Volkswagen has a very fascinating naming strategy that picks up cues from around the world. They have harnessed many a trade wind in their stables that have rode their fame to wherever the winds blow: Passat and Bora for instance. Or the nomadic Touareg. But Phaeton is a peculiar choice that simply means ‘shining’ and refers to the Greek demigod who was the sun of Helios, the Sun God. The rebellious son of the Sun god who rode the chariot of the Sun was a reckless bundle of complexes and almost burnt the earth brown before the reins were pulled off his weak hands. The epitaph on the mythical Phaeton’s tomb is ominous:
“Here Phaëthon lies who in the sun-gods chariot fared.
And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared.”
Fortunately, the Phaeton of our times is neither reckless nor weak, but only a little less obscure than its namesake. The Phaeton is the one in the VW lineup with all the makings of glory yet remains less familiar than its rivals, the Lexus LS or the BMW 7-series.
As we sped across the Dubai-Oman highway or when weaving through the urban network, I had four options to enjoy the drive. The auto drive, the switch to S mode, the stick shift sort of manual mode, and ultimately the race inspired magnificent paddle shifts. The Sport mode is particularly exciting to employ when you wish to make full use of the 3.6L V6.
Despite the premium cabin feel, gadgetry is served up in moderation, may be because the sensible minds that drive the Phaeton or are driven in it couldn’t care less. But in a world where luxury is almost synonymous with functions you haven’t heard about or used ever since the brochure told you about them – the Phaeton underwhelms.
The Cabin and Controls
DVD screens behind are not part of the standard package but there is a whole set of climate control for the rear passengers and the dual zone at the rear may be set even from the front panel.
The Phaeton has its own share of dramatics as seen in the roll back wood trims over the AC vents, and the locking gear that deploys halfway through as the boot automatically descends shut. The doors too have a soft-shut mechanism. The stand up paddle shifts are perhaps the most dramatic presence of them all!
Notwithstanding the console compartment and door side storage, the executive carriage could have done with convenio frills like sunglass storage or a document dock. The railings of the front seats could have been better off concealed, and the cabin could do with a bit more plush carpeting and more luxurious trims for the price.
But the impressive fact about the Phaeton is how it does well with these basics of luxury – like the sheer comfort of its matter of fact leather seats – both climate controlled and massage equipped – the manual sun screens, adjustable headrests and extendable knee support.
Despite being a big car, the visibility quotient is quite high for the Phaeton thanks to its well-proportioned greenhouse and slender A pillars. Parking issues are amply sorted between the rear view cameras and the visual sensors fitted along both sides of the front windscreen as well as the centre of the rear windscreen.
Where one would expect an entertainment system is a large screen and several buttons dedicated solely to climate and comfort control. Not that these buttons are superfluous. They bring up the rear with aerated temperature controlled seats for passengers as well, and all this do call for bespoke controls.
The practicality is seen in the 18” wheels instead of larger ones. While many will be appreciative of its restrained display of opulence inside out, some of those who pay anything between AED 220,000 and AED 400,000 would perhaps like mouths to drop when privileged to be aboard this vehicle.
The essential Phaeton
While the question remains why Volkswagen dared to venture into domains claimed and held by its rich cousin, the truth reigns that this is a car that deserves its share of success. The ability of the Phaeton to command respect and draw attention was evident in my rear view mirror as I pulled out of the parking lot of Festival City leaving a group of local genteel men turning my way and discussing the impression it left in its wake.
The Phaeton is for those who are used to traveling first class and can’t live without that space or knee support. It’s also for those who retire into car cabins to stretch their tired legs and enjoy an interlude of silence or slumber. As for me, I would like to stretch out my hand and give a high-five to my toddler in the backseat or have my wife not hollowing a message from back there. So, the Phaeton is not for me… well, for a few more years at least. Come to think of it, that’s rather unfortunate. For, I really did enjoy the time spend in its cockpit, and the four ways to drive a Phaeton!
There are few of them around. I guess while that takes away from resale, it does add much to the exclusivity and sort of “going against the grain” when it comes to value and comfort in favour of badge value – it’s an odd prestige but I am sure there are takers for that kind of thing. For, this Phaeton deserves to ride the chariot of glory and it is not one that will burn you.
For the Long Drive review of the Phaeton, please read http://drivemeonline.com/long-drive-volkswagen-phaeton-2012-driving-business-class/
UPSIDE: Exceptional legroom, executive comfort, brilliant navigation software, cabin designed for visibility and driving ease
FLIPSIDE: Lack of flashy luxury for the price, old-fashioned steering, less of badge value
Drive Courtesy: Volkswagen Middle East
Pictures: Sudeep Koshy