Volkswagen's new Phaeton
22nd April, 2010
At their factory in Dresden (Germany), Volkswagen manufactures
one of the finest cars in the world: the Phaeton. The limousine’s quality and comfort (four-wheel drive and air
suspension as standard) set a unique benchmark. Volkswagen, the most successful car maker in Europe and China,
has now made the Phaeton even better. The company’s new flagship is being unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show
(27th April to 2nd May) in China.
Its contours are defined by the Volkswagen design 'DNA' developed by Walter de Silva, the group’s Italian
chief designer. Around the completely new front section in particular the design team has further refined the
model’s very own stylistic aplomb. In the process the timelessly elegant Phaeton has gained a broader and more
powerful appearance. The new model is also characterised by modifications to its rear section and silhouette.
At the same time, new technical features have been added. These include Dynamic Light Assist (camera-based
dynamic main beam regulation) and a navigation system that, if desired, can integrate on-line data from Google
into the map display. In addition to this, the Phaeton’s optional front camera enables it to ‘see’ road signs,
with speed limit signs visualised on the instrument panel and centre console’s touchscreen. The system will also
be able to recognise and depict ‘no overtaking’ signs – the first in the world to do so!
The Phaeton will be available with a choice of two wheelbase options, two back seat versions (three seats/two
individual seats) and four engines (a turbo diesel and three petrol engines). The six, eight and twelve-cylinder
engines range in capacity from 176 kW (240 PS) to 331 kW (450 PS). The standard drive unit used in the Phaeton
is a V6 petrol engine producing 206 kW (280 PS). At the capacities above the V6 FSI the choices available are a
V8 and a W12 petrol engine, delivering 246 kW (335 PS) and 331 kW (450 PS) respectively. On the diesel front,
Volkswagen is offering an extremely frugal and smooth-running V6 TDI. In Europe it is the most frequently
selected engine for this car. The turbocharged common rail direct injection engine delivers 176 kW (240 PS) and
accelerates the Phaeton V6 (top speed in this case 237 km/h) from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds. This is
accompanied by average fuel consumption that has now been reduced still further to just 8.5 litres per 100 km
(equating to 224 g/km CO2).
Depending on wheelbase, the 2011 model Phaeton is between 5.06 and 5.18 metres long. As mentioned above, a
completely new front section has been developed for this flagship of the Volkswagen brand. In keeping with the
current Volkswagen design DNA, its form is dominated by horizontal lines. Unlike all other Volkswagens designed
to date on the basis of this new DNA, the Phaeton does not have a shiny black radiator grille cover, but instead
a completely new chrome element. Along with the restyled headlights, this radiator trim is a major influence in
the new Phaeton’s design and underlines its uncompromisingly independent character. In detail the new grille is
more upright, while its stricter lines and impressive alternation of materials between polished and matt chrome
make it even more striking. The horizontal linking of grille and headlights follows the Volkswagen design
criteria and impressively emphasises the vehicle’s width. As a sign of its class specific to this model the
Phaeton also features three-dimensional moulding of the grille and bonnet, with precise edges that carry the
grille’s heightened expression of quality into the sculptured contours of the vehicle body. Once again in the
centre of the grille is the classic VW badge, which now - despite integrating the ACC (automatic distance
control) system’s radar sensors - has a new-look surface design.
To the left and right of the grille are new Bi-Xenon headlamps, which are standard across the range.
Integrated within them are cornering and adaptive lights. Not just in visual terms, but from a technical
perspective too, this is a whole new generation of headlamps. Firstly, the indicator and adaptive cornering
lights are highly visible and stylistically striking LEDs. Secondly, as with the new Touareg, the Phaeton will
also be available with optional Dynamic Light Assist. Using a camera integrated into the rear-view mirror, this
complex technology ‘detects’ other road users and regulates illumination of the carriageway accordingly (see
separate section on Dynamic Light Assist).
