Volkswagen shows us the Phaeton that never was

The Phaeton is one of the most interesting Volkswagens and may be a better story than any of the brand’s most iconic models. The massively expensive luxury sedan lasted just a few model years in North America, but VW had plans to update the car for a new generation. The automaker just pulled back the curtain on the Phaeton D2, a luxury car that never made it past the prototype stage.

Volkswagen only sold a few thousand of the original cars, likely due to their extreme complexity and price tags. Here in the United States, the “base” V8-powered car came with a $65,600 price tag, and the W12 variant started at nearly $96,000. Adjusted for inflation, those totals come to $103,534 and $150,882, respectively. Ouch. Six-figure price tags hurt, even when they’re sitting on an exotic window sticker, but it’s unheard of on a Volkswagen.

The car was so expensive and complicated that it was discontinued in the U.S. after 2006. Internationally, however, VW updated the Phaeton for several years afterward with features such as a touchscreen infotainment system and advanced driver aids.

The drivable prototype you see here (above right, next to the older production model) was originally part of a group of four concept cars. The D2 car got the nod but never reached production, thanks to VW’s decision to fully electrify its lineup.

This Phaeton is around the same size as a new Audi A8, though Volkswagen didn’t elaborate on powertrain or performance details. Given the automaker’s shifting environmental priorities at the time of its conception, it’s unlikely the car would be fitted with a W12. Still, the V8 or the Europe-only V10 TDI from the first-generation Phaeton would have made a splash.

Regarding styling, the car follows the evolution of VW’s other models from the period. The rounded shapes and sometimes goofy-looking lines from early-2000s VWs were replaced by sharper, more upscale styling and design. Inside, the Phaeton D2 has a large curved display that ended up being launched in the 2018 Touareg.

It’s easy to see how this car draws a line to new Volkswagens with its tech and design. Beyond the curved display, the touch-sensitive controls on the Phaeton D2’s steering wheel can now be found in the new GTI and Golf R, as well as other models. It’s impossible to know how the Phaeton would look today if it had continued in production, but VW could always pull out a similarly luxurious car to ride on its electrified platform.

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