2004 Volkswagen Phaeton V-8 review: Room for a Beetle…inside

2005 Volkswagen Phaeton V8

2005 Volkswagen Phaeton V8

The back seat of the Volkswagen Phaeton probably has more volume than the original VW Type 1 Beetle’s total external displacement. Crush a Beetle and no doubt you could stuff it into the trunk of a Phaeton, though that doesn’t matter here unless you’re with the mob or sneaking your buddies into the drive-in. Which wasn’t nearly as much fun as the, um, the company of the female persuasion. Which brings us back around to the original topic, the amount of room in the back seat of the VW phaeton. In the wrong hands, the VW Phaeton could be dangerous to your teenage daughter’s virtue.

There’s far too much room in the back seat of the Phaeton for anything but the CarBuzzard himself. Legroom in the Phaeton is like headroom in a convertible. Who can measure?

And that’s before considering the seat’s extra talents, including recline, heating and cooling and massage. No magic finger vibration yet but doubt VW engineers are feverishly working the coin slots for the quarters.

Speaking of which, those quarter are better suited to executive occupation than any crumbbuzzards you might have. This is a VW suitable to be chauffeur driven. You buzzard knows, yes, the buzzard knows, the world turned upside down.

Said driver doesn’t have it all that bad, however, with the same multi-adjustable seats, heated/cooled, massage, etc. The seatbacks are deeply bolstered, though too wide for a skinny old buzzard to use as sport seats, though it’s a nice pocket for touring.

Plus there’s a view of the gauges which are numbered like aircraft instruments from the fifties. And if you’re as old as the buzzard that means something.

Soft leather on the seats and the steering wheel—it’s like holding the hand of a lady with very expensive taste in gloves. Other touch surfaces (of the car!) have a deep feel, not a cheesy sprayed-on veneer of soft touch. This is the good stuff.

As is the walnut trim lavished on the dash and door panels. The buzzard likes the top surface of the dash has a grid of mini perforations for windshield demisting instead of unsightly slots.

The door shut with the solid thud of a New York City phone book hitting the floor, but from the inside it was more like baseball equipment bag hitting the ground, heavy but not one piece.

But outside…this is a big car. Pulling alongside an R32 is like the USS Missouri getting a parking spot next to the PT109. Same navy, different ships. There’s no doubt that the two are kin. The grille of the Phaeton has horizontal slats with a VW badge in the center flanked by projector beam headlights. The greenhouse has the familiar arched room of the VW/Audi family, but not stretched like the A8L’s for the capacious cabin. The rear deck is defined by a crisp edge to the trunk, and the taillights are simple, in keeping with the reserved styling of a luxury car.

For some it’s too reserved, not projecting the aura of a luxury car. Well, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If the Phaeton had been flashier, the same critics would have criticized it as nouveau riche, boo big for the luxury britches it’s already strained to fill. Nevertheless, VW executives’ protestations that the anonymous elegance was their goal all along had the ring of, “Yeah, I meant to do that.” It snowed the junior high industrial arts teacher when shop projects came out asymmetrical, but it sounds like rationalization here. No doubt the buying public will be less forgiving than the shop teacher was.

Like its sister ship, the Audi A8L, theVolkswagen Phaeton is powered by either a V8 or a W12 engine with power output respectively of 335 and 444 hp for each.  The similarity ends underneath, however, with the Audi featuring an advanced technology aluminum chassis compared to the heavier steel substructure of the VW. It give the Audi an edge on acceleration and fuel economy, but overall the added expense of the A8’s frame yield’s mostly bragging rights.

Performance gets back to the battleship/torpedo boat analogy. The VW R32 will smoke the Volkswagen Phaeton in raw acceleration and run rings about it in handling, but speed is important in a battlewagon, and the Phaeton will cut as fine a wake as you want. The W12-powered Phaeton has an edge in acceleration, but top speed of U.S. market Phaetons is limited. But if you know where you can run fast and isn’t controlled by air traffic controllers, please tell us.

Anyway, the battleship is where you want to be for the extended cruise, quieter and more stable than the smaller craft, calm and serene even over a rougher course that has the little craft bobbing like a rubber duckie in a three-year-old’s bath. Sail on, o ship of Volkswagen.

Which brings us back to the back seat. If your looking for a place to doze on the autobahn—been there and done that, though not at the helm—the Volkswagen Phaeton is as stout and stable as any big gun you’ll find. And if you wish, invite a hitchhiking old Beetle aboard. It needs the rest and what the heck, it needs the room.

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Multiple award-winning author John Matras is founder and buzzard-in-chief at CarBuzzard. He has written about and photographing cars, including books, dead tree and on-line since 1980, fired by the best and some of the rest. John primarily runs and writes for CarBuzzard, also freelancing elsewhere. More about John