The bumper has also been redesigned in keeping with the radiator grille and headlamps. Here too, horizontal
lines form the guiding principles of the new design. Even the fog lamps have been designed as narrow, horizontal
LED strips. Last but not least, the bottom section of the bumper is now also colour-coordinated with the car
body. Compared to the previous model the new Volkswagen Phaeton thus looks even sportier and more imposing on
Also modified, the back of the car underlines this impression. The design team decided here not to change
the classic, clear and powerful basic style that this area has always had, but instead to develop new LED rear
light clusters. Each cluster features dotted lights and an M-shaped LED strip. The result is an unmistakable,
elegant look both in daylight and at night. Also new is the VW badge - now likewise in 3D format - on the boot
As at the front, the rear bumper has also been redesigned. It now has a new, three-piece chrome bar and the
section of the bumper trim near the road is now also colour-coordinated with the car body. The same goes for
the bottom section of the side skirts. Also noticeable in silhouette view are modified side trim strips,
narrower LED indicators in the exterior mirrors and new 18-inch (‘Experience’) alloy wheels.
The Volkswagen Phaeton’s interior ranks as one of the most elegant, high quality and comfortable in the
entire premium class. The 4-zone air-conditioning system, for example, that works totally free of any draughts,
and the award-winning ergonomic 18-way seats are unsurpassed. All of the Phaeton interior’s functions are also
intuitive to use. In addition to the version with three rear seats (5-seater), the limousine can be optionally
ordered with two electrically adjustable individual seats (4-seater). Furthermore, a version of the Phaeton is
also available that is twelve centimetres longer. Meanwhile, the limousine can be almost infinitely personalised
with a wide range of leather, alcantara and wood trim, plus optional equipment such as a fridge or multimedia
systems from Volkswagen Exclusive. This also applies to the completely redesigned multifunction steering wheel.
It can be ordered either in leather or in a wood/leather combination matching the relevant wood trim features.
Information and entertainment systems
The intuitive nature of the Phaeton’s controls has been fully transferred to the new generation of radio and
navigation systems (RCD 810 and RNS 810). Equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen, the systems form a functional unit
with the air-conditioning and multimedia controls.
Use of on-line services
Volkswagen is for the first time offering an Internet-based Google function in the new Phaeton as a map
display add-on for the RNS 810 radio navigation system with 30-gigabyte hard drive. The relevant data gets
loaded onto the system over the Internet via mobile telephone and a proxy server specially set up for the purpose.
The visualisation on the touchscreen’s display is the same as the Google Maps ‘Satellite’ view familiar from the
conventional Internet and equivalent to the iPhone’s ‘Hybrid’ view. In the Phaeton the satellite images naturally
get supplemented by the navigation system’s appropriately highlighted route recommendation.
Particularly interesting in this feature are the POIs (points of interest) that can be accessed. Addresses,
tourist sights, businesses, sports venues, doctors’ surgeries and restaurants integrated within Google can be
selected in seconds and transferred directly into the route navigation. In perfect conditions the system loads
the data via UMTS connection. The telephone itself gets completely integrated into the system via remote SIM
access profiles (rSAP). Alternatively, anyone who wants to use a mobile phone with hands-free profiles (HFPs)
can also do this linked up with the new Phaeton (in this case Google is disabled). In HFP mode phones that are
‘Phaeton compatible’ include, for example, Apple’s iPhone.
Road sign recognition
However, the latest generation Phaeton’s information and entertainment system can do even more! By virtue of
the camera integrated in the rear-view mirror the Phaeton now detects road signs and shows the relevant
information on the system’s touchscreen and/or the multifunction display (between speedometer and rev counter).
It displays not only the maximum permitted speed but also any important additional information (e.g. ‘10pm - 6am’
or ‘When wet’). The system will also be able to alert drivers to overtaking restrictions – the first vehicle in
the world to do so!
For the RNS 810 radio/navigation system further add-on options are also available. These include a rear-seat
multimedia entertainment system (the High End) and a 1,000-watt sound system with digital 12-channel amplifier
from hi-fi specialists Dynaudio.
Electronic assistance systems
The Phaeton’s electronic assistance systems include Dynamic Light Assist (dynamic main beam control), ACC
(automatic distance regulation), Front Assist (surroundings monitoring) and Side Assist (lane change assistance).
