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 2004 Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Volkswagen Phaeton
Volkswagen Phaeton

Unlike conventional wisdom about when to avoid playing the stock market, you might consider buying your Volkswagen Phaeton luxury sedan on a Friday. The full-size, all-wheel-drive Phaeton comes loaded with every conceivable amenity, we discovered. So loaded in fact, that it takes a good weekend read of the manual just to figure out what's what.

That was evident on our inaugural drive in the highly accessorized V-8 version with a sticker-shock price of about $72,000. In still novice state, we had stopped to watch summer fireworks in leather-seated comfort, with balmy breezes and explosive thunderclaps flowing through open windows and sunroof. That's when a bevy of automatic functions unexpectedly came to life:
Piercingly bright, high-intensity xenon headlamps (with washers); a lengthy, booming audio OnStar welcome apparently launched through the multi-level, day-lit navigation system; a full-blast air conditioning fan that defied an uneducated shut-off; and a blaring, motion-activated intruder alarm as a garnish.

Such a casual dalliance probably isn't what VW had in mind for its new flagship, which is hand-assembled in a glass-walled, maple-floored sanctum in Germany by workers in white jumpsuits. We assume VW, keening for super luxury status that defies anything mundane, invented its long-bodied road cruiser for more stellar pursuits.

Here's a rolling definition of sumptuous-within-reach, from a 200-mph speedometer and startling supply of torque to send 17- or 18-inch wheels surging with the slightest tap on the accelerator, to a decadent palate heaped with pampering touches. Among them are auto retracting, mahogany-toned wooden air vent doors, four separate comfort zones, an optional cigarette lighter-charging mini flashlight for those who eschew smoking; side and rear sunshades; and rear foot bolsters. Safety gets serious as well, with curtain airbags, the tops in anti-skid technology, tire pressure monitor and adjustable air suspension to keep them performing at their peak. (Upcoming '05s will add advanced airbags, active cruise control, by next May, and cell phone preparation.)

During testing, we missed out on the tantalizing 420-hp, 6-liter W-12 power through a fluke, but assume it just makes the experience even sweeter than our nimble and powerful 335-hp, 4.2-liter V-8. We'll just imagine its punch as we thumb through our weekend reading (with white gloves, perhaps), while longing to try it again.

Acura RL Luxury SedanJaguar XJ Long Wheelbase
BMW 645 CiLexus LS 430
Cadillac STSLincoln Town Car
Chrysler 300CMercedes-Benz S-Class
Infiniti Q45Volkswagen Phaeton