The New Phaeton?

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There was nothing wrong with the car – the Phaeton ultra-luxury sedan.

You may remember.

It was beautiful, powerful, elegant. Close kin to the Audi A8 and the Bentley Continental GT. It was available with a mighty 6.0 liter W12 engine and had bells and whistles for the bells and whistles. It was everything a high-end car ought to be.

Except, it was a VW.

Not – as Seinfeld used to say – that there’s anything wrong with that.

Well, unless you care about selling high-end cars, which VWs aren’t supposed to be.

By definition.

Volkswagen is, after all, the people’s car. Literally translated. It’s odd that a brand built on building cars for the masses – which by definition need to be accessible – would venture into the building of high-end cars, which aren’t accessible, by definition.

It’s kind of like finding the Pope at your favorite bar (not preaching to the heathens).

Well, people reacted to the Phaeton in much the same way.

It was interesting to see a car so not of the volk n a VW dealership. A six figure car sitting right next to $15k Jettas and Beetles. In the same dealership. You may begin to see the trouble. There’s a reason you don’t generally find Bruno Magli shoes on sale at the Foot Locker.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Foot Locker.

VW lost a bunch of money. So did the relative handful of people who bought a Phaeton. Depreciation was a shit show on par with Kramer’s attempt at stand-up comedy. Two years after the last one sold new, you could buy a used one for about the cost of a two or three-year old Passat.

None of this was the Phaeton’s fault, per se. It wasn’t that people didn’t like it. It didn’t sell because VW buyers couldn’t afford it.

And buyers who could afford it don’t generally shop VW.

So, given the news out of Geneva this week, the question naturally comes to mind:

Will VW lose a bunch of money on the 2019 Arteon – the automaker’s new flagship sedan?

Probably –  but not as much.

Well, one hopes. (Because VW needs another financial bleed like JFK needed a fourth gunman on the Grassy Knoll.)

We know it won’t be particularly Volkish given its probable starting price around $35k, in the same general ballpark as the current Passat-based Comfort Coupe (which of course is actually a sedan that has “coupe like” styling). The CC also hasn’t sold especially well, though – notwithstanding that it (like the Phaeton) is a gorgeous-looking car.

Park one next to a Mercedes CLS – another sedan with “coupe like” styling. The physical comparison is favorable. The problem is the price comparison – and the absence of a three-pointed hood ornament on the VW.

A bigger problem may be the Jetta-ish standard drivetrain.

VW says the base trim Arteon will be powered by a 1.5 liter turbo four in the neighborhood of 148 hp. If the car’s base price is even $30k, that could be trouble given what’s under the hood of base trim/four cylinder Accords and Camrys that cost around $23k to start.

Which by the  way aren’t touting performance or even much hinting at it. They are Transportation Appliances, family cars . . . that is to say . . . volks wagens (auf Deutsch).

The Arteon will have a stronger optional engine – an amped-up version of the 2.0 liter four that’s currently available in the Jetta, along with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system – which isn’t available in the current Jetta (or the current Passat).

Putting AWD on the roster was smart. It is a feature that’s hugely popular in the $25k-$30k-ish crossover SUV segment but very hard to find in mid-sized and even full-sized sedans  . . . unless they’re priced over $35k.

Which brings up what may be the Arteon’s biggest potential problem:

It is a sedan.

And sedans aren’t selling. See above point in re the popularity of crossovers. VW chose a bad time to bring out a non-Volkish sedan,notwithstanding it will be pretty. The reasons for the unpopularity of sedans are simple enough to grok: They have comparatively small trunks (vs. the expansive cargo areas of crossovers) and – the real flaw, as far as buyers today are concerned – they sit too low relative to all the other crossovers out there.

VW will likely have an easier time selling the new Atlas (and also the new Golf Alltrack, which is a jacked-up Golf with all-wheel-drive in the mold of the Subaru Outback).

But there will be some high-end coolnesses, including a configurable LCD main instrument cluster with a huge (9.2 inch) secondary display in the center stack that will reportedly feature a gesture control interface similar to the one you can get in the current (2017) BMW 7 Series.

We won’t, however, get the TDI engine that will be available in Euro-spec Arteons (thanks, Uncle).

One uber-creepy thing it will feature, unfortunately is a new and very Big Brothery adaptive cruise control system that will automatically adjust the car’s speed according to the speed limit. Probably, it will be possible to turn this off – for now – but consider yourselves warned.

This is a glimpse of what’s to come – and what’s coming won’t have an Off button.

Of a piece, the Arteon will offer an Emergency Assist system that automatically senses when the driver is “incapacitated” and automatically pulls the car off the road onto the shoulder and shuts it down while summoning EMS.

How will the programming define “incapacitated”? The same technology that shuts ‘er down because the sensors sense the driver’s eyes have closed and he has slumped-shoulder over the steering wheel could probably also shut ‘er down if the sensors sense you are driving “too fast” or “too aggressively” or it’s Tuesday and Uncle says stay home today.

Yes, I’m paranoid. With reason.

You should be, too.

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  1. Well, if the EAS is optional, and the adaptive cruise can be turned off, WV hasn’t crossed that red line….quite yet.

