One of the most difficult things about being a successful manufacturer of small and affordable cars is to move into the uppermost strata of the market – the luxury segment. The image of affordability for the masses somehow has a negative effect when attempting to position a luxury model. It is for this reason that Toyota created the Lexus brand in 1979; to sell the LS400 as a ‘Toyota’ would not have enabled the car – in spite of having superior engineering – to take on Mercedes-Benz and the other European luxury makes. To buyers, Toyota has been synonymous with cheap – okay, let’s use ‘affordable’ instead – fuel-efficient small cars and just would not jive with a high-class luxury image. Honda and Nissan also took the same approach in the US with the Acura and Infiniti brands, respectively.
VW , however, believes it need not create a new brand for its coming luxury model – even though the first thing that people usually think of when ‘Volkswagen’ is mentioned is the evergreen Beetle, if not a Golf. The entirely new upmarket saloon, to be called the Phaeton, is expected to impress with its technology and visual excellence.
The Phaeton, 5.06 metres long and 1.9 metres wide, will be available with innovative engines (including a W12 petrol unit and the world’s most powerful passenger car diesel, the V10 TDI), four-wheel air suspension as standard, the 4MOTION 4WD system, and a 4-zone Climatronic air conditioner as standard. The completely new air conditioner also enables the two outer rear seats to enjoy individual air temperature adjustment. A new additional feature is that this Climatronic functions via indirect and thus draught-free ventilation.
The styling of the new saloon shows that all elements of form have been thought out afresh. Harmonious, powerful body lines emphasise the dynamic properties of the Phaeton. In the interior a refreshingly clear and well-balanced elegance predominates, which also underlines the Phaeton’s consistently innovative character.
However, VW has not only developed a remarkable car; parallel to this, a unique manufacturing and service concept has been created. Unique in the manufacturing sense is the new ‘Transparent Factory’ in Dresden, Germany, which has a differentiated quality assurance system and an unparalleled support and care arrangement for interested customers wishing to pick up their own cars. For the first time, customers will be able to witness the creation of their own vehicle.
‘Phaeton Service’ is being created specifically for owners of this car. This takes the form of a care model that will be unparalleled in its comprehensiveness. It begins at vehicle hand-over and will remain effective over the Phaeton’s entire vehicle registration period (100% “long life” mobility). All repairs will be coordinated via a controlling national (export markets) and an international Technical Service Centre (TSC). Every VW dealer will automatically contact the TSC whenever a Phaeton comes into his Service division. The aim of the Service chain: optimum care of the vehicle and its driver.
In this way, the customer can at all times and on any day in the year avail himself of the concentrated know-how of the manufacturer. An important point: the Phaeton driver remains mobile. If his car has to be repaired, a replacement Phaeton is made available. In addition, the Phaeton Service comprises many further services, such as the pick-up and return service taking the Phaeton to the Service point and back.
It is such superior support that propelled Lexus so quickly into the luxury segment and clearly, VW has been taking notes. The only thing is whether importers and dealers in other parts of the world will be able to offer such a high standard of support and make the obviously substantial investments.
The thoroughgoing technological and design concept of the Phaeton is readily revealed in the interior. Opening the door of the Phaeton for the first time, one discovers – with the exception of the brand badge on the leather-covered steering-wheel – an entirely new Volkswagen. And yet the Phaeton quickly generates a feeling of familiarity, as it was conceived unequivocally, functionally and with unusual attention to detail.
The dominant impression is one of clear straight lines, timeless and yet up-to-the-minute design elements, a logical approach to operation and great visual clarity. At night, the cockpit and the rear are bathed in a subdued, warm light from background sources. The inside door handles are also illuminated.
For the Phaeton, the finest materials have been chosen. The upper part of the dashboard consists of a structured base body, available in a range of different colours, which is shaded to eliminate glare. The lower part of the cockpit and the doors are in a material which is a colour contrast to the upper part, and generally lighter. The steering wheel and the gearshift are sheathed in leather and wood.
Especially exclusive, because they are selected and worked by hand, are the fine wood veneers in the horizontal centre part of the dashboard, on the centre console and on the doors. In addition on the top model, the Phaeton W12, the gear selector lever and the centre console between the seats are veneered. Chrome is used for example for the instrument surrounds and that of the analog clock set in the centre of the dashboard.
