VW Reveals Unseen Pics of Second-Gen Phaeton That Never Got Made

Volkswagen built a prototype for the successor to its uber-expensive, curio sedan: the Phaeton.

byAaron Cole|
Concept car
Concept car.

Open the "Fun Automotive History" encyclopedia and thumb your way to the back. Go ahead, we’ll wait here while you get your copy off your shelf.  

Now that you're there, you’ll find an entry worth reading: “Phaeton, Volkswagen." Not only because the original car—reportedly built to satisfy then-VW boss Ferdinand Piech’s desire for a sedan he could rest his long legs comfortably in the back—but also because of how it famously flopped in North America. The Volkswagen Phaeton cost nearly $100,000 new and could reach north of $120,000 when equipped with VW’s W12 engine. It earned the dubious distinction from many Stateside as, “All of the cost of a Bentley, with all of the prestige of a Volkswagen.” 

That perception never really faded in the U.S., which is why it was pulled from sale in 2006—after only three model years. The Phaeton lived on in other markets for another decade, with several facelifts and engine options beyond North America’s V8 and W12. North America just couldn't get on board.

On Thursday, Volkswagen published photos of the Phaeton’s successor that was never made, dubbed the "Phaeton D2." Presumably, VW built a prototype to show executives what a new Phaeton based on Volkswagen’s MLB architecture would look like. Its platform mates would’ve included the Audi A5, A7, Q5, Q7, Porsche Macan, VW Touareg … OK, a lot of cars would’ve been kin to the second-gen Phaeton. (If VW knows how to do anything, it's capitalizing on economies of scale.)

That much is visible by the cockpit alone. The sedan’s interior is a dead ringer for the larger Audi sedans that came around then, complete with a massive touchscreen and digital instrument display, tipping shifter, and strong horizontal dash. 

The exterior is similarly elegant as well, with a thicker rear roof pillar as an homage to the original Phaeton. The proportions, stance, and interior were all up to snuff for a premier Volkswagen sedan but plans to build the Phaeton were scrapped. VW says that, by 2016, execs had their eyes on electric cars already. (There was also a little mishap in 2015 that may have dried up R&D reserves, you may remember.) 

Volkswagen released the photos of the Phaeton’s successor to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Phaeton, which made its debut in 2002 at the Geneva Motor Show. Releasing prototype pictures like these for a car that was never made is almost as unusual as the Phaeton itself. That’s because sometimes the prototypes may look better than current products on sale, or because elements from prototypes could tip off future design ideas. There’s a reason VW would want to release the pictures, however: It’s a cheap trial balloon to see if the market would have an appetite for a Dresden, Germany-build executive sedan—just with batteries this time around, perhaps. 

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