Volkswagen Phaeton

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VW Phaeton

Road Test

Volkswagen Phaeton 3.0 TDI driven

Driven January 2011

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Volkswagen has just heavily face-lifted its top saloon, but even with the new nose, back end and reworked interior, you'd be forgiven for not noticing the difference. The new look is definitely the meek -marketer's favourite of ‘evolution rather than revolution' - tweaked bumpers all round, smoked rear lenses and LEDs in the front headlights - but that's no bad thing. There's a reassuring solidity to it, which is the feeling you get from the whole car. Nothing too fancy or gimmicky.

There's enough tech inside, but not so much that you feel swamped. The dash houses a satnav unit (standard on all the Phaetons) that has been updated and now gets Google mapping. It's all recognisably VW parts bin, but if that's good enough for the new Bentley Conti GT, then it's certainly good enough for the Phaeton.

Build quality is still as tight as ever, and there's loads of legroom in the back, even in the standard-wheelbase car we tested. There's also a long-wheelbase version available (£2,445 extra), but that's mainly aimed at the Chinese market. For us, it's just a waste of steel and cash.

The engine and chassis are unaltered by this facelift - most people will opt for the 3.0 TDI, but you can also still buy the 6.0-litre W12 with 444bhp. The VW Group 3.0-litre diesel has never been a harsh engine, and with 237bhp and 367lb ft, there's enough power and torque to waft along happily, but not quickly. Press the throttle hard from 50mph, and it'll simply nudge you along quicker. This car is all about getting places imperiously.

So why Volkswagen has continuedto fit the Phaeton with the comically named Sportive suspension settingis baffling. Stiffer suspension is not what's required in the Phaeton.And here's a tip: don't put the air suspension in ‘comfort' mode. It's oddly not as relaxing as one notch sportier in the settings menu because the damping isn't as well-controlled, so the ride isn't as smooth.

None of which alters the most fundamental problem with the new Phaeton: no one wants to pay for expensive Volkswagen saloons. Official figures put the depreciation loss over the first three years at a mind-boggling 63 per cent. Which makes this initial Drive about six months too early. Still, when you do get your secondhand Phaeton, you'll be getting a good and understated car, and the best value secondhand saloon out there. If you wait until the summer, you should be able to save youself £10,000. Just be patient.

Piers Ward

We like: The way it doesn't make a fuss
We don't like: The Sportive suspension setting
TopGear verdict: Still makes no sense to buy one new, but facelift has made this a credible posh saloon.

Performance: 0-62mph in 8.3secs, max 147mph, 32.2mpg
Tech: 2967cc, V6, 4WD, 237bhp, 367lb ft, 2252kg, 224g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: ‘Experience' 18in alloys, £1,585
And avoid this: Extended wood pack, £1,575

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