Besides the ultra-sophisticated climate control system, a further possibility for controlling the atmosphere in the Phaeton is by the sliding sunroof (glass or solar). The sunroof is operated via a preselector in the roof-mounted console. The solar sunroof is said to be the biggest of its kind on the market. The 28 integrated solar cells provide 24 watts of energy, which is also used to power the electric fan when the vehicle is at a standstill. In summer, this reduces the interior temperature by up to 20 degrees. Unpleasant air currents and loud wind noise when the roof is open are prevented by a speed-sensitive, electronically-controlled wind deflector.
The Phaeton offers roominess claimed to be above average. The so-called comfort dimension (space for the occupants), knee-room at rear and shoulder-room at front are all ‘best in class’, according to company. Like every other detail, the seating in the Phaeton has also been completely rethought. The front seats can be electrically adjusted via a standard-equipment 12-way system. Seat air conditioning is available via fans, and a massage function provided by the lumbar supports of the backrests.
The new VW is one of the biggest saloons in the upper range. Its body, whose steel parts are 100% fully-galvanised, and 60% of fine steel, sits on a wheelbase of 2.88 metres. As might be expected, in respect of stiffness, vibrations, passive safety and long life, the bodywork meets the most exacting demands. The outstanding characteristics of its basic structure result among other things from the use of most up-to-date manufacturing processes, such as laser welding.
Not only the entire running gear and drivetrain, but also all bodywork components have been designed to cope with a maximum speed of up to 300 km/h. Two of the many positive consequences of this basic design principle are a very high degree of sturdiness and a very low level of driving noise. In addition to high-strength steels, VW also uses lightweight construction materials for the body. The doors, rear hatch and bonnet are made of aluminium, the windows are double-layered. The doors are a technical masterpiece in themselves: fabricated in a laser-welded aluminium pressure moulding process, they exceed all previously employed structures in their stability. The mudwings, the spare wheel recess and the bumpers are made of tough plastics.
As with passive safety, VW has also laid down the highest available standards for the active safety elements. The high level of driving safety, and the dynamics of the Phaeton which goes hand in hand with this, were brought about in conjunction with extremely good comfort characteristics. The new, standard, fully-independent running gear with air suspension is in part responsible for this.
In addition, in the case of the more powerful engine versions, the 4MOTION 4WD system with Torsen differential is fitted. The aim of the running gear development engineers was a suspension system which meets the most exacting demands in terms of ride and driving dynamics. For this, air suspension systems with controlled damping are outstandingly suited, as they offer numerous advantages over traditional steel spring systems.
At launch time later this year, the Phaeton will be available with the following engines: a 3.2-litre V6 with 177 kW/241 bhp, a maximum torque of 315 Nm and a sporty 6-speed gearbox, and a 6.0-litre W12 with 309 kW/420 bhp with 550 Nm of torque coupled to a 5-speed automatic
gearbox (Tiptronic). The third engine to follow will be the world’s most powerful passenger car diesel: the 5.0-litre V10 TDI with 230 kW/313 bhp and maximum torque of 750 Nm.
The W12 engine proved its performance capability and its toughness at Nardo in Italy in 2001, when it powered the W12 Volkswagen super-sportscar, rocketing the unique coupé to ten international speed records. Basically, the W12 engine consists of two very narrow V6 four-valve modules, which have been configured into a W at an angle of 72 degrees having a common 7-bearing crankshaft. Inside the two V6 banks, the cylinder angle is only 15 degrees. This produces a very compact design in comparison with traditional V12 engines.
The Phaeton will compete for sales in the European ‘D segment’ where new-registration fluctuations are subject less to the economic cycle than to the models on offer. The German brands, in particular, have for years shown constant growth in the upper range worldwide. Globally, annual sales are some 230,000 vehicles, and the trend is rising. The biggest share in the world market volume is held by North America, followed by Western Europe and Japan.
The age and wealth structure of upper range drivers is undergoing a fundamental change. As a result of job-related developments, ever-younger decision-makers are moving up from the automotive middle range to the upper range. Yet these people are not the only new customers whose demands and expectations must be met by contemporary upper-range cars. Nowadays, the over-50s and over-60s also have younger and more open-minded attitudes than was ever the case before.
Volkswagen aims to offer this clientele with a saloon which was conceived as independent and innovative, which meets the highest quality demands, and whose functionalism is self-explanatory.