    C&D, in it’s latest “Twenty-Five Cars Worth Waiting For,” indicated the upgraded engine was expected to have 260 bhp. That’s not too bad. And if they’re “German” horses, it should be able to run with a V-6 Camry.

    On the other hand, VW seems to have lost it’s Mojo, and be running scared. So they probably will manage to find a way to screw this up.

  2. Good review, I agree, a nice looking car of dubious practicality. Audi screamed when VW started schilling the Phaeton saying it would cannibalize A8 sales. They would’ve been right if it had sold in any real numbers.

  3. When I saw the photo at the top of the article, I thought “That’s a really nice looking car, I might want one of those!”. Then I read about the dinky standard micro-engine, and I lost some of my initial enthusiasm. Then I read about the upgrade engine just being a slightly less dinky 4-banger, and I lost most of the rest of my enthusiasm. Then I read about the dystopic Big Brother control system masquerading as a cruise control, and I got that visceral sense of revulsion you feel when a photo of a beautiful woman turns out to be a dude in drag. I have the feeling that after the next model year or two, there won’t be any new cars that I would consider driving anymore.

    • Hi Zathras,

      In re ” I got that visceral sense of revulsion you feel when a photo of a beautiful woman turns out to be a dude in drag.”

      Wish I’d thought of that first! 🙂

  4. I am actually looking forward to this car. I was planning to see if my wife would give up her ’14 E350 for one. My theory being you never want to have any Mercedes that is out of warranty.

    The EAS might be the dealbreaker on this car, or it might be the shape of all things to come, who knows. In a few years it might be impossible to avoid it. So get one now that can be disabled or you could ask your local CIA field office to do it for you.

    About the Phaeton, I have a neighbor with one, he loves it, it has been his daily driver for years. That W12 is amazing. After looking around, the W12’s are out there and all of them have 100k miles or more, I found some V8’s with less, but clearly the people that had them loved to drive them.

  5. The only difference between this car and slapping a Caddy emblem on a Chevy is the Chevy and Caddy will both have far fewer problems. I’d definitely take an over-priced Chevy that is decently reliable than an overpriced……overpriced…….VW that’s losing value sitting in the dealers showroom.

    Other than whistles and bells, what’s to like on this car? I like whistles, the kind the hurricane force a/c’s make and bells, the little dinger that stops me from walking away with my headlights on but adaptive cruise control has an ominous sound.

  6. My boss had an ’05 Phaeton (V8 engine) that he bought used. If it wasn’t for the vw emblems it would have been easy to mistake it for an audi.
    He also paid ~ $7500 for an extended warranty, turned out to be the best money he spent on that car. IIRC the car needed in the ballpark of $10k in warranty work over the course of 4 years. The last time it went in for repairs the warranty company sent people out to inspect the car before authorizing the work. He ‘lost’ the car in the divorce but I say no great loss. It was a nice car but not one I would own.

  7. “the Arteon will offer an Emergency Assist system that automatically senses when the driver is “incapacitated” and automatically pulls the car off the road onto the shoulder and shuts it down while summoning EMS.

    Reminds me of the old joke “When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.”

    Really though, how often does this happen? In fact my grandfather did die of a heart attack while driving. He knew something was wrong and put the car in park (he was backing out of the garage), then passed on. The few times I’ve had medical issues I’m fairly certain I was more than capable of getting a vehicle safely stopped. And how does the vehicle sense you’re dead? My Cherokee constantly nags me to “put my hands on the steering wheel” when on long straightaways because I don’t have to move the wheel. Will the VW system assume straight highways are killers?

    • It’s insanity, isn’t it?! Who the hell wants all of this garbage on their cars?! I guess there are a lot of insane people out there in the market for new cars.

      • Hi Nunzio,

        There are a lot of Clovers out there… in my life, I have watched the Clover mentality go from being ridiculed by most people to becoming mainstream conventional wisdom.

        I sometimes think the Illuminati are right… most people really are cattle.

        • You are so right, Eric! (And so are the Illuminati- They know their stuff, only difference is: They want to use that info to manipulate and control people for their own purposes. And communal edumacation and mass media have exploited people’s foibles to make them even more cattle-like…)

          I get a junk email from a Ford truck forum that I belong to, today…. oh my goodness! They’re going on and on about what a capable and amazing off-road vehicle the new [C]Raptor is [until it’s feeble multi-mode 4-by-something-or-other leaves ’em stuck in 2″ of mud and they need a 1985 Chevy to pull ’em out], and the peons were eating up like candy.

  8. Just about all the new vehicles are making it easy on my wallet – I don’t want any of them. What I don’t want: 4-cylinder engines, direct injection, turbochargers, and loss of control of the driving experience.

    A recent vehicle I sold, I drove and maintained for 36 years (original owner), I’ll be trying to go the distance with my current rides.

  9. Seems like failure has become a fetish for today’s society. Lets keep doing something over and over and over and over……….. Hopefully, maybe someday it will finally work.

    Never mind that someday never arrives.

    I know that attitude isn’t just a failure of today’s society, every generation has this stupid idea. It sure seems like a popular thing now a days from the education industry, overgrown government, big charity and big business. It’s bankrupting everybody.


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