For those readers who were lucky enough to get The Chauffeur Magazine from the very beginning in 2003, we’ve always raved about a very dark horse within the chauffeur industry.
In 2002, Volkswagen announced the Phaeton – a super luxury saloon which would take on the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. First came the V6 petrol model, then eventually the long wheelbase V10 diesel broke cover, and at the time it was certainly competing with the aforementioned manufacturers.
However, clients didn’t want to be in the back and chauffeurs didn’t invest as the S-Class still had the edge. It was going to take a lot of work from VW to get chauffeurs behind the wheel and clients enjoying being in the back.
Twelve years ago, the chauffeur industry was completely different to what it is today. Almost all operators were S-Class focused, and making the move to a alternative manufacturer was a risky one. It was in this period other car makers started to take chauffeurs seriously after a lot of pressure from us as a magazine, they started to realise there could be serious bucks for the manufacturer who could crack the chauffeur industry.
The launch of the Phaeton came at a difficult time – why would chauffeurs buy it when it was in the same price bracket as a Mercedes, Jaguar or Audi and not as desirable?
Our first test Phaeton was a V10 5.0 diesel LWB – we drove it for nine months (should have been six months, but they forgot to pick it up) to find out what the newest kid on the block was all about. It soon became clear this was a serious car, luxury and ride was equivalent to a Flying Spur, acres of legroom in the back and more boot space than any of its competitors.
Soon, Mayors and CEO’s were buying the Phaeton as it was incredibly discreet, the unwashed general public would just see them being driven in a ‘normal’ VW and wouldn’t be any the wiser as to how much cash has been splashed by the council or business.
Since it’s launch, there’s been a number of updates to the Phaeton, mainly to the exterior. New lights, more economical V6 TDi engines and slight modifications to the dash, but I think this is exactly where the Phaeton has gone wrong!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fantastic car, but suddenly, it’s been overtaken big time in terms of technology by its step brother, the Audi A8L. Putting the two side by side, you would feel as if you’ve stepped back in time when driving the Phaeton, which is a massive shame.
If you had put the two together ten years ago, there was a fag paper between them. The A8 just wasn’t geared-up for the chauffeur back then, the long wheelbase was just extra leg space, rather than utilising the space with luxuries for the client as it does now.
April 2014, a Phaeton LWB arrives on my driveway from Volkswagen – it’s the same as it was a decade ago! A goudy, almost orange wood dash faced me and in the back, a bench seat with no recline, massage, heat, just lumbar settings – and with a price tag of £65,000.
Driving it is just as good as it always was, the drivers seat has more settings than you could imagine and the ride is incredibly smooth – probably the best it can get. However, the problems start again when you discover an outdated 6-speed gearbox which at motorway speeds, only returns 34mpg. Ten years ago – great! Today, that’s an issue when an A8 returns almost 50mpg.
So, what’s the future of the Phaeton? With UK sales last year of only 107, you would understand if VW pulled the plug on it. However, there are rumours online as to a new Phaeton, but VW tell us there is nothing official, and if a new model was to be launched it certainly wouldn’t be until 2016.
If this was to happen, it still would’t be plain sailing for the Phaeton as the market has become far more demanding and competitive in recent years.