Volkswagen confirmed today that reports of a facelifted Phaeton are true. Tomorrow and on Saturday, the press can admire the car at the Beijing Autoshow. From April 27 to May 2, the remaining 1.3b Chinese will be able to get a first look, and decide whether the car fits in their purchasing plans.
Eight years after the Phaeton was launched in Germany with great fanfare, and four years after it was pulled from the US market due to being a resounding sales flop, a face-lift has been long overdue. “Usually, one would expect a whole new generation after eight years in production,” complained Germany’s Focus Magazine. Not a whole lot has changed at the outside. But the on-board electronic weaponry has been escalated to a level that soon will put JSTARS to shame.
The Phaeton received a nose job (praised in the press release as a “completely new front section” that “further refined the model’s very own stylistic aplomb.”) The Phaeton also received a fanny-tuck (a.k.a. “modifications to its rear section.”) The rest must rely on the Phaeton’s “timeless elegance.”
When the Phaeton was launched, it was chockablock full of electronics. In Wolfsburg, they called it a “Technologieträger” (technology carrier.) It had a dizzying array of 56 computers, interconnected by 3 separate CAN buses. We quipped at the time in internal literature that the car “has more computers and is better networked than a small company.”
Technology marches on, and the facelifted Phaeton received a healthy dosage, further to flummox the average repair person, and to add new acronyms to the Wolfsburgian language. The 2011 Phaeton will come with Dynamic Light Assist (camera-based dynamic main beam regulation.) It’s navigation system can integrate online data from Google into the map display Data will be loaded on a 30 Gig hard drive over the Internet via mobile telephone “and a proxy server specially set up for the purpose.”
The Google feature most likely will not be overly stressed in Beijing, given the state of Google’s affairs in China. The proxy gives VW the opportunity to side-step any possible Google-blocking in China. Tunneling via proxy through the Chinese firewall is a popular sport in China. The Phaeton would be the first car to be equipped with that sneaky feature. Google will deliver point of interest data such as “tourist sights, businesses, sports venues, and doctors’ surgeries.” The latter feature was most likely added to get back into the good graces of Jack Baruth, one of VW’s former U.S. volume customers (he had two Phaetons.)
VW Buyers with a nanny-fetish can check off the an optional front camera that enables the Phaeton “to ‘see’ road signs, with speed limit signs visualised on the instrument panel and centre console’s touchscreen. Very hepful: The system also recognizes the nasty little footnotes under posted speed limits (such as ‘10pm – 6am’ or ‘When wet’). FYI, in Germany, “When wet” (“Bei Nässe”) refers to the road surface, not to the state of your copilot.
The system will also be able to “recognize and depict ‘no overtaking’ signs – the first in the world to do so!” No word on automatically lowering the speed, or prohibiting Baruthian drivers from flaunting the law. “Side assist” will turn into a nattering backseat-driver if you change lanes with someone in your dead spot, or without using the blinker. As a further nod to Jack Baruth, all electronic nannies can be muzzled by resolutely pressing a button in the “center of the indicator stalk for more than a second.”
Still handmade at the “Transparent Factory” in Dresden, the Phaeton will be available as normal and long, a nod to Chinese clientele of that segment that leaves the ordeals of driving to a driver. The long version adds 12 centimeters. In the engine department, the choice is between gasoline and diesel, hybrid lovers may not apply. Despite rumors to the contrary, the Phaeton will not shed its brutish W12 twelve-pot gasoline engine that delivers 450hp. More sedate V8 (335hp) and V6 (280 hp) engines are available. Oil-burner aficionados will receive “an extremely frugal and smooth-running V6 TDI.” According to VW, in Europe this is the most frequently selected engine for this car. The turbocharged common rail direct injection engine delivers 240 hp and accelerates the Phaeton V6 from 0 to 100 km/h in just 8.6 seconds. Top speed with this example of frugality (8.5 liters per 100 km) will be 237 km/h. With the W12, you can easily exceed 300 km/h, if you know someone at the factory, or a clever technician, who erases the 250 km/h speed limiter from the on-board computer.
China is critical to the Phaeton’s survival. Last year, “Chinese deliveries of the Phaeton rose 40 percent to a record 1,400 cars. Volkswagen aims to increase that figure to at least 2,000 vehicles this year, a 43 percent gain, to make China the model’s biggest market,” says China Daily. Volkswagen sold 4,500 Phaetons worldwide last year.
In China, about 825,000 citizens had a net worth of 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) or more last year, and the average tycoon can live in harmony with the working masses by choosing a Phaeton: “Look, I drive a Volkswagen, just like you. It’s the people’s car!”