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Driving around town in the anti-truck by Karl Funke
Driving the Phaeton around surface streets in Southern California has made something clear to me: it's too good for surface streets in Southern California. Even the freeways around here don't give you enough room to fully realize its potential. Southern Californians aren't the most organized or accomodating drivers in the world, and even when they're flowing freely our freeways are still a mess.
It's obvious this Volkswagen was built for high-speed transit of the sort I've only been dreaming about. We've had a lot of rain this winter and the streets here are in pretty bad shape, but the car remains rock solid over any surface. I think it would be just as solid at 150 mph, though I haven't gone faster than 70. I've been averaging about 26 mph, and frankly it's starting to piss me off.
Since Volkswagen hasn't ever built a car quite like this, it's easy to forget you're driving a VW while you're behind the wheel. It's as nice a luxury cruiser as I've driven. It's got comfortable leather and beautiful wood trim, seats that heat, cool or massage, privacy blinds, 4-zone Climatronic, navigation and route guidance, and a back seat you could park a Type I sedan in. Power delivery is strong and smooth, though not particularly breathtaking. The cabin is really, really quiet. Roll the windows down in standing traffic and the decibel levels increase a hundred-fold.
Despite the myriad gadgets and comfort features (the coolest of which is the LED flashlight placed where a cigarette lighter might ordinarily go), the most remarkable thing is the car's size. Suddenly the lumbering SUV dinosaurs infesting the region don't seem so intimidating. Were one to suddenly swerve into my path, it would surely be cut in two and destroyed in the Phaeton's wake. Than again maybe not, but the sedan's size definitely levels the playing field in terms of road presence. And of course no truck can match its urgency of motion when you really get your foot into the gas.
Because of this, perhaps, the Phaeton inspires my confidence like no other car I've recently driven. I experienced similar feelings driving other big touring sedans like the S Class or 7 Series, but this one seems different somehow. Maybe because it's a Volkswagen and I'm impressed VW has built such a car. That might seem condescending, but it's the closest I can come to explaining the feeling.
Due to its size, the parking assistance sensors are a necessity, especially when parking the car parallel or in a tight lot. The cabin is so expansive the rearward view from the captain's chair can be deceptive - and anyway, rearward visibility is a bit limited. The rooflines are raked fairly low related to the door window sills, and while this gives the overall shape a sleek yet paradoxically gracile look from the outside, it makes driving in reverse marginally more difficult.
I really like the styling. The low, incredibly long profile gives this car a strong impression of speed, even when it's standing still. Others have complained about the prominent VW badging fore and aft, but I say why the hell not? WV built the car, after all. One thing it absolutely needs are bigger wheels (I think one of us said that before). Ours wears 18 inch alloys (17 inch are standard), but its wheel wells could easily swallow 19s or 20s. And they would look great.
Some of our initial gripes are persisting, such as the automatic air vent covers (the central cover seems to stick on warm days), and the insanely complex trunk hinging mechanism is still very temperamental. Given the scope of moving parts on the vehicle as a whole, you have to wonder what fixing some of these things is going to cost 10 or 15 years down the road. Then again, if you can afford the $70,000 sticker price and $40 to $50 a tank every week, if not more, those things might not be such a big consideration. Gripes aside, it's a truly great car, and a singular achievement in Volkswagen's long and storied history.
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