The Volkswagen Phaeton is a lesson to carmakers not to have ideas too far above their station. Conceived as a rival to the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, the Phaeton was suitably luxurious and gloriously over-complicated, but Volkswagen lost money on the project as most buyers weren’t too keen on such a pricey car with such an ordinary badge.
Undeterred, Volkswagen was working on a replacement for the Phaeton, which soldiered on all the way until 2016. It seems that the second-gen Phaeton came pretty close to going on sale, as this is officially a ‘near-series’ prototype. For a long time, the ‘Phaeton D2’, as it was known. had been greenlit.
It was cancelled at the 11th hour by VW’s execs, perhaps partly as the company looked to save its reputation in the wake of the Dieselgate emissions scandal.
The second-gen Phaeton would have had suitably modern engines, though. Rather than the bonkers W12 petrol and outlandish V10 TDI diesel you could get in the original car, a plug-in hybrid was one of the likely powertrains. After all, both the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi A8, which are on the same MLB platform, offer an electrified option.
From the outside, the Phaeton D2 clearly follows the same design principles as its predecessor. Its grille is a little wider, its lights a little chintzier.
There’s definitely some similarity to the A8 in its three-box proportions, not to mention its sheer length.
Inside, we can see that the Phaeton would have introduced VW’s swish ‘Innovision Cockpit’, which eventually made its debut on the latest Touareg. As you’d expect, there are swathes of posh-looking leather and wood trim.
These days, an early Phaeton with moon miles can be picked up for well under £4,000, but you’ll need a substantial pot of money in reserve to fix one of the most complex VWs ever built.