A tyre pressure control system also provides standards of safety.
Dynamic Light Assist in detail
Volkswagen is introducing for the Phaeton a new optional camera-based main beam control system called Dynamic
Light Assist, which represents a major technical innovation in passive safety. Linked in with a camera integrated
behind the windscreen the system keeps the main beam modules of the standard Bi-Xenon headlamps permanently on. It
merely masks the areas of each beam that it calculates could potentially disturb other road users. For the driver
this means appreciably more light, clearly enhanced safety and a more relaxing drive. The function is achieved by
an additional aperture between the reflector holding the Xenon bulb and the lens. Combined with an intelligent,
lateral tilting of the complete module (via the cornering light function) and individual control of the left and
right headlights, this additional aperture arrangement enables the light source to be masked only in those areas
that could otherwise cause other motorists to be dazzled.
Thanks to the front camera the cornering light control system detects the exact position of the vehicle in
front and at speeds of 60 km/h or more ‘pushes’ the cone of light up to the rear of the vehicle or even to its
side and on past it – without dazzling the driver. The increase in safety and driver convenience provided by
Dynamic Light Assist is considerable and can be ranked on a par with that achieved at the time by the introduction
of Xenon technology.
ACC and Front Assist in detail
Automatic distance regulation (ACC) relieves the driver of the burden of active braking and acceleration. ACC
significantly improves driving comfort and passive safety, especially on longer motorway journeys. At the same
time the system (when activated) ensures adherence to the legally prescribed minimum distance from the vehicle in
An integral component of ACC is Front Assist. This ACC extension is designed to help prevent rear-end collisions.
Using a radar sensor, the system monitors the distance to the vehicles in front of the Phaeton. If this is becoming
too short, the system alerts the driver in two stages. At the same time the vehicle is prepared for possible
emergency braking by the driver. Even before certain situations arise, Front Assist takes preventative action by
putting the brakes into a preconditioned status that otherwise only gets activated when the brake pedal is pushed.
The system thus acts as a means of reducing the car’s stopping distance.
Automatic distance regulation is operated via relevant buttons on the redesigned multifunction steering wheel. It
is operated in many aspects in the same way as the cruise control system. With ACC enabled the car automatically
slows down (if necessary to a stop) and speeds up within a speed range set in advance by the driver. ACC can be
switched on at speeds of between 30 and 200 km/h. The system then uses radar to detect any traffic within an angle
of 12 degrees travelling up to 200 metres in front of the Phaeton. ACC is enabled and disabled via an ON/OFF button
on the left of the multifunction steering wheel. All of the driver assistance systems, including ACC, can also be
switched on or off simultaneously by pressing a button in the centre of the indicator stalk for more than a second.
The ACC also gets disabled as soon as the driver pushes the brake pedal. The system can be switched back on via the
‘Resume’ button on the steering wheel. It then continues to use the desired speed set prior to it being disabled.
The key information about the automatic distance regulation system can be seen quickly and clearly laid out on the
Side Assist in detail
Another assistance system in the Phaeton is the lane change assistant (Side Assist). At speeds of 60 km/h or more
this system monitors the area behind and to the side of the Phaeton via radar sensors in the rear bumper (one sensor
each for the area to left and right) and indicates via a warning light in the exterior mirror frame any risk of
potential collision. The area monitored by the sensors covers a distance of around 50 metres to the rear and 3.6
metres to the side of the car.
If Side Assist detects a critical situation to the left or right of the Phaeton and the driver has not switched
on the blinker to indicate a change of lane, the warning light in the exterior mirror frame comes on to draw
attention to the special traffic situation. If, however, the driver turns on the indicator while there is traffic
in the adjacent lane, the light flashes four times to warn of the potential danger. The brightness of the warning
lights can be adjusted to one of five levels via the multifunction display. In an interesting interlinking of the
car’s systems the ambient brightness detected at any given time by the rain and light detection sensor gets
automatically taken into account in determining the brightness level.
There are no plans to reintroduce the Volkswagen Phaeton to the Australian market.