inside, even at high speeds.  You feel isolated.  You pick up on the minutest of noises-- the fabric of your peacoat gently rubbing on the leather seat.  I've also been able to hear planes flying high overhead, because there is virtually no wind noise.

To minimize wind noise, exterior panel gaps are just 3 mm wide.

All the Phaetons sold in America are the long wheelbase version.  It's essentially like the Audi A8L or the Bentley Continental Flying Spur.  The rear passenger compartment is massive-- almost as big as my first apartment's kitchen.

The rich walnut wood accents are everywhere.

The car comes with two carpeted footrests.  All the doors are "soft close", i.e. motors shut the doors for you.

Mine is a V8 without a lot of options.  It only came with 12-way heated seats.  The W12 version comes with 18-way seats that have heat, air conditioning, and massage.  The seats are soft and firm.  There is not a lot of lateral support, but then again, I'm not going to be doing any heavy cornering.

The car comes with four zone climate control.  25 servomotors move air inside the car and are capable of creating four distinct microclimates of between 64 and 82 degrees.  Oof.

The upmarket version of the Phaeton has a much more complex rear seat console.  In that one, you can adjust your seat and temperature.  The most complicated Phaeton contains 140 buttons for its driver and passengers.

Just look at that hinge!

Each rear door has two manual screens (one for each window).  The rear windshield screen is motorized.

This is the view from noted owners such as Kim Jung-Il and the Pope.

There's also lighting under the front seats for the benefit of the rear passengers.  What the actual benefit is, I don't know.  Seriously, with all this equipment, the car should weigh 8,000 pounds.

These gauges all have that purple reflection.  You've got oil temp, tach, engine temp, fuel, speedo, and volt.

Each front window comes with defroster vents.  That button next to the vent is the on-off button.  Note the wood covering what would be the front vent.

6-speed auto with Tiptronic.  The car height is manually adjustable and automatically lowers itself at 60, 75, 85, and 112 mph.  There are four firmness settings for the shock absorbers.  The 2005 Phaeton is superior to the 2004 model in one important respect.  When the air suspension on one corner of the 2004 fails, all four corners have to be replaced (at $10,000).  With the 2005, you only have to address the faulty corner.

The Phaeton is VW head Ferdinand Piech's brainchild.  A/C air exacerbates Piech's asthma.  So unless you want a strong blast of cold or hot air, the traditional vents are covered with these wooden pieces.

As for superfluous engineering, when you are tuning the radio and you reach the end of the dial, the radio knob locks up.  You have to turn the knob the opposite direction (until you reach the other end of the dial, and the knob locks again).

See those thousands of microholes between the dash and windshield?  Air comes out of those holes.  When you sit in the car, you feel air moving, but you don't feel anything approaching a wind.

Overhead buttons, lights, switches, and speakers.

Right below the headlight is the door for the headlight washer nozzle.  When activated, the nozzles operate one side at a time, so as to not compromise visibility.  All of the washer fluids are heated, of course.

The 4.2 liter, 40 valve V8 is good for 317 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm and 335 hp at 6,500 rpm.  0 to 60 can be achieved in a not-too-quick 6.7 seconds.  American models are limited to 130 mph top speed.

The brakes are strong but pedal feel is a bit spongy.  According to a Phaeton book the previous owner gave me, the brakes come with the following systems: ABS, ASR, EBA, EBD, EDL, ESP, HBA.

The 4Motion all-wheel drive system generally distributes power 50-50.  But it can direct up to 66% of the power to the front or the rear.

A couple of things about the wipers.  1) When in wash mode, the wipers will sweep three times, pause for a few seconds, and then do one final sweep to pick up any leftover fluids.  2) When the wipers come to rest, the wipers adjust their resting angles every other time so that the blades do not wear out prematurely.

What else can I say?  To describe every single feature and impression would take up hundreds of pages. I am very happy with the purchase.  The transferrable extended warranty/service contract does not expire until the summer of 2013.  The car has been well taken care of and doesn't appear to have any major issues.  I'll be posting updates in the future.

I'll close this with the following note:
"Two hydraulically dampened engine mounts reduce the transmission of engine vibration to the passenger compartment.  At idle, a pneumatically actuated solenoid allows engine vacuum to pull a positioning spring in the engine mount down, allowing the easier transfer of a glycol mixture through the mount, which softens the mount and reduces the transmission of engine vibration.  At a speed of about 3 mph, the engine-control unit cuts off current to the solenoid valve, closing the hydraulic connecting channel between the two chambers.  Now, the exchange of hydraulic fluid is through a smaller spiral-shaped channel, thus making the engine mounts firmer."


mtc said...

ah, but most importantly, will you be sullying that nice hole-less front bumper with california tags? ;)

Lukas said...

Your new car will persuade you to use public transport more? I suppose that's a good thing.....

The specs remind me of the saying "muscles in places where most people don't even have places". My car's best feature is "radial tuned suspension". Depressing. I am a fan of carpeted foam triangles for foot rests though - the 6.9 has them!

Any idea what one of the servos costs to replace (part only)? Perhaps better not to ask.

Maxichamp said...

@mtc: Let's just say I've been driving very carefully, lest the local constable finds a reason to pull me over. Eventually, holes will have to be drilled. Eventually.

@Lukas: I have a feeling that if you take a complete Phaeton and sold the individual parts, you'd make close to 1/2 million U.S. I'm even thinking of buying a wrecked Phaeton, just to sell the parts.

The bus stop is literally half a block from home and drops me off two blocks from the office five miles away. So unless I've got a meeting elsewhere, I should be riding the bus. I may be the only Phaeton owner in America who rides the bus!

Rich said...

You were just around the corner! I want a look-see the next time.

Edvin said...

Thanks for the thorough review! I'm envious of everything but the maintenance costs. I'm amazed you still have warranty left on a 2005 car, but that must be very comforting with a car like this (not implying anything..) :)

You should memorize that quote about the engine mounts, makes for great small talk. :)

mtc said...

there is always this option:

Maxichamp said...

@rchen: Next time there is a car show, let's car pool.

mtc said...

btw, the c/d staff loved the phaeton wheels so much that they threw 'em on their long-term GTI several years ago:

mckellyb (a Jalop) said...

Boy, I REALLY wanted one of these when I started car shopping about a year ago.

I was looking for, of course, a W12, and thankfully I didn't find one because I don't know if it would have held up to my 60 mi/day RT commute.

I know my wallet wouldn't have.

However, that is a beautiful instrument panel. Simple, detailed, complete dials with no wasted space.

Maxichamp said...

@mckellyb: You only live once!

But I agree, the W12 is above my league as well. But it's the pinnacle of it all.

Leisure Log said...

An excellent article on a great looking car. I am a fan of buying used luxury as I cannot afford the $30k for a fuel efficient car. With only 12k miles of retired miles a year that mileage is really not a factor. Currently I am learning to love a 2001 MB S500 that gets 22MPG around town and 25 on the road but doesn't have the all wheel drive option of your Phaeton. Prior to that I had two Lexus LS 400s which were nice but not up to the MB and definitely not to the VW. Good luck on your repair bill.

Unknown said...

It 2014. Do you still have the car? I am fascinated by them. The most expensive one I can find online now is around 24k. Much are well under 20k. If it's proven reliable, it seems like a rare chance to buy a whole lot of car for couch cushion money. I would be interested to know how your overall experience turned out.

Maxichamp said...

@Rick Sharp: For V8s, a well cared for 2005 or 2006 with low miles may be worth $20k. Skip the 2004s. I loved mine, but I sold it to another enthusiast.

Unknown said...

Looking at a 2005 with 132k, bumper to bumper for 36k what do you think? What should I look for when inspecting and on the test drive?

Maxichamp said...

@Maurice: $36,000 for a Phaeton with 132,000 miles? That's $20,000 over fair market value.

Unknown said...

Just purchased a 2005. Love this auto, only
Has 71,000 miles. I payed $13,500. No problems so far.

Maxichamp said...

@John Davis: Congrats! Please let us know how your experience is after a few months.

Unknown said...

I have a 2004 phaeton love it

Anonymous said...

@maurice ... yeah 36k wayy too high.. i got my 4.2 with 102k miles for under 6k .. mind you i got a stupid good deal and i still dont know why's in mint condition..and almost all aluminum so no rust anywhere , even the exhaust is new looking (i live in northern michigan)..has 130k miles now .. all trouble free and all in only 8 months ..they book at 13k i think high end low mile..ebay i see em from 5k- 19k ....they are brilliant cars and dont let the w12 hype suck you in .. i hear they are headaches and a tad less responsive a little heavier and not a huge noticeable difference in the extra 70 hp ..also the 12cyl needs a 600 dollar trans fluid change every 50k miles and timing belt every 70k and it's only a 5 spd as opposed to the 4.2's 6spd .another reason i guess the 4.2 (350 hp) feels as quick.. the 6 spd keeps you in the powerband most the time ..oil changes 9 qts are over 100 bux 8 or 12 keep that fun fact in mind..but when you hit 110 mph and it feels , sounds and seems like you are going 55mph it makes it all worth it :)

steve-o said...

@ bj massey .. i have an '04 v8 .. i absolutely am in love with it

steve-o said...

that long ramble on my '04 v8 comparing the 12cyl was from me.. i posted anom by

Unknown said...

After much research, I bought my '04 V8 blue-gray Phaeton four years ago from a divorce-forced seller for $14,000. It had 55K on it then and looked showroom new- interior, exterior, under hood, undercarriage. The seller was in a Chicago suburb so my first Phaeton roadjoy experience was the drive home to Atlanta. Whisper quiet on the highway and incredible power ...and gas thirst is the order of the day. The ride is so smooth that I look forward to road trips. I am not even upset about the increased rate of speeding tickets I've collected. Well worth it. Also, it is worth noting that I don't have to drive much these days, so the fuel consumption is less of an issue.

Being completely honest about repairs, I have had more than my share of costly issues: each digital display has died out, front suspension (air actuated), water pump (had timing belt done while they were in there), a few other things. Luckily, I took the initial owner's advice and purchased an extended VW warranty from Fidelity ...well worth the peace of mind and it has paid for itself several times over.
best stereo ever,
The highs for the Phaeton are many: whisper-quiet ride, road stability, all wheel drive, interior room (I'm 6'4"), power, timeless style, fit and finish, seat adjustability, On Star, classy real wood interior.

The lows: gas mileage, scarcity of parts, old school GPS technology.

My Phaeton is now at 88K miles and am very happy with my selection. The road ahead?: The factory trained mechanic says that the only issue that he has seen happen at about 110K is slow A/C evaporator leaks. Since I have the warranty for this covered item, I look forward to more happy VW Phaeton miles. I hope this is helpful.

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