Premium large car; Built in Germany
  • 4-door sedan
  • longitudinal front-engine/all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $11,200 – $23,000*

2005 Volkswagen Phaeton

2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

2005 Volkswagen Phaeton

  • Acceleration
  • Build quality
  • Handling/roadholding
  • Ride
  • Navigation-system controls
  • Fuel economy
  • Trouble prone electronics

At first glance Phaeton has much going against it. Its lofty prices and limousine opulence don’t square with Volkswagen’s sensible-shoes image. Most rivals offer higher brand prestige, residual values, and customer-satisfaction scores, plus the red-carpet dealer attention monied buyers expect. Those willing to give Phaeton a chance will enjoy understated refinement, benchmark materials quality, and performance that stands up to the like-priced competition, with the bonus of standard all-wheel drive. Slow sales mean deep discounts are available, making Phaeton a fine used car value.


Volkswagen broke into the luxury field with its largest and most-expensive car ever in 2004. The first VW Phaeton (faya-ton) was sized and equipped to compete with such premium sedans as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and the A8 L from VW’s own Audi brand. Phaeton came in V8 and 12-cylinder versions, both with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive, putting Phaeton in company with the A8 L as the only luxury cars with standard AWD. Phaeton also shared its 335-hp 4.2 liter with the A8 L. The top-line Phaeton used a 420-hp 6.0-liter W12 engine, essentially a mating of two narrow-angle V6s. Both engines were mated to an automatic transmission with manual shift gate; the V8 had six speeds, the W12 five. Standard features included ABS, traction/antiskid control, front and rear side airbags, and curtain side airbags. An air suspension designed to automatically adjust firmness depending on the road surface was standard; it also included four driver-adjustable firmness settings. Eighteen-inch wheels were standard on the W12, optional on the V8 in place of 17s. Leather, wood, and brushed-metal interior trim were standard, as were xenon headlamps, OnStar assistance, and 4-zone climate control. An optional four-seat package was available to replace the 3-passenger rear bench with a pair of adjustable buckets and a center console.

Yearly Updates

2005 Phaeton
No significant changes for 2005.
OnStar assistance was dropped for 2006. Eighteen-inch tires became standard on the base V8 model, though 17s were still offered.


longitudinal front-engine/all-wheel drive

The 2004 Phaeton’s base engine was a 4.2-liter V8 with 335 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. Buyers could also opt for a 6.0-liter W12 with 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The V8 came with a 6-speed automatic, the W12 with a 5-speed automatic. While no changes were made to the engine, the horsepower rating for the W12 jumped to 444 for 2006 due to new testing standards.

dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.2/252
Engine HP 335
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 317
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed automatic



dohc W81
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 6.0/366
Engine HP 444
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 406
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic



1. DOHC W12 is engine for 2004-06.

Road Test

Either engine provides willing power. Our test V8 took 6.8 seconds to go from 0-60 mph, a W12 required just 5.8 seconds. Helped by its alert 6-speed automatic transmission, the V8 matches the W12 for usable power in most situations–and feels as lively around town. The W12’s extra thrust is most evident at highway speeds, but both models are effortless cruisers. The V8 is more audible than the W12 at full throttle, but both are always subdued and sound expensive. The real penalty for the W12 comes in fuel mileage. Our test W12s averaged 11.9-13.7 mpg in a city/highway mix. A test V8 averaged 16.0-17.2 mpg, which is a bit low, but about right for the class. Both engines require premium-grade fuel.

Phaeton offers a pleasing driving experience. Its long wheelbase, solid structure, astute suspension tuning, and road-crushing weight combine for a controlled, jolt-free ride. Still, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series isolate impacts better, and one test W12 suffered worrisome rear-end clunking on bumps–inexcusable for a car so costly. While quiet overall, there is more road noise on some surfaces than expected in a high-end luxury car. A console dial sets one of four firmness levels: the softest absorbs bumps well but allows some wallow, and the hardest is too taut. Handling is impressive for such a large, heavy car, though steering response is slower than in a 7-Series or A8 and there is more body lean in turns. Nonetheless, handling is always balanced, confident, and predictable thanks to AWD traction backstopped by an antiskid system. Braking is strong and progressive.

Inside, the Phaeton is opulent, though some controls could be better designed. Its large gauges are easily read, despite busy graphics. The audio, climate, and navigation settings display on a center-dashboard screen via numerous buttons and switches. While this is a bit complicated, we prefer this design to BMW’s daunting iDrive control. Still, some operations require lengthy drilling-down through menus. Other controls would benefit from better placement: The shift lever and/or in-use cupholders block some console controls, and the switches for the windows, locks, fuel door, and trunklid are inconveniently low and forward on the driver’s door. The ambience, however, is high-end and fitting for the price. Lavish interior materials are assembled to world-class standards. Wood trim panels descend to hide the vents when dashboard airflow is not in use–novel, but gimmicky.

Most occupants should find the Phaeton comfortable. Head and leg room are expansive. The seats are generous in size, but not all drivers find ideal support. A standard power tilt/telescope steering wheel helps fine-tune the driving position. Visibility to the sides and rear can be hindered by wide roof pillars and large headrests. Leg room in the back is also exceptional, but tall occupants will likely brush against the headliner. The rear seats are firm, but the bench isn’t long enough for best thigh support. Four-passenger models are limousine-like, with power backrest recliners and a handsome wood-trimmed console with separate climate controls. There is fine interior storage space, and the trunk is narrow, but long, roomy, and well-finished. The trunklid has nonintrusive hinges plus available power open/close, a convenience undercut by finicky keyfob control on some test models.


Model Tested: 2006 Volkswagen Phaeton V8

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 7
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 8
Steering/Handling - 7
Quietness - 8


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 9
Room/Comfort Rear - 8
Cargo Room - 4


Value - 5

Total: 67


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
118.1 203.7 74.9 57.1
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
13.0 23.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.2 38.1 41.7 43.1
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Dashboard lights
Description: The “passenger airbag off” warning light may come on when the ignition key is first turned on to notify the driver that an error code has been stored in memory. The most common cause is fidgeting in the passenger seat during the first 10 seconds when the ignition is switched on, requiring the system to be reprogrammed. (2004)
Door handles
Description: The rear door sunshade handle breaks off. (2004-05)
Windshield washer
Description: Windshield washer nozzles tend to get clogged, but improved ones are available. (2004-06)
Information stickers/paperwork
Description: A step was left out of the owner’s manual for the emergency ignition key release: The parking brake must be applied. (2004)

Recall History

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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