Ferdinand Piech’s retirement gift, the VW Phaeton I. One of Volkswagen’s biggest automotive failures. But the reality is that this car wasn’t necessarily built to be sold.
It was actually built on ambition. Ferdinand Piech created the VW Phaeton I for several reasons. Mercedes had launched the A-Class, a cheap car and that meant that Mercedes was in direct competition with Volkswagen because they were making cheap cars. So Ferdinand Piech decided to return the favor and launch a car that would compete directly with the Mercedes S Class. He didn’t bother with the 7 Series because they already had the Audi A8 for that, but even there, it was a concern because BMW had launched the compact 3 Series for the low-cost segment. And since the legendary Ferdinand Piech, grandson of the famous Ferdinand Porche, was retiring, Piech decided to go out in style and launch the most powerful car VW could build, with all the tools available. By the way, Ferdinand Piech was responsible for what VW is today, he oversaw the purchase of Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti.
The VW Phaeton I was a ridiculous car. Launched in 2002, it was supposed to be capable of some mind-boggling stuff. For example, it was supposed to go 24 hours non-stop at 300 km/h, at an outside temperature of 55 degrees Celsius, and maintain an inside temperature of 22 degrees Celsius. It was the first car to be fitted with the legendary 6.0 W12 and was a car on which the Bentley Conti GT, Bentley Flying Spur, and Bugatti Veyron evolved. The idea was simple on the 6.0 W12 – take two 3.0 V6 engines and put them in Ws and this concept was later implemented on the Bugatti Veyron – take two 4.0 TFSI V8 twin-turbo engines from Audi and put them in Ws, resulting in an 8.0 W16 with 4 turbines and 1001 horses.
I don’t think I need to explain why the VW Phaeton I didn’t sell in huge volumes and was less popular than “Pimp my bedroom”. The issue was that when you have 150-200,000 euros to spend on a car, chances are slim that you’re looking at a Volkswagen.
VW Phaeton I Engines
- 3.2 V6 of 241 horsepower – It has 20 horsepower more than the Touareg version because the VW Phaeton I is heavier than a Touareg and somehow the 20 horsepower makes all the difference. They don’t make a difference in performance or fuel economy, but they do make a difference in reliability, being the most reliable engine in the first Phaeton. And it’s also LPG compatible, the only thing left is to solve the tax issue which is double that of a 3.0.
- 3.6 V6 of 276 horsepower – We’re already getting into serious stuff because this was the middle engine for the Touareg but we’re already getting into the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne territory, and obviously VW Passat and Passat CC area. Otherwise, it’s the same 3.2 V6 just bumped up for an extra 35 horses and an more tax.
- 4.2 V8 40v of 335 horsepower – By far the most sinful and the most expensive to maintain petrol on the list and possibly of all the engines. Needs 10W-40 oil changed daily otherwise it stretches the timing chain on the left bank and will soon destroy the other 2 chains and possibly the engine. Plus it’s so cramped that for most operations labor costs so much that you’ll ask the service people if they gave you another Phaeton for what it says on the quote.
- 6.0 W12 of 420 and 450 horsepower – This engine was an experiment in 2002 when it was launched and was redesigned in 2004 when the Bentley Continental GT made its appearance. Except there it has 2 sport turbos, and here it’s naturally aspirated because the VW Phaeton I is more of a comfortable car and the VIP in the back shouldn’t be bothered by noise. The engine is surprisingly reliable, having only an occasional appetite for coil packs but that’s about it.
- 3.0 TDI of 224 horsepower – Probably the most sought after engine in the VW Phaeton I, more so than the Krays being hounded by the law to eventually end up having movies and books written about them and record ratings. That’s what it means to be slick and be a beacon for society. As for the engine, there are no specific issues but you have to keep in mind that the timing chains replacement starts at around 1300 euros if it’s done at the corner of the block and can easily reach double the price if you do it in a dealership.
- 5.0 TDI V10 of 313 horsepower – A popular engine on the Touareg and often used in towing, this engine is not for the faint of heart or wallet. Besides the fact that most parts are double the price, most operations require taking the engine out, and that comes with a price tag to match. A 6.0 W12 petrol is much more ok than the V10 TDI for this car.
VW Phaeton I General Issues
- The VW Phaeton I is notorious for issues on the electrical side but hell it’s not all that color-alternative-not-black. Still, the car is packed with so much technology and for a 2004 car, it’s normal for systems to start breaking down. And it’s got so many systems that you’ll never get bored.
- The biggest issue with the VW Phaeton I is the weight of the car. The lightest Phaeton is 2000 kg (3.2 petrol) and the heaviest is 2472 kg with the 5.0 V10 diesel. To put things in perspective, a Touareg with the same 5.0 V10 weighs 2597 kg and the 3.0 TDI on the Touareg weighs 2304 kg. Basically, the VW Phaeton I is roughly the same weight as a Touareg and this is conveyed by tire and fuel appetite and brakes appetite.
- Air suspension is a recurring issue with all luxury cars and the heavier the car the greater the stress on the suspension so money bites money. Remember, a 2009 S350 CDI with automatic transmission and all-wheel drive has a sub-2000 kg idea so the Phaeton is 100-150 kg heavier.
- This is one rare, expensive car and bodywork will be even more expensive to replace.
VW Phaeton I Verdict
A lot of people are running away from this car on the grounds that they’ve heard it’s a bad car. It’s a bad car if you compare it to the Passat in terms of maintenance. But if you compare it to the 7 Series or Audi A8 or S Class, you’ll see that the maintenance prices don’t differ much. Still, why would you buy a Phaeton? Maybe you want a Bentley or an A8 at half the price? Or maybe you want a car that’s anonymous on the outside, that doesn’t attract attention but will drive you in luxury wherever you go. And to your passengers who say it’s just a luxury Passat, let them say it. You know what you drive and you know how this limo spoils you. As long as it works.
What engines do I recommend? For gasoline, I’m going to go with the 240 horsepower 3.2 V6 and for diesel, I’ll realistically recommend the 224 horsepower 3.0 